ANZAC Day – or 25th April – is celebrated in Australia and New Zealand as a national holiday.
The name stems from that given to the expeditionary force set up in 1914 as part of the Allied Forces that fought in the First World War and ANZAC stands for Australia and New Zealand Army Corps.
The date itself is taken from the start of the Allied invasion in 1915 of the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey, which was a more than ordinarily futile and costly battle in a conflict that was famous for them and ended in defeat. So the first thing worth remembering about this holiday is that it doesn’t commemorate a victory. Secondly, in terms of actual casualties, whilst they were considerable (2,400 or 25% of all New Zealanders who landed were killed), they were relatively minor in comparison to British casualties (around 130,000) or indeed those suffered by both nations when fighting in France later on in the war.
The real significance of this date is that it marks another step in the evolution of both countries from being British colonies to self governing independent nations, as this was the first time that they fought as separate national armies. Particularly in Australia, the event is also seen as creating a specific national identify separate from that of the UK and has been echoed in popular culture in films and books since then.
The nature of the battle itself – high casualties ending in defeat – has also made it peculiarly effective as a means of commemorating both the sacrifice and futility of war. In addition, the fact of defeat means that those who died are perceived as having done so to create a nation, rather than a physical victory. This makes it subtly different from many other equivalent commemorations. The day itself has now therefore evolved as a dual commemoration of all war deaths (eg both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan etc) and a celebration of national identity.
Thousands of Australians and New Zealanders (young and old) visit Gallipoli on 25th April and throughout the year. The day itself is marked by parades and celebrations throughout both countries. In Australia, it is also the only day of the year when gambling is allowed outside licensed venues – this is a game called ‘Two Up’ which was very popular among the soldiers and involves betting on which way up two coins land when tossed in the air.
As ever, if you work with people in Australia and New Zealand, be careful planning meetings around this date: this year, it falls on the Friday after Easter which means that there are public holidays on 18th, 21st and 25th April.
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