Sunday, April 25, 2010

What's The Occasion? ANZAC Day

Although Anzac Day originally commemorated the heavy loss of life sustained by the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (or ANZAC) while fighting the Gallipoli Campaign of World War I in Turkey on this day in 1915, since the end of World War II it has come to be a more general day of remembrance for all those whose lives have been lost in the service of their countries.  In addition to Australia and New Zealand, the day is observed in the Cook Islands, Niue, Samoa and Tonga.

PhotobucketThe holiday gained in popularity very quickly...  Its first observation could be said to have taken place on April 30th of that year, when word of the fighting (and its terrible casualties*) first reached Australia; a half-day holiday was then declared, which was again observed the following year on April 5th.  New Zealand was the first country to make the day an official holiday when it passed the Anzac Day Act in 1920.  Throughout the 1920s the holiday was observed in Australia to varying degrees (depending on the state) but by 1927 was uniformly marked, with its date set on April 25th.

The 1930s saw the various rituals that are now associated with Anzac Day - dawn vigils, marches, memorial services, reunions, sly two-up games - become part of Australian culture.  The first dawn vigil took place at the Sydney Cenotaph in 1927, and like the Remembrance Day service familiar in Canada and the UK is marked by the playing of The Last Post**.  The dawn vigil was first introduced to New Zealand in 1939, and remains a feature of Anzac Day there; it stems from the battle itself, which commenced in the hours surrounding the dawn.

Despite the creation of the Australian Federation in January 1901 and a similar move towards  independence for New Zealand in September 1907, Anzac Day is considered the day both countries were born, having been forged in the horrors of war and christened in the blood of its finest young men...

*Allied casualties amounted to 21,255 from the UK, an estimated 10,000 from France, 8,709 from Australia, 2,721 from New Zealand, and 1,358 from British India.
**In the US, of course, the Memorial Day service every May is similarly serenaded by the playing of Taps.

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