Anzac Day: Wartime Snapshot No. 30

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This education resource explores the meaning of Anzac Day and how it's changed over time. Once closely tied to the Australians who fought in World War I, 'Anzac' now represents all men and women who have served Australia. On occasion, Anzac Day has also been a vehicle for protests. Use this Wartime Snapshot to encourage student-led inquiry learning about this topic in our wartime history.

Series: Wartime Snapshots
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They shall grow not old,
as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them,
nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun
and in the morning
We will remember them.

From For the Fallen by Laurence Binyon, 1914

Background

Anzac Day has been commemorated by Australians since the first anniversary of the Gallipoli landings in 1916. During the First World War, morning church services were followed by fundraising events and recruiting rallies featuring returned soldiers. After the war, many veterans who wanted to put those years behind them avoided Anzac Day. In some parts of Australia, there were no large public ceremonies for several years until a revival in the 1920s. People felt the need to honour veterans and to mourn the dead, but it was also a day for returned soldiers to reunite and reminisce.

By 1927 Anzac Day was a public holiday in every state. On occasion, Anzac Day has been a vehicle for protest. In 1929 as the Depression struck, some veterans marched under a banner reading: ‘Unemployed Returned Soldiers. We had a job in 1914-1918. Why not now?’. Others felt excluded by the focus on returned men at the expense of those who had lost their lives, and of families at home. Bereaved women protested not being part of the ceremonies in 1938 by joining returned soldiers at Melbourne's Shrine of Remembrance, much to the annoyance of some veterans.

Early in the Second World War, Anzac Day acknowledged a new generation of service personnel and celebrated Allied victories. In 1942 with Japan threatening, there were no official dawn services nor marches. When they were reinstated in 1943, veterans of two wars were taking part. Never again would Anzac Day be an occasion dedicated only to the memory of the Great War.

By the 1950s, after decades of war and the Great Depression, people were wearying of commemoration and reminders of darker times, among them veterans who saw Anzac Day as a glorification of war and refused to participate. This view gathered momentum in the 1960s as Australia's involvement in the Vietnam War became increasingly unpopular.

The Gallipoli Campaign's 50th anniversary in 1965 initiated a revival whose full impact was felt in the 1970s, with greater academic and popular interest in the First World War. Anzac Day came to be seen through the prism of war as a cause of misery, pain and suffering.

In the late 1970s, protesters called into question the commemoration of Anzac Day, and groups who felt excluded from the Anzac story, such as First Australians, brought their experiences into the spotlight.

In the 1980s, new groups were allowed to join the march, including the descendants of veterans and members of the defence forces of allied nations who had migrated to Australia.

Today, Anzac Day also honours those who have served through recent conflicts and on peacekeeping missions, reflecting the diversity of modern military operations as young veterans connected by the experience of service join with veterans of earlier wars. Now a tradition over 100 years old, Anzac Day has become Australia's most important secular occasion. What form it will take in the future, how it is understood and whether it endures or fades away will be determined by the generation of Australians now playing their own part in the Anzac story.

Student inquiry questions

  1. Look at the images and read the text on the Anzac Day poster to respond to these questions.
    • What do the two images on the poster have in common? How are the images different?
    • People on the poster are laying wreaths of flowers as part of their remembrance.
  2. Why might flowers often be chosen for that use?
    • What happened on 25 April 1915? Why do we commemorate this date each year?
  3. Read the background information.
    • How did Australians commemorate Anzac Day during the First World War?
    • Why do you think many veterans avoided Anzac Day when they came home from the First World War?
    • Can you suggest why Indigenous Australians may have felt excluded from the Anzac story?
    • What other groups might also have felt excluded?
    • Why do we still commemorate Anzac Day today?
  4. Wreaths are symbols of commemoration. Identify other symbols of commemoration on this website.
  5. Look at a photograph of people protesting against Anzac Day in 1987.
    • What is written on the banner in the photograph?
    • What might have motivated the protesters?
    • How have attitudes to Anzac Day changed since 1987?
  6. Imagine you have a friend who lives in another country, perhaps in Europe or Asia. Your friend is interested in Anzac Day and has contacted you via email to find out about it. Write a reply to your friend describing what Anzac Day is, what the day means to you and what it might be like many years into the future.

Sources

  • Andrews E. 1993. 25 April 1916, First Anzac Day in Australia and Britain. Journal of the Australian War Memorial 23.
  • Connor J, P Stanley and P Yule. 2015. The War at Home. Oxford University Press, Melbourne.
  • Ely R. 1985. The First Anzac Day, Invented or Discovered?. Journal of Australian Studies 17.
  • McKernan M. 1980. The Australian People and the Great War. Thomas Nelson Australia, Melbourne.
  • Thomson A. 1994. Anzac Memories, Living with the Legend. Allen & Unwin, Sydney.

Copyright

Department of Veterans' Affairs 2022

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