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Everything You Need to Know About ANZAC Day

Home > Everywhere > Memorials | Lists | Family | ANZAC Day | Adventure
Published March 26th 2014
Find out more about our most solemn public holiday

Everything You Need to Know About ANZAC Day Carly Ogborne
Image from Wikipedia

ANZAC Day is so embedded in the Australian psyche that we often don't stop to think about the deeper meaning of our traditions and rituals. In time for ANZAC Day 2014, I've compiled a list of history, stories, routines and etiquette that you may or may not already know.

The Basics

Every Aussie should know the following (and shame shame shame if you don't what are they teaching in the schools these days?) but for our international readers, here are the most important points.

ANZAC Day is celebrated on 25 April in Australia and New Zealand.

ANZAC is an acronym for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.

The holiday honours the Australian and New Zealand soldiers who fought at Gallipoli in the Ottoman (Turkey) during World War One specifically, and all veterans and enlisted persons who have died doing their duties in general.

Everything You Need to Know About ANZAC Day Carly Ogborne
Image from Wikipedia

The Gallipoli campaign was part of an Allied expedition to overtake Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire. The ANZAC soldiers landed at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 and fought for eight months. When the Allied forces retreated at the end of 1915, an estimated 8700 Australian soliders and 2700 New Zealand soldiers had lost their lives (as well as 21 200 from the United Kingdom, 10 000 from France and 1300 from British India.)

The first ANZAC Day took place on 30 April 1915, when New Zealander's took a half day holiday upon learning of the soldiers landing in Gallipoli. It was established as a public holiday during the 1920s.


New Zealand History Online

Australian War Memorial website

The Anzac Legend

We all have our ANZAC Day traditions, but have you ever wondered what they mean or how they came about?

Dawn Service

Everything You Need to Know About ANZAC Day Carly Ogborne
Photographs by

I don't get out of bed before the sun comes up for my own son, but every ANZAC Day I watch the sun rise at my local war memorial. I always assumed the service took place at dawn because the ANZACs landed at dawn, but it turns out that's incorrect.

The tradition of ANZAC Day dawn services began as a military routine. In times of war, the half-light of sunrise and sunset are the most common times for enemy attack, so soldiers made sure they were awake and manning their weapons by first light. This is known as a 'stand-to' and is a practice used by the Australian Army today.

When soldiers returned from the First World War, they found themselves craving the peace and camaraderie they felt during these stand-tos . The first dawn service took place on 25 April 1923 in Albany, Western Australia, led by Reverend Arthur White, one of the earliest ANZACs to leave Australia, and a group of friends.

The Last Post

Possibly the most well known bugle song (or the only known bugle song), The Last Post has a military history beyond ANZAC Day. The song has been used by the British Army since the seventeenth century to signal the end of the day, usually when the officers return to camp, but also to let soldiers who were still out fighting know that the battle was done for the day.

The Last Post's use as a symbol of returning home makes it appropriate for ANZAC Day commemorations.

Gunfire Breakfast

I know that that drinking coffee laced with rum for breakfast seems like an Australian idea, but the gunfire breakfast was actually created by the British Army during the 1890s. The term refers to the early cup of tea served to soldiers before they attended first parade. During WWI, alcohol was added to give the lower ranks Dutch Courage.

While liquor licensing laws ban the sale and service of alcohol on ANZAC morning, many states make allowances for a gunfire breakfast.


Everything You Need to Know About ANZAC Day Carly Ogborne
Image from Wikipedia

Two-up is a gambling game that involves pitching two pennies into the air and predicting whether they will come up heads or tails (it sounds simple, but it's actually quite complicated). The game has its origins in the days of convicts and the goldfields, and was played extensively by Australian soldiers throughout WWI.

Two-up was illegal throughout Australia until 1989, when the laws began to relax to allow games on ANZAC Day and other commerative holidays. Let's mull that one over for a minute throwing pennies in the air is illegal, but the pokies are A-OK.

ANZAC biscuits

While perhaps not a quintessential ANZAC Day mainstay, ANZAC biscuits are a part of the ANZAC legend. During WWI, the mothers, wives and girlfriends of Australian soldiers wanted to send food and treats overseas, but they had a few problems. They wanted to make something with a nutritional value, but packages could take months to reach their loved ones, and once they arrived, there were no refrigerated facilities for storage. Also, many necessary ingredients, such as eggs, were scarce. Using a Scottish rolled oats recipe for inspiration, these Australian women combined rolled oats, coconut, sugar, flour, butter and golden syrup to create the biscuit that we know and love today.

The name ANZAC is protected by Australian law and its usage must be approved by the Minister for Veteran's Affairs. ANZAC biscuits may only be named so if they follow the original recipes and are not marketed as 'cookies'.


Australian War Memorial website

Young Diggers

Parliament of Australia website

Attorney General's Department via the Wayback Machine

Department of Veteran's Affairs website

NSW Office of Liquor, Gambling and Racing


Flags are flown at half mast on ANZAC Day until noon.

Everything You Need to Know About ANZAC Day Carly Ogborne
Image by Jes via Wikipedia

Soldiers and civilians who have been awarded medals may wear them on their left breast. Veterans may also wear the medals of fellow veterans on the opposite breast. Soldiers and civilians who haven't been awarded medals may only wear medals if they are a direct descendent of the honouree and must wear them on their right breast.

Although not a hard and fast rule, rosemary (not poppies) is the plant most commonly associated with ANZAC Day, as it is a symbol of remembrance. A sprig of rosemary is often pinned to the breast.

If laying a wreath at a memorial or grave, consider including laurel (for honour) or rosemary (for remembrance).

Turn mobile phones and other devices to silent when attending a dawn service or other solemn occasion, or before a one minute silence.

Don't get messy drunk. No one likes that guy.


Parliament of Australia website

Further Reading

Everything You Need to Know About ANZAC Day Carly Ogborne
Image from Wikipedia

For the Fallen by Robert Laurence Binyon

In Flanders Fields by John McCrae.

ANZAC Day is a solemn day, but it's also a day to commemorate and celebrate Australian soldiers of the past and present.

Lest we forget.
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Your Comment
Great article, Carly. I found it interesting to learn about your traditions.
by Bryony Harrison (score: 4|12604) 2369 days ago
Very good presentation
by princ (score: 0|2) 1985 days ago
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