Salute as a symbol of commemoration in Australia

 

Saluting has a long history. The salute is a hand gesture that's common to armed forces all over the world. It's used to show respect and greet another person. The salute custom has become a symbol of commemoration in Australia.

History of its symbolism

Field Marshal Viscount Bernard Montgomery of Alamein saluting, standing next to Australian High Commissioner John Albert (Jack) Beasley at an Anzac Day service at St Martin-in-the-Fields, London, on 25 April 1948. AWM 134750

Many different stories surround the origins of the salute.

Some stories say that a soldier holding up their right hand, which usually wields a weapon, was a sign that they were approaching in peace.

Other stories recount that Roman soldiers dressed in armour for battle would use a hand to raise their helmet's visor when greeting their leaders. The raised-hand gesture was both a sign of defenceless vulnerability and a recognition of their leader.

These stories are commonly shared to illustrate the history of the modern salute, but there is little evidence to support them.

The British Army developed a salute with the palm facing outwards, which was also adopted by the Royal Air Force.

Britain's Royal Navy adopted a version of the salute with the palm facing downwards. It's possible that sailors working on ships had dirty palms and displaying them might seem disrespectful.

What it means to us today

Australia's defence forces followed the British traditions of saluting.

In the Australian Defence Force (ADF), a lower-ranked person salutes first and then the more senior member returns the compliment. The person saluting makes eye contact with the person being greeted.

In the presence of the enemy, military salutes are generally forbidden. This is because saluting can identify officers as valuable targets for intelligence and snipers.

In many defence forces, including the ADF, people only salute when 'cover or protection for the head' (a hat) is worn. Military personnel generally wear formal attire at ceremonies and processions, which includes a hat specific to the navy, army or air force.

The salute itself has become a symbol of respect and remembrance. At commemorative services, military personnel may salute when:

  • national flags are lowered or raised
  • a national anthem is played
  • a symbolic tune is played, such as The Last Post.

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Saluting around the world

Armed forces around the world have some different forms of saluting.

For example, personnel in the Polish military forces perform a 2-finger salute. They extend the middle and index fingers and bend the other fingers to touch the thumb. The 2 fingers are said to represent honour and fatherland, a tradition dating back to at least the 1800s.

Do some research on your own and try to answer these questions:

  1. How do salutes differ in other countries or military services?
  2. What interesting stories can you discover about the origins of a particular salute?
  3. Can you find any salutes that are controversial or have been banned? Why were they banned?

Last updated: 12 April 2021

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2021), Salute as a symbol of commemoration in Australia, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 2 August 2021, https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/commemoration/symbols-commemoration/salute
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