With Anzac Day 2016 fast approaching, it seems appropriate to look back 100 years and reflect on the very first Anzac Day – 25 April 1916.
The tragic events of the Gallipoli landing were first recognised publicly in New Zealand on 30 April 1915, when news of the incident filtered through from Europe. On that day, a half-day holiday was declared as people absorbed stories of the drama that had unfolded on the Gallipoli Peninsula.
By 1916, New Zealanders had a greater understanding of the events at Gallipoli. The courage of the ANZAC troops in the face of such adversity resonated with the New Zealand public, sparking feelings of national pride. Many New Zealanders felt that a day of official remembrance was appropriate.
Mack, Edward Brodie, 1897-1965 :ANZAC Day (April 25th) – It’s first anniversary. Can we ever forget it? Free Lance, 20 April 1916.
Various artists: Collection of newspaper clippings, photocopies and bromides of cartoons by Minhinnick (A-311-1), Mack (A-311-2) and Bird (A-311-3).
Ref: A-311-2-001. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23228587
In early April 2016, Prime Minister William Massey announced that the Government would observe a half-day holiday from 1pm on 25 April 1916 – the first anniversary of the Gallipoli landing. Special church services were to be held on that day, and the New Zealand flag would be flown all over the country. The Government declared that the day should not be marked by sports or special entertainment, but that it was appropriate for patriotic meetings to be held, both to mark the anniversary and to assist with recruiting more men to the cause.
Returned servicemen increasingly took a position of leadership in these planned remembrance ceremonies, advocating for public services where servicemen could be together to remember their fallen comrades.
Large crowds attended the first Anzac Day ceremonies throughout New Zealand, with similar ceremonies attracting crowds in Australia also. More than 2000 people attended the 1916 Anzac Day service in Rotorua – a substantial percentage of the population at that time.
Anzac day commemoration at Petone.
Godber, Albert Percy, 1875-1949 :Collection of albums, prints and negatives. Ref: APG-0589-1/2-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22821004
Anzac day commemoration at Petone.
Godber, Albert Percy, 1875-1949 :Collection of albums, prints and negatives. Ref: APG-0588-1/2-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22691863
Over in London, Australian and New Zealand troops commemorated the day with march and a service in Westminster Abbey, and in Egypt, soldiers also marked the day with a special service. Battalions serving on the front lines took time to remember their comrades lost at Gallipoli the year before.
View from a high angle down at the crowds on the Strand in London during Anzac day 1916. Hotel Cecil can be seen on the right of the image.
Underwood and Underwood (1916) Anzac Day in London 1916. Auckland War Memorial Museum call no. D570 M53 U65 p1
Anzac Day was officially made a public holiday in New Zealand in 1920, under the Anzac Day Act. Over time, with further losses during WWI, the advent of WWII, and other international conflicts during the twentieth century, Anzac Day commemorations have expanded to include all New Zealanders killed in war, as well as honouring returned servicemen and women.
In recent years, there has been a resurgence in interest in commemorating Anzac Day, with record numbers turning out for dawn services throughout New Zealand. Although the Gallipoli campaign ultimately failed, and the feelings of national pride and patriotism that characterised the early Anzac Day services have perhaps waned, the day retains special meaning for many people. In the present day, Anzac Day seems to reflect a feeling of unity and shared sorrow for the loss of so many New Zealanders due to war.
Tamara Patten, Communications Officer, National Services Te Paerangi