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Lest we forget - ANZAC Day 2006

ANZAC Day - 25 April - is probably Australia's most important national occasion. It marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War. ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.

When war broke out in 1914 Australia had been a federal commonwealth for only fourteen years. In 1915 Australian and New Zealand soldiers formed part of the allied expedition that set out to capture the Gallipoli peninsula to open the way to the Black Sea for the allied navies. They landed at Gallipoli on 25 April, meeting fierce resistance from the Turkish defenders.

The campaign dragged on for eight months and at the end of 1915 the allied forces were evacuated after both sides had suffered heavy casualties and endured great hardships. Over 8,000 Australian soldiers were killed. News of the landing at Gallipoli made a profound impact on Australians at home and 25 April quickly became the day on which Australians remembered the sacrifice of those who had died in war.

In the picture, above, is the legendary "Man with the Donkey", Private John Simpson (right). Simpson landed with the Field Ambulance early on the 25th April, but by the following day had established himself as virtually an independent unit, leading a donkey carrying wounded from the front down Monash and Shrapnel Valleys to the beach. In the first three weeks of the campaign he became a familiar sight, always cheerful and oblivious of danger. He was killed by machine-gun fire near Steele's Post on 19 May.

The date, 25 April, was officially named ANZAC Day in 1916; in that year it was marked by a wide variety of ceremonies and services in Australia, a march through London, and a sports day in the Australian camp in Egypt. In London, over 2,000 Australian and New Zealand troops marched through the streets of the city. A London newspaper headline dubbed them "The knights of Gallipoli". Marches were held all over Australia in 1916. Wounded soldiers from Gallipoli attended the Sydney march in convoys of cars, attended by nurses. For the remaining years of the war, ANZAC Day was used as an occasion for patriotic rallies and recruiting campaigns, and parades of serving members of the AIF were held in most cities.

During the 1920s, ANZAC Day became established as a national day of commemoration for the 60,000 Australians who died during the war. The first year in which all the States observed some form of public holiday together on ANZAC Day was 1927. By the mid-1930s all the rituals we today associate with the day - dawn vigils, marches, memorial services, reunions, sly two-up games - were firmly established as part of ANZAC Day culture.

With the coming of the Second World War, ANZAC Day became a day on which to commemorate the lives of Australians lost in that war as well, and in subsequent years the meaning of the day has been further broadened to include Australians killed in all the military operations in which Australia has been involved.

ANZAC Day was first commemorated at the Australian War Memorial in 1942, but due to government orders preventing large public gatherings in case of Japanese air attack, it was a small affair and was neither a march nor a memorial service. ANZAC Day has been annually commemorated at the Australian War Memorial ever since.

Australians recognise 25 April as an occasion of national commemoration. Commemorative services are held at dawn, the time of the original landing, across the nation. Later in the day ex-servicemen and women meet and join in marches through the major cities and many smaller centres. Commemorative ceremonies are held at war memorials around the country. It is a day when Australians reflect on the many different meanings of war. This history of ANZAC Day from http://www.awm.gov.au/commemoration/anzac/anzac_tradition.htm.

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