Anzac Day, 25 April, is one of Australia’s most important
national occasions. It marks the anniversary of the first major military action
fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War.
What does ANZAC stand for?
ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. The
soldiers in those forces quickly became known as Anzacs, and the pride they
took in that name endures to this day.
Why is this day special to Australians?
When war broke out in 1914 Australia had been a federated nation
for only 13 years, and its government was eager to establish a reputation among
the nations of the world. When Britain declared war in August 1914 Australia
was automatically placed on the side of the Commonwealth. In 1915 Australian
and New Zealand soldiers formed part of the expedition that set out to capture
the Gallipoli peninsula in order to open the Dardanelles to the allied navies.
The ultimate objective was to capture Constantinople (now Istanbul), the
capital of the Ottoman Empire, an ally of Germany.
A view looking aft of lifeboat carrying unidentified men of
the Australian 1st Divisional Signal Company as they are towed towards Anzac
Cove on the day of the landing.
The Australian and New Zealand forces landed on Gallipoli on
25 April, meeting fierce resistance from the Ottoman Turkish defenders. What
had been planned as a bold stroke to knock Turkey out of the war quickly became
a stalemate, and the campaign dragged on for eight months. At the end of 1915
the allied forces were evacuated from the peninsula, with both sides having
suffered heavy casualties and endured great hardships. More than 8,000
Australian soldiers had died in the campaign. Gallipoli had a profound impact
on Australians at home, and 25 April soon became the day on which Australians
remembered the sacrifice of those who died in the war.
Although the Gallipoli campaign failed in its military
objectives, the actions of Australian and New Zealand forces during the
campaign left a powerful legacy. What became known as the "Anzac legend” became
an important part of the identity of both nations, shaping the ways in which
they viewed both their past and their future.