Anzac Day According to a Kiwi


Anzac Day is the one day a year when kiwis get up before dawn, (that is unless the All Blacks are playing a game of rugby somewhere). To be a kiwi is to be an Anzac. One hundred and two years since those fateful landings on 25th April 1915, the events of Gallipoli and the legend it created are as central to New Zealand’s national identity as the All Blacks and Lord of the Rings. It is within our DNA. The same goes for our co-ANZAC across the ditch, the Aussies. Although, they may relate Anzac more to Aussies Rules and Kangaroos. So what is Anzac? And why is it so important?

Anzac is a product of the First World War. It didn’t exist before April 1915 and without the involvement of Lieutenant-General Sir W. R. Birdwood, the term and the legend would probably have never come to be. ANZAC is an acronym. It was created by Birdwood to act as a radio call sign for the Australian Imperial Force and the New Zealand Expeditionary Force and stands for; Australia New Zealand Army Corps. Of course, when Birdwood came up with the term, it did not carry the legendary connotations that it does today. The Anzac legend relates to a moment when both Australia and New Zealand proved their worth, not only to Britain, but most importantly, to themselves. It is the birth of both nations sense of national identity that was not entirely dependent upon Empire. Gallipoli, through a baptism of fire, provided the means for this to occur. To understand how Anzac went from being a simple communication tool to being given Herculean status we have to look at what occurred from April to December 1915. We have to look at Gallipoli.

When war broke out in August 1914, it was unclear if the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) would enter the conflict and on whose side. The country was technically neutral as far as the allied forces were concerned. However, due to a lack of dialogue with Britain, France and Russia, local political instability and a sense of loss of international importance, Turkey entered the war on the side of the Central Powers, Germany and Austria-Hungary. In November 1914, after the attack upon the Russian Black Sea ports the allies declared war on Turkey and now faced a war on two fronts. This was not an ideal situation as it would drain resources and man power from the already bogged down Western Front. The initial plan was twofold, by forcing the Dardanelle Strait it was hoped that the allies would not only be able to free the Russian ports, but also remove Turkey from the war by taking the capital Constantinople. This was to be achieved solely by the allied navy. It was hoped that a land invasion would not be required. However, on the off chance that a force would be necessary, the ANZAC forces were redirected (they were on route to Europe) and along with British, French, Indian and Newfoundland (Canadian) troops, were sent to Egypt to await orders. The initial plan failed as the allies had underestimated the level of the Turkish defence. The coastline was heavily defended by gun posts and the strait, heavily mined. At night on 25th April 1915, the land invasion of the Gallipoli peninsula began. Unlike their allied comrades, the ANZACs were delivered to the wrong beach. Now dubbed Anzac Cove, this section of coastline was not the easily traversed landscape that it was meant to be. Instead, the ANZACs were faced with cliffs which were difficult to scale in the dark. Due to this mistake, the otherwise surprised Turkish forces were able to regroup and form a strong defence. As a result, Gallipoli became another western front, where the only option was to dig in and fight. That, is exactly what both sides did for next eight months until an evacuation was finally ordered in December 1915. By then, approximately 60,000 allied soldiers and over 87,000 Turkish soldiers, had been killed.[1]

The Anzac legend focuses around two main conflicts during the eight month invasion, the attempts to take Lone Pine and Chunuk Bair. Both attacks were part of a much larger plan created by Birdwood to take the Sari Bair range and force a way through the Turkish lines. Starting on the 6th August, the Australians were charged with taking Lone Pine which proved to be a success, but at a cost of more than 2000 casualties.[2] Lone Pine was the diversion to enable New Zealand and British troops to take their respective targets. The attack on Chunuk Bair, proved to be less successful. When Lieutenant-Colonel William Malone of the Wellington Battalion advanced up the hill with his men during the early hours of the 8th August, they found the site lightly defended. They were not allowed to mount a night time attack, but their presence did not go undetected and the Turkish forces lead by Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk), were quick to respond. New Zealand troops were able to take and hold the summit for the next two days. Then they were relieved by British units, who lost it. By the end of August, after a final attempt to take Hill 60, both ANZAC nations could barely make up an army between them. Despite the military failure and huge losses, both Lone Pine and Chunuk Bair are central to any Anzac day celebration. Each year thousands of Aussies and Kiwis go on a pilgrimage to attend the dawn service at either site. It is seen as a rite of passage, something every ANZAC must do at least once in their life time.

Picture1Both at home in New Zealand and overseas Anzac Day has been commemorated every April 25th since 1916. Originally it was a means of rallying support for the war effort as well as a public expression of grief. What must be remembered is that in New Zealand we do not commemorate the Armistice, bells may toll to mark it, but as a population we do not really pay it much thought. Our day, is Anzac Day. To begin with, there was no fixed formula for how to commemorate the day. A service of some form would be held either in a town hall or local church. The Prime Minster would make an official speech which would be published in the various local papers the next day. Soldiers still away at war also marked the anniversary in different ways depending upon where they were. The 1917 troopship magazine Tiki Talk, documents how the Otago Reinforcement Regiment marked the occasion while at sea. The author opens by referring to the fame that the Anzacs have obtained. Two years after the invasion the legend had started to grow, helped in no small part by General Hamilton’s comment that, the Anzacs have no parallel not even in the sinister legends of Xerxes.[1] Xerxes and his invasion of Greece in 480BC seems to be a common comparison with the Anzacs. Both invade in a similar area, and both are defeated. But really, the Anzacs are more like the three hundred Spartans. Like the Spartans, when the deeds of the Anzacs are discussed we tend to forget that they were not alone in their invasion of Gallipoli. The British, French, Indian and Newfoundland troops are left out of the narrative. In both cases, the legend has clouded the historical events that inspired it to the point where fact is sometimes forgotten. The Anzac article in Tiki Talk goes on to outline the order of service of the day with remarks from the chaplain relating to the great sacrifice and how it stood as an example for those making their way to the front.[2] It was not until the 1920s that Anzac Day as we know it, started to emerge. In 1922, the New Zealand government officially created legislation that allowed for the 25th of April to be a national holiday.[3] As no bodies were ever returned home, New Zealand’s desire to commemorate their dead resulted in the building of more than 500 war memorials.[4] These became the focal point for the Anzac Day commemorations and as a result, the services became less of a religious occasion. It was not until 1931 that a National War Memorial was built. The idea put forward, was to build a Carillion in Wellington, New Zealand’s capital. A carillon is the largest musical instrument in the world, and when its bells are played it gives a voice to the fallen. This was originally rejected by the New Zealand government as being too costly. However, prominent local families (including the author Katherine Mansfield) who had lost sons in the war, created the Wellington War Memorial Carillon Society in 1926 to cover the cost through fundraising. Within two years, they had raised £9,600 to pay for the carillons forty nine bells.[5] As this aspect of the build had been provided, the government agreed to finance the construction. Dedicated on Anzac Day 1932, more than 10,000 spectators attended the ceremony with thousands more crowding into nearby vantage points to hear the carillon bells ring for the first time and watch as the Lamp of Remembrance was lit.[6] The carillon is still at the heart of Anzac commemorations in New Zealand. The Second World War redefined Anzac Day. It was no longer a day to simply remember the war dead of the First World War and this remains true to this day. While the main focus is still Gallipoli, Anzac Day is about remembering all those who have not only died in military service to New Zealand, but for all those who served.


That in brief is the history of Anzac, according to a kiwi. But how does New Zealand commemorate it today? It all starts with the various dawn services taking place up and down the country with kiwis enjoying the delightful autumn weather while they wait for the first glimpse of sunrise. Then, it’s back home to devour freshly baked Anzac biscuits, or store bought as the case may be. Based on the biscuits the soldiers were given at the front, a modern Anzac biscuit is made from oats, coconut and way too much butter and sugar, they are chewy and delicious (see recipe below). Perhaps it is best we only make them once a year! Throughout the day, there are a number of ceremonies taking place across the country, but one of note takes place at the Atatürk memorial in Wellington. Turkey and New Zealand have a unique relationship due to what occurred at Chunuk Bair. General Atatürk, greatly admired and respected the kiwi soldiers and how they fought. Attached to this relationship is a phrase that Atatürk said;

Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives…are now lying in the soul of a friendly country…and are in peace…they have become our sons.[7]

At the time Atatürk’s words offered comfort to the mothers of fallen Anzacs. Now the phrase is part of the legend. The day ends with the Last Post at the Carillon, before the country turns its gaze to the live broadcast of the dawn service at Gallipoli. Due to the centenary of the Anzac landings, there is now more to Anzac Day than just biscuits and services and it extends throughout the rest of the year. In my home city of Wellington, the carillon and its fellow memorials were all cleaned and restored for the 100th anniversary in 2015. The area around the carillon has been transformed into the Pukeahu National War Memorial Park, where new memorials are unveiled each year. This has allowed the people of Wellington to attend Anzac Day services on a scale similar to those in 1932. Two purpose built exhibitions are on until 2018. Te Papa’s, Gallipoli Scale of our War, created by Weta Workshop, refocuses the events of April to December 1915 by telling the tale of Gallipoli through the use of eight individuals who were there. A doctor, a nurse, a collection of kiwi Anzacs and one survivor, tell their unique view of Gallipoli in startling realism. This allows for an emotive response, but also clears away some of the cloud as it separates fact from legend. The other is Sir Peter Jackson’s Great War Exhibition. This one covers the entire war and places each battle in its correct context. While Gallipoli is mentioned it is not the focus. It allows for the whole kiwi war experience to be told which for some can be surprising, because the rest of the First World War is often overshadowed by Gallipoli. Both exhibitions are not to be missed. While the centenary has made Anzac Day current, it will be interesting to see if the increase in attendance among kiwis will continue once the anniversary is over.

One hundred and two years ago, the Anzacs created a legend that would long out live them. As the men who fought at Gallipoli have died, the legend has over taken the fact. If we forget the legend and all the new centenary additions for a moment, at its heart, Anzac Day is still a chance to reflect and pay respect to those brave kiwis who fought and died for home. Whether that was one hundred years ago or one year ago. Anzac day is about being a kiwi no matter where in the world you are. So, come Anzac day, this kiwi will be baking Anzac biscuits and paying tribute and respect.

ANZAC Biscuits

(Edmunds Sure to Rise Cookery Book 19th Edition 1983, page 19. Published by Edmunds Food Industries Ltd)


125g (4ozs.) Flour

150g (6ozs.) Sugar

1 cup Coconut

1 cup Rolled Oats

100g (3½ ozs.) Butter

1 tablespoon Golden Syrup

½ teaspoon Bicarb Soda

2 tablespoons Boiling Water


Mix together flour, sugar, coconut and rolled oats. Melt butter and golden syrup. Dissolve Bicarb Soda in the boiling water and add to butter and golden syrup. Make a well in the centre of flour, stir in the liquid. Place in spoonfuls on greased trays. Bake 15 to 20 minutes at 180oC (350oF).



  1. A poppy being placed on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Wellington, New Zealand Defence Force,, accessed 10 April 2017.
  2. Badge: ANZAC Remembrance Day, 1916 – 20, Gift of Mrs W.T. Richards, 1956, Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand, Wellington, Ref: GH023366.
  3. Dedication of the Carillon in Wellington. Ref: 1/1-020314-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22730639



[1] Sydney Waters, ‘ANZAC Day’, Tiki Talk Epistles of the Corinthians, 1917, (London: Argus Printing Company Ltd), Calman Family Collection, p.12.

[2] Ibid

[3] ‘A sacred holiday’, URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 3-Sep-2014, accessed 16 April 2017.

[4] ‘Pukeahu National War Memorial,’, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), accessed 12 April 2017.

[5] ‘Pukeahu National War Memorial: The National War Carillion,’, accessed 12 April 2017.

[6] ‘Pukeahu National War Memorial: The National War Carillion,’, accessed 12 April 2017.

[7] In Peace, Te Papa, Gallipoli Scale of our War,, accessed 16 April 2017.

[1] ‘Anzac Day’, URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 7-Apr-2017, accessed 16 April 2017.

[2] NZ History, The Gallipoli campaign: The Sari Bair offensive, p. 5, accessed 16 April 2017.

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