The Anzac legend

On 25 April 1915, soldiers of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) landed under fire on the shores of Gallipoli. It was the first time the young Australian nation had sent a force into battle. Those on the home front were soon reading about the 'worthy sons of the Empire' who had displayed bravery, courage, skill and camaraderie.

The Anzac legend was born.

The Anzacs stayed on the Gallipoli peninsula for 8 months of desperate fighting with few strategic gains. Yet, by the time they withdrew, their reputation had been cemented.

Australians saw Anzacs as innovative, laconic, fearless, loyal and not afraid to question authority. These notions regarding the Gallipoli Campaign have been reinforced each Anzac Day since 1915. Today, they're deeply embedded in the Australian psyche.

The Anzacs on Gallipoli helped to shape the Australian story, and their characteristics are often used to define what it means to be Australian.

Thousands of Australians now undertake pilgrimages to Gallipoli each year.

In the years since 1915, however, some Australians have also challenged aspects of the Anzac legend.

Some common arguments question:

  • the strategic relevance of the entire campaign
  • the competence of the British command
  • the lack of appropriate resources
  • the needless loss of life

Others have asked why Australians are so proud of a campaign that was a military failure and why the Gallipoli Campaign receives so much more recognition than the Anzacs on the Western Front, where many more Australians were killed.

The reliability of aspects of the legend, including the role of Simpson and his donkeys, have also been challenged.

As time has passed, the meaning of 'Anzac' has changed. It's now used to refer not only to those who served during World War I, but to all the men and women who have served Australia since that time.

While the relevance of the Anzac legend in today’s multicultural society is at times debated, there is little doubt that it will continue to have significance for generations to come.


Last updated: 17 December 2019

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2019), The Anzac legend, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 14 July 2020, http://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/wars-and-missions/ww1/personnel/anzac-legend
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