ANZAC Day Commemorations

ANZAC Day Commemorations

Anzac Day is one of Australia’s most important national days, with a traditional dawn service, march, and ceremonies held in honour of the members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who fought at Gallipoli during World War I.1 Observed on April 25th every year, the day is a national holiday with various ceremonies and marches in major cities and towns.

The historical significance of Anzac Day

More than 8,000 Australian soldiers died in the Gallipoli campaign against the Ottoman Turkish forces, and the Gallipoli campaign was the first during World War I with major casualties for Australia.1 The war would go on to claim many more Anzacs.2 After war broke out, Australia and New Zealand remained dominions of the British Empire and so automatically became allies of the Triple Entente.3

The Gallipoli campaign began on the 25th of April 2015 and its purpose was to capture the Gallipoli peninsula, including Constantinople (Istanbul today) so that the Dardanelles could be opened to the allied navies.4 At that time, Constantinople was the capital of the Ottoman Empire, which was an ally of Germany.

Although the overall plan was to remove Turkey from the war, the campaign lasted for eight months before the allied forces were evacuated.2 News of the causalities and the hardships the Anzacs went through had a significant impact on Australians back home.

As a result, Anzac Day has become a historically and culturally significant day for the country and an important day for remembering those who died during the Great War. Today, it has taken on a broader meaning and is now used to commemorate all ‘Australians who served and died in war and on operational service’ and their courage, mateship, and sacrifice.1

Commemorative ceremonies

Many major cities and towns host commemorative ceremonies and services on Anzac Day. Commemorative ceremonies tend to be more formal, and they’re usually held at war memorials around the country at dawn, at the time of the Gallipoli landing.1

Ceremonies usually include an introduction, hymns, prayers, an address, the laying of the wreaths, a recitation, the Last Post, and a period of silence. The Last Post usually features the Rouse or the Reveille, which are bugle calls. At some point the national anthem will be sung, and families and other attendees will place red poppies beside the service personnel’s names on the Roll of Honour at the Memorial. Attendees often wear rosemary, which is found growing wild on the Gallipoli peninsula.

In the Australian Capital Territory, the Australian War Memorial hosts two separate ceremonies. These are organised in cooperation with the Returned and Services League of Australia ACT.1

  • Dawn Service – Commencing at dusk on 23rd April, the Dawn Service will feature images of Australian servicemen and servicewomen being projected on to the Memorial building before excerpts from service personnel’s letters and diaries are read out. The standing service will observe 15 minutes of silence before the service commences at 5:30 AM.
  • National Ceremony – The National Ceremony starts at 10:30 AM at the Australian War Memorial. The ceremony will include the national anthems of Australia and New Zealand, the Commemorative Address, the laying of wreaths, the reading of hymns, and the sounding of the Last Post before one minute’s silence. Included in the ceremony is the Anzac Day veteran’s march.

Other dawn services are held every year around the country.

Anzac Day marches

Later in the day, it’s traditional for former servicemen and servicewomen to participate in marches in Australia’s major capital cities and towns.4 As mentioned above, the Canberra ceremony is part of the Dawn Service, but cities such as Sydney and Melbourne have marches separate from the earlier services. These are often held or finished with commemorative services and sunset ceremonies, and related gallery displays or exhibitions are also often held. Descendants of veterans often take part6 in these marches7.

Two-up games

Many Australians will be playing Two-Up as part of their Anzac day remembrance activities. This gambling game was adapted from the English ‘pitch and toss’ game by the Anzacs during World War I.8 Two-Up involves betting on two tossed coins and specific rules about the tossing process. Anzac Day is usually the only day when playing two-up is legal, though this will depend on your state or territory.9 In some states, it can only be played in approved venues on Anzac Day.9

The Anzac biscuit

The Anzac biscuit also has its roots in World War I, when family and friends of the Anzacs sent food to the soldiers.4 Anzac biscuits were a popular food to send as it stayed fresh and edible without refrigeration for the long journey across the seas. Made from rolled oats, plain, sugar, coconut, butter, and golden syrup or treacle, the Anzac biscuit was originally known as the Soldiers’ Biscuit.4

Interestingly, the use of the word ‘Anzac’ in commercially produced and sold Anzac biscuits is one of the few permitted instances because the use of the term ‘Anzac’ is protected by law.4


  1. Anzac TraditionThe Australian War Memorial
  2. The history of ANZAC DayRSL NSW
  3. How did the First World War start?The Week
  4. Anzac DayAustralian Army
  5. Anzac Day dawn serviceVeterans NSW
  6. Anzac DayRSL NSW (PDF)
  7. Anzac Day 2016Shrine of Remembrance
  8. The rules of
  9. Why is two-up only played on Anzac Day?FindLaw Australia