Anzac Day

Anzac Day

The anniversary of the landings, 25 April, has since 1916 been recognised in Australia and New Zealand as Anzac Day, now one of our most important national occasions. It does not celebrate a military victory, but instead commemorates all the Australians and New Zealanders "who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations" and "the contribution and suffering of all those who have served”. Around the country, dawn services are held at war memorials to commemorate those involved. The first official dawn services were held in Australia in 1927 and in New Zealand in 1939. Lower-key services are also held in the United Kingdom and Ireland. 

The landing at Anzac Cove (25 April 1915), also known as the landing at Gaba Tepe, and to the Turks as the Arıburnu Battle, was part of the amphibious invasion of the Gallipoli Peninsula by the forces of the British Empire, which began the land phase of the Gallipoli Campaign of the First World War.

The assault troops, mostly from the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC), landed at night on the western (Aegean Sea) side of the peninsula. They were put ashore one mile (1.6 km) north of their intended landing beach. In the darkness, the assault formations became mixed up, but the troops gradually made their way inland, under increasing opposition from the Ottoman Turkish defenders. Not long after coming ashore the ANZAC plans were discarded, and the companies and battalions were thrown into battle piece-meal, and received mixed orders. Some advanced to their pre-designated objectives while others were diverted to other areas, then ordered to dig in along defensive ridge lines.

Although they failed to achieve their objectives, by nightfall the ANZACs had formed a beachhead, albeit much smaller than intended. In places they were clinging onto cliff faces with no organised defence system. Their precarious position convinced both divisional commanders to ask for an evacuation, but after taking advice from the Royal Navy about how practicable that would be, the army commander decided they would stay. The exact number of the day's casualties is not known. The ANZACs had landed two divisions but over two thousand of their men had been killed or wounded, together with at least a similar number of Turkish casualties.

Since 1916 the anniversary of the landings on 25 April has been commemorated as Anzac Day, becoming one of the most important national celebrations in Australia and New Zealand. The anniversary is also commemorated in Turkey, the United Kingdom and Ireland.

The full extent of casualties on that first day are not known. One observer, who did not come ashore until late in the day, estimated between three and four hundred dead on the beaches. The New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage claims one in five of the three thousand New Zealanders involved became a casualty. The Australian War Memorial has 860 Australian dead between 25–30 April and the Australian Government estimates 2,000 wounded left Anzac Cove on 25 April, but more wounded were still waiting on the battlefields to be evacuated. 

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission documents that 754 Australian and 147 New Zealand soldiers died on 25 April 1915. A higher than normal proportion of the ANZAC casualties were from the officer ranks. One theory was that they kept exposing themselves to fire, trying to find out where they were or to locate their troops. Four men were taken prisoner by the Turks.

It is estimated that the Turkish 27th and 57th Infantry Regiments lost around 2,000 men, or fifty per cent of their combined strength. The full number of Turkish casualties for the day has not been recorded. During the campaign, 8,708 Australians and 2,721 New Zealanders were killed. The exact number of Turkish dead is not known but has been estimated around 87,000.

Anzac Day Today

New Zealanders have marked the landings at Gallipoli since news of the event first reached this country, and Anzac Day has been a public holiday since 1921. On this day the people of New Zealand have acknowledged the sacrifice of all those who have died in warfare, and the contribution and suffering of all those who have served.

Over time there have been changes in the way that the day has been commemorated, reflecting the changing features and concerns of our society. During the Second World War, for example, there was increased interest and a heightened sense of the relevance of Anzac Day; in the 1960s and decades following it was from time to time used as a platform for anti-war and other social protest.

Today, at a time when it seems New Zealanders are increasingly keen to assert and celebrate a unique identity, we recognise Anzac Day as a central marker of our nationhood.

The number of New Zealanders attending Anzac Day events in New Zealand, and at Gallipoli, is increasing. Large groups of Australians and New Zealanders have begun to gather at Anzac Cove, where in 2005 an estimated 20,000 people attended the service to commemorate the landings Attendance figures rose to 38,000 in 2012 and 50,000 in 2013. 

For some younger people, the sombre focus of the day receives less emphasis than do the more celebratory aspects of a national holiday. For most, though, the day is an occasion on which to formally pay tribute and to remember.

Anzac Day now promotes a sense of unity, perhaps more effectively than any other day on the national calendar. People whose politics, beliefs and aspirations are widely different can nevertheless share a genuine sorrow at the loss of so many lives in war, and a real respect for those who have endured warfare on behalf of the country we live in.

Find out more on these sites: Anzac Day feature
Includes history of Anzac Day taken from The Oxford Companion to NZ Military History. 

RSA: Anzac Day
Detailed information about Anzac Day and particularly the role of the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services' Association.

Anzac Day in The Classroom
Anzac Day-related topics and activities for students.


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