Anzac Day commemorates the landing of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) soldiers at a small cove on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey, on 25 April 1915.
When World War One broke out in 1914, Australia had been a federal commonwealth for just 13 years and was eager to establish its standing among the nations of the world. Newly elected Labor Prime Minister, Andrew Fisher, pledged 20,000 Australian troops to support Britain in the war. These men formed the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) and became part of the proposed Gallipoli campaign, the aim of which was to capture the Gallipoli peninsula and open the Dardanelles, thus uniting the Allies and providing access to the Turkish capital, Constantinople.
In the early hours of Sunday, 25 April 1915, the first wave of 1,500 ANZACs landed, with an additional 2,500 following to begin the push inland. However, instead of landing on the flat beach as anticipated, they found themselves trapped on a narrow stretch of sand rimmed by rugged cliffs. The Allies were in full view of the Turks who reinforced the cliff tops and proceeded to decimate them with a constant barrage of gunfire and shelling. 2,000 Allied troops died on that first day; more than 6,500 were killed or wounded by the end of the week.
The ANZACs sought cover in the gullies, but it became increasingly obvious that they were unable to storm the cliffs as planned. What had begun as a relatively straightforward plan rapidly became an eight-month long stalemate.
The fighting on both sides consisted entirely of trench warfare, with neither side being able to gain an advantage. The decision was made in December to evacuate the Allied troops. This proved a successful mission, with 35,445 men smuggled out under the cover of darkness between 17 and 19 December, remarkably with no loss of life.
Total Australian casualties during the Gallipoli campaign were: 7,823 killed, 19,441 wounded, 569 dead from disease and 31 dead due to accidents.
The Gallipoli campaign has been described as the birth of nationhood for both Australia and New Zealand, and perceived as a key event in forging a sense of national identity. Despite their defeat at Gallipoli, Australian soldiers displayed great courage, endurance, initiative, discipline, and mateship. Such qualities came to be identified as the embodiment of the ANZAC spirit.
The 25th of April was officially named Anzac Day in 1916. The first anniversary of the Gallipoli landing was marked by ceremonies and services throughout Australia, New Zealand and England.
In London 1,300 Australian and 700 New Zealand troops received a rousing reception as they marched through the streets to Westminster Abbey where a service was held in honour of their contribution to the Gallipoli campaign. During the service King George V declared: “Tell my people of Australia and New Zealand that today I am joining with them in their solemn tribute to the memory of their heroes who died in Gallipoli. They gave their lives for a supreme cause in gallant comradeship with the rest of my sailors and soldiers who fought and died with them. Their valour and fortitude have shed fresh lustre on the British arms.”
In Australia there was strong public support for the day, with between 60,000 and 100,000 people attending a memorial service in the Sydney Domain.
In Orange the Salvation Army Band and the Orange Town Band took part in a procession through the streets, followed by a combined memorial service at the Australian Hall from 12.30 until 1.30pm. Stores were closed between 12 and 2pm to allow people to attend the events.
By the late 1920s Anzac Day had been proclaimed a public holiday in all states and territories of Australia.
Orange-born John Patrick Hamilton took part in the original landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. On 9 August that year during the Battle of Lone Pine 19-year-old Hamilton was awarded a Victoria Cross “for most conspicuous bravery… During a heavy bomb attack by the enemy on the newly-captured position at Lone Pine, Private Hamilton, with utter disregard to personal safety, exposed himself under heavy fire on the parados, in order to secure a better fire position against the enemy’s bomb throwers. His coolness and daring example had an immediate effect. The defence was encouraged and the enemy was driven off with heavy loss.” John Hamilton’s VC is on display at the Australian War Memorial; it was the only Victoria Cross awarded to Hamilton’s unit during the war, and one of just nine Victoria Crosses awarded to Australians at Gallipoli.
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, President of Turkey wrote the following tribute to the ANZACs in 1934. The tribute appears on the Turkish memorial at Anzac Cove.
Those heroes that shed their blood, and lost their lives …
You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.
Therefore, rest in peace.
There is no difference between the Johnnies
And the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side,
Here in this country of ours.
You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries
Wipe away your tears.
Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace.
After having lost their lives on this land,
they have Become our sons as well.
Leader, 26 April 1916, p. 4.
United Memorial Service: Impressive address by Rev C. P. Walkden-Brown
Leader, 26 April 1916, p. 4.
Anzac Day. United service in the Australian Hall
Leader, 14 April 1916, p. 4.
Anzac Day Poem