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Beyond Gallipoli: New Perspectives on Anzac


Chapter 14



Bill Gammage

To commemorate the Great War, Turkey, Australia and New Zealand focus on Gallipoli. This is striking, since militarily Gallipoli was their least significant front, and compared to what came after, though not before, the Anzac countries suffered few casualties there. Instead the three nations feel the symbolic importance of the campaign.

There a common focus ends. Although each country built a national memorial in solid classical style, Ankara’s memorial centres on a leader, Wellington’s and Canberra’s on a democratic army. The Anzac countries mark 25 April, the day of the Landing; Turkey marks 18 March, the day its defences defeated a combined British and French fleet – one of history’s great victories. But 18 March is not nearly so widely or deeply remembered as 25 April. 18 March was the occasion of the first conference I attended in Turkey, in Ankara in 1990, but nothing in particular marked the day. It has never been a holiday, and apart from that conference there seemed little interest in it.

Turkey’s most important national day is probably Republic Day, 29 October, the day Ataturk proclaimed the republic in 1923. Both national memorial and national day pivot on him. Remembering leaders rather than followers may be a heritage of Empire, and perhaps is why in 1990 the few Turks interested were puzzled at the fuss Australia and New Zealand made of the Anzac battlefields and of 25 April. They saw 25 April as a distinctly Anzac occasion, and I believe only 1990’s big and publicly funded Anzac ceremonies began to spark Turkish interest in the day.

Çanakkale Province has much more interest than elsewhere in 18 March. The hillside monuments above Kilitbahir thank the victors of both 18 March and the Gallipoli campaign, and Çanakkale’s university is named 18 March. True, the Ankara conference venues put the Turkish, Australian and New Zealand flags in pride of place in comparison to the flags of Britain, France, Germany and the other conference participants, but I attribute this to Prof Dr Mete Tuncoku. He was very familiar with Çanakkale and 1915, and he organised the conference with great insight and empathy. I take this chance to pay tribute to Mete for his outstanding contribution to Turkey’s Gallipoli history and to Turkish – Anzac relations, then and since.

In several countries, parallels to 18 March can be found – Waterloo, Gettysburg, Amritsar, Pearl Harbor, D Day – days not forgotten but not national. But I know of no parallel to Anzac Day’s spontaneity, variety and centrality, and henceforth I discuss it.

Even in Australia and New Zealand most national holidays – Australia Day, Waitangi Day, Empire Day, King’s Birthday, Labour or 8 Hour Day – were first promoted by a sectional interest, and only later moved into a national pantheon. Anzac Day began by spontaneous combustion, so it has always mirrored what Australians and New Zealanders think about their country, by celebrating or not celebrating, and if they celebrate, how this differs from place to place and year to year.

Since 1916 places large and small have searched earnestly but haphazardly for the right way to mark the day. The search was unprecedented. No other national day marks so much loss for so little triumph, yet so quickly became a people’s day. Almost everyone feels able to say what Anzac Day rituals should or should not be: solemn or serious, run by clergy or civic officials or the RSL or RSA, a holiday and if so what kind, who should participate, should differences between Protestants and Roman Catholics be allowed for and if so how, which hymns if any, what order of march, what should happen afterwards. Countless values, emotions and assumptions contest, and countless home-grown balances are struck.

Some elements of the day reflect what the AIF and NZEF did: a march to a church service, words of sacrifice and achievement, sports, dinner, drink, two-up – a day both to remember and to enjoy. From Egypt in 1916 Tom Carroll, a veteran of the Landing, told his father,

we had a great day here … All the troops had a holiday and it was well appreciated. The band marching around the camp and playing aroused the camp at 5 o’clock … A mass was given in commemoration of our fallen comrades, and to commemorate the landing at Anzac … it brought Sad memories to me and also made tear[s] come to my eyes … There was … a water carnoval [sic] down on the Canal in the afternoon … [with dummy boats, a high dive platform, and a greasy pole] … a Steam launch … [had] a lady on board her, and when the soldiers seen her they yelled out … ‘Smoother up!’ This is a warning to those who are naked… There was a scatter every where for their clothes … three officers [were] paddling a canoe across the canal. A soldier spots them … got hold of [the canoe] and made it capsized. The officers with all their clothes on were soon struggling in the water, every body roaring a treat at them. Any how they managed to reach the shore … [two men were paddling] … ‘S.S. Suddenjerk’ … [under] ‘Admiral Smashemup’. Printed on its sides was, ‘Washing taken in’, ‘Are we down hearted? No!’, ‘We have plenty of time for sport and [to] beat the Germans too’ … that ended my Sorrowful & enjoyable day.1

Carroll was in John Monash’s Fourth Brigade, and Monash too attended a solemn morning service, the afternoon ‘screamingly funny’ Canal festivities including a skit on the Landing, and a night concert in the YMCA Hut.2 For the rest of the war, ‘Sorrowful & enjoyable’ typified soldiers’ Anzac Days. A march to and from morning services led to an afternoon ‘Sports Carnival’ with competitions, prizes and comic events, and dinner and drink at night. 25 April was a chance to be free for a moment from the toil and tension of war.3

In London on Anzac Day 1916, 1300 Australians and 700 New Zealanders, mostly convalescents brought by train from camps on Salisbury Plain, marched from Waterloo to a service in Westminster Abbey. The New Zealanders then dispersed, while the Australians marched via Buckingham Palace to lunch at the Hotel Cecil, then through Trafalgar Square to a free picture show. ‘No other body of troops’, Michael McKernan observes, ‘British, Colonial or Allied, was to be so honoured during the war.’ Since April 1915 the British press had fulsomely praised the Anzacs, including in terms some now attribute to Charles Bean, but this day’s events probably stemmed more from the British establishment’s enthusiasm for Prime Minister Billy Hughes, then stumping the UK demanding a more aggressive prosecution of the war. The King, Queen, Kitchener and other dignitaries were at the Abbey, the King sent an Anzac Day message to his two most distant possessions, and the press baron Lord Beaverbrook took a shine to Billy and had one of his papers hail the Anzacs ‘The Knights of Gallipoli’.4

One of those knights, Norman Bethune, took part in the march, and told his sister:

We got a wonderful reception and talking to people afterwards, they said it was one of the biggest things that ever took place in London, and certainly since the war … I noticed a lot of women crying and they called out all sorts of things to us. I heard one old lady say ‘Oh you darlings’ and other things I heard ‘The Cream of the Empire’ [and] ‘You didn’t have to be fetched’. We had to march to attention and the people couldn’t quite understand why we looked so serious, and kept calling to us to smile. Flowers were showered on us and handkerchiefs. One girl kissed hers and held it out to me. I didn’t notice in time and it dropped behind me. Just as we turned into the Strand, I think it was, the band struck up ‘Australia will be here’ and it was fine … The service in the Abbey was most impressive, especially when at the end the ‘Last Post’ was blown in the church … we had a very good lunch… {Then] went down to the theatre, but unfortunately it could not accommodate us all and I missed it. Those of us and there were hundreds of us who did not get in, were given leave until midnight … There was one ‘Arriety’ looking girl at Waterloo who was heard to say ‘aren’t they a bit of alright not ‘arf’.5

For some at home this light-heartedness was shockingly irreverent, but Norman’s brother Douglas was killed at the Nek seven months before, and now he told his sister, ‘I wouldn’t have missed it for worlds, though it hurt dear too.’ What soldiers thought was not what civic leaders thought, sometimes not even what their own leaders thought: on Anzac Day 1919 the AIF marched in farewell through London, and many marchers refused to turn ‘eyes right’ to the King.6

Home in Australia, and I think in New Zealand, perhaps half those men never marched again. ‘I had enough of following officers around during the war’, a returned man told me in 1968. Bill Harney found his memories too painful, never applied for his medals, and never attended an Anzac Day ceremony, though he never forgot his AIF mates. Ken Inglis reminds us that over half of Australia’s returned men did not join the RSL, for reasons varying from battling the nightmares of war, too much boozing on the day, the day run by officers, and objecting to speakers saying what men died for.7 Certainly it is arrogant of any speaker to pronounce on that last, but most do.

Australia’s first ‘Anzac Day’ was in Adelaide on 13 October 1915, Eight Hours Day, an Adelaide holiday. A ‘spectacular procession’ of soldiers, patriotic tableaux, concert parties and trade union displays went from the Trades Hall to Adelaide Oval to watch comic events, a balloon ascent, kite flying, and two old trams on specially built rails rushing headlong at each other to crash with an almighty bang and flying timber. The churches held services, and everywhere were appeals for volunteers and funds for wounded soldiers. Over £2500 was raised.8

The day both had a union flavour, and echoed how the AIF overseas celebrated. By April 1916 this kind of day was disputed in Australia. Few questioned the march, though that word did not become popular until World War 2. Instead the civilian word ‘procession’ was generally used, or if not, ‘pageant’ or ‘parade’ – words taken from joyous processions before the war. But who should process? Returned men certainly, bands of course, veterans of earlier wars sometimes, anyone in uniform usually – AIF in training, defence personnel, navy and army cadets. Civic groups might be in or out: Scouts, Guides, school children, fire brigades, ambulances, friendly societies, unions, rejected volunteers. ‘Who should process’ shuffled back and forth across the Anzac countries, and across the years.

Where should a procession end? Often it was at a church, for a ‘service’, a word quickly entrenched in Anzac Day ritual. In 1916 that may have been encouraged because Anzac Day was also Easter Tuesday, but in later years too churches were popular places to stop, as in the AIF and NZEF. But if a church, which one? From 1916 many Protestants opted for what they called a ‘united service’, meaning that clergy of each available denomination took part, and over the years took turns to host and lead. That reflected army practice, but it didn’t suit Protestants in some places, and it didn’t suit Roman Catholics anywhere: they went to mass on their own, and at first not even to that, as the Pope didn’t allow it until 1923.9

Doctrinal differences were a constant headache for an RSL or RSA wanting unity among returned soldiers, and for ecumenical clergy troubling over what hymns to sing, who should lead them, what prayers, what blessing if any. One solution was that participating clergy be returned men wherever possible, but that worked only sometimes. Some RSL spokesmen lost patience with doctrinal dispute. ‘Anzac Day is bigger than any of the churches’, the RSL’s William Yeo stated bluntly about 1965. Melbourne dropped its united service in 1938; Sydney tried that in 1956 but was obliged to reinstate it next year. In 1953 Darwin’s RSL president ‘mentioned the denominational problem that the proposed programme had caused. It was resolved that the Administrator be approached with a view to amicable settlement.’ Darwin’s RSL secretary recalled,

The Catholics … would not attend an Anzac Day service officially … I remember asking old [Bishop] John O’Loughlin – wouldn’t have a bar of it: didn’t want to be involved with the RSL; didn’t want to be involved in Anzac Day.

[Interviewer] Why was that?

Don’t know. Military I suppose … So usually either the Methodists or the Anglicans gave [a] short address there. The Anzac service itself did have hymns and things. It was pseudo-religious, but there was no minister to come and take the service. But there was at the dawn service. It was rather strange that. So part of our job was building up these particular ceremonies, and creating dances. That was a big thing. ‘Cause you could hold a dance there, which meant that you got whatever girls were available – coming in. Apart from the beer.

Darwin first made the service after the march non-religious, then in 1992 dropped it.10

In 1916 the organisers most concerned to find a way to resolve such divisions were in Brisbane, where the chairman of the State Recruiting Committee, AJ Thynne, prompted Premier Tommy Ryan, a Catholic, to ask the mayor to call a meeting to plan Anzac Day. On 10 January a pleasingly wide cross-section of citizens turned up, including Thynne, the governor, the premier, the mayor, General James McKay back from Anzac, prominent businessmen, and several clergy including a rabbi, Catholic Archbishop James Duhig, and Chaplain Lt-Colonel David Garland, an Anglican. The meeting formed an Anzac Day Commemoration Committee, and elected Garland secretary.

The Committee formed definite ideas about what should happen on Anzac Day. Recognising intractable differences between Protestant and Catholic and Christian and Jew, it settled for separate morning services on the theme of sacrifice, followed (not preceded) by a march and lunch ‘for the men’, then a combined evening service with hymns but no theology, a short address by a local dignitary, appeals for recruits, light entertainment with a military flavour, and at 9pm two minutes silence, the Last Post and the National Anthem. During the day school children would be targeted, with a special Anzac issue of The School Paper and school assemblies to tell Anzac’s story. Civic leaders were to keep the day solemn: hotels, theatres and racecourses should close and there should be no sports or fund raising. This was known as a ‘closed’ day.

Garland got Ryan to write to the other state premiers, while he wrote to civic leaders across the country:

It will be noted that so far as Queensland is concerned, the day is to be kept with solemnity and with avoidance of anything approaching jubilation or carnival. For this reason, no attempt is being made to raise funds for any purpose… Of course, Queensland does not presume to impose its views on any other State, but, at the same time, it is felt the observance should be, as far as practicable, Australasian; therefore we venture to acquaint you with the steps we have taken.11

Far be it from us, he was saying, to tell you how to mark the day, but copy us.12

In 1916 there was no chance that any state could impose a format on 25 April, not even in Queensland. Garland really meant Brisbane, and even there the Committee’s provisions were not exactly followed, let alone elsewhere in Queensland or further afield. In Townsville, wounded Anzacs, AIF men on leave, and men called up for compulsory training marched then dispersed, some to separate church services. That afternoon a Salvation Army band offered an entertainment, and at night three picture theatres opened and the mayor called ‘a monster patriotic meeting’ where civic officials and clergy spoke, and a returned 9 Battalion man gave a ‘racy speech’. Rockhampton held church services but no march, and an evening ‘torchlight procession’ led by navy cadets, twenty ‘Anzac heroes’, army cadets, eight friendly societies one after the other, the Australian Natives Association, the fire brigade burning coloured flares, and the ambulance brigade, all flanked by badge sellers and fund raisers and ending with a patriotic concert in the theatre.13

Adelaide, Perth and Darwin all got Garland’s letter, and all ignored it and each other. In Darwin the Northern Territory Times merely quoted from the Anglican Parish Paper, which acknowledged Garland’s letter and to a degree endorsed his emphasis on sacrifice, but was hardly ecumenical. Under the heading ‘St Mark’s Day’, it wrote,

Anzac Day will always stand out in the minds of the Australian people as the day on which our new nation came of age. It has been said that a people does not become a nation until it has passed through the baptism of blood. On St Mark’s Day, 1915, Australia was baptized as a nation.

About 40 men, most not returned, marched to the Anglican Cathedral for a 10am Anzac Memorial Service and the national anthem. If anyone else did anything in Darwin on the day, ‘apart from the beer’, the Times did not report it.14

Adelaide’s day was a government-led recruiting and fund raising effort. The governor declared 25 April 1915 ‘a red letter day’ which had ensured that Australia’s glory would never fade. Public servants were told to take leave to attend a recruiting rally, trains and trams were told to stop for two minutes at 9am while crews led passengers in three cheers each for the King, the ‘Anzac Heroes’ and the Empire, and the Chamber of Manufacturers asked for similar demonstrations in work places across the state. A morning procession of cars took wounded Anzacs to speeches and lunch in the Cheer-Up Hut, but there was no march, and men in camp kept training, their commandant telling them that this was the best way to honour the Anzacs, and the men sang ‘Australia will be there’. There was a service in the Town Hall, and an evening voluntary church parade at the Anglican Cathedral. No speech said much about sacrifice; most spoke of duty and the need for conscription.15

In Perth 25 April was declared a holiday. There was no newspaper, but ‘places of entertainment’ were open. The Anglican and Catholic cathedrals held services, and the Wesley Church a united service before a ‘procession’ and review of troops and returned men, then a Town Hall lunch attended by clergy including the Catholic archbishop, at which the mayor declared that on this day in 1915 ‘the Australian nation was born’.16

Melbourne, and therefore the Commonwealth seated there in 1916, chose, as the Minister for Defence put it, to hold only ‘informal’ celebrations ‘in a small way’. The government was waiting to see, he explained, if 25 April or the day the war ended proved a better day to celebrate. That was a mistake. The King got to hear of it, and on 22 April icily telegraphed the Governor-General: ‘Tell my people of Australia and New Zealand that to-day I am joining them in their solemn tribute to the memory of their heroes who died in Gallipoli.’ Panic in Melbourne. There was nothing official there, so the Governor-General and the Governor of Victoria sprinted north to join Sydney’s celebrations. They were neither expected nor much accommodated, but allotted a second saluting stand, and amid a crowd of 50-60,000 people largely ignored. Spontaneous combustion had burnt a few fingers. Never again would officials be so badly wrong-footed, and the King did not send another Anzac Day message until 1920.17

Hobart too officially did nothing on 25 April, deferring activities to Friday 28 April, because ‘the promoters’ judged Friday more suitable for the day’s ‘greatest purpose’: raising funds for wounded soldiers’ club rooms. Methodists held a morning ‘united service’, though apparently without Anglican, Catholic or Salvation Army participation. That afternoon the 40 Bn marched from Claremont camp to a ‘parade’ of returned soldiers, veterans of other wars, and senior cadets arrayed before a temporary cenotaph in the Domain, where the Chief Justice spoke. Then all government offices and many businesses closed from 2.40-3.15pm while the parade marched to afternoon tea and a concert in the Town Hall. The city was decorated like ‘a huge bazaar’, with bunting, flags, stalls, badge sellers and cars selling fruit, mostly apples. ‘Indeed’, a reporter wrote, ‘the streets were a regular Paddy’s market. One could buy almost anything.’ Next day there was a ‘voluntary general church parade’ – one way to encourage an ecumenical service without imposing it. Swansea also marked Anzac Day on 28 April, also to raise funds; Ulverstone held a united church service on the 25th; Launceston compromised by closing the shops for late afternoon church services and a dinner and smoke social for wounded soldiers on the 25th, and fund raising on the 28th.18

In Sydney Premier WA Holman was also President of the Anzac Day Executive. He announced that 25 April would be ‘a big recruiting effort’, and handed its arrangements to the showman JC Williamson. Williamson organised a ‘procession’ led by cars carrying invalid soldiers, a drum-head memorial service in the Domain, ‘special services in nearly all churches’ which Catholics were told not to attend, recruiting meetings, and ‘lady collectors’ for an Anzac Memorial.19 In ways like this and the Red Cross, the war gave women a public prominence rare until 1914.

Spontaneous combustion sparked equally varied Anzac Days in country towns. A procession led Newcastle wounded to separate church services. Kapunda did nothing on 25 April, but on 30 April the brass band led a ‘procession’ of councillors, the Progress Association, various church choirs, senior cadets, returned soldiers, adults and children to a united memorial service. Mittagong, Bowral and Robertson each held a ‘united’ service, Bowral in the ‘beautifully decorated’ Church of England, the others in the School of Arts, though it’s not clear that Catholics came, and returned men certainly didn’t – they went on free rail passes to Sydney. In Wagga a band led police, two returned men, two volunteers, cadets, the mayor, a few aldermen and many recruiters down the main street to the Town Hall, then to a church service. The Narrandera Council granted a holiday, held a procession, fund raising, and a patriotic concert ‘reminiscent of Empire Day’. The mayor said the day was not to remember the brave men who died but to celebrate the landing in 1915, while another speaker asserted that the day would become ‘Australia’s National Festival Day’. In Albany the mayor hosted a united service in the Town Hall, but eleven returned men accepted a free trip to Perth instead, while the remaining eight, all convalescent, were given dinner at the London Hotel.20

Garland’s prescriptions for Anzac Day also found few parallels in New Zealand. Prime Minister William Massey thought the day should be one of solemn remembrance, then promptly allowed Auckland a half-holiday ‘with a view’, he said, ‘to assisting the recruiting campaign’. Auckland held a recruiting meeting that night, but otherwise its remembrance was ‘widespread but largely unofficial’. Wellington’s public buildings and business houses were covered with flags, and ships in the harbour with bunting. In the Town Hall that afternoon clergy and military leaders, but no returned soldiers, spoke at a ‘National Memorial Service’. That night the Town Hall saw a ‘great patriotic meeting’, where returned soldiers paraded to repeated cheering, and Massey and other ministers, the leader of the opposition, and the mayor all praised the achievement of the Anzacs. Masterton held a united service ‘in reverent and grateful remembrance of what brave men have done, and have given, for our nation and for humanity’, with four hymns, two prayers, a psalm, and addresses by a minister and an adjutant.21

Fun or funeral, it seemed clear that Anzac Day should be a public holiday, to let more people turn up. But what sort of public holiday? On the day or the nearest Sunday; a full or half day or just time off for a procession or recruiting meeting; shops, hotels, theatres, racecourses and sports grounds open or closed; something between. Behind these puzzles lay a deeper question: who should decide what happens on 25 April? Who should take charge of the legacy of Anzac?

New Zealand was first to tackle the holiday question, first to enforce a closed holiday, and decades later last to relax it. In 1916 Wanganui and Dunedin declared a full holiday and Auckland and Rotorua a half holiday, but most places had none, and the RSA wasted no time in campaigning for one. Massey stalled: most employers and some churches wanted to commemorate on the nearest Sunday. The RSA would not have it, and on Armistice Day 1920 parliament declared 25 April a closed public holiday. The draft bill proposed that the day be treated as a Sunday, but Massey got that deleted, allowing shops, theatres and sports grounds to open. The RSA was outraged, and in February 1922 the Act was amended to treat 25 April as a Sunday. In New Zealand that mattered. There were no Sunday papers, sports or races, and no hotels or theatres and very few shops open.22

In Australia most RSL branches found such solemnity awkward. They wanted a holiday but not a ‘closed’ holiday. They wanted their mates remembered but 25 April made Australia’s national day. They wanted solemn services in the morning but afternoon sports, races, and reunions with two-up and beer. They opposed moving services to the nearest Sunday but wanted the solemnity that clergy provided. Slowly they worked towards a solution. Under RSL pressure, the 1922 Premiers’ Conference agreed that the holiday be observed on the day. The 1923 conference agreed ‘That Anzac Day shall be observed throughout the Commonwealth as Australia’s national day’, and that the morning be set aside for religious and memorial services and the afternoon for ‘instilling into the minds of the children of Australia the significance of Anzac Day’. In the afternoon adults could play healthy sports only, and there would be no race meetings. West Australia had declared a holiday in 1919 and Queensland in 1921; the Commonwealth and South Australia followed in 1922, NSW in 1924, Victoria in 1925 and Tasmania in 1927. The holiday was the first component of Anzac Day systematically imposed from above.

But it was not systematic. In no two states was it alike. In varying degrees Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania decreed a closed day; Western Australia, South Australia, and New South Wales an open day. In 1929 the RSL Federal Executive urged the prime minister to make 25 April a closed day. This was a state matter, but in its territories the Commonwealth announced a largely closed holiday, though with post and telegraph offices open for business from 9-10am. In Darwin this was exactly the time the march was held, Darwin being hot. There were other problems, and not until 1964 in Queensland and 1967 in New Zealand was the closed holiday frittered away.23

What if Anzac Day was a Sunday, as in 1920 and 1926? This was a problem, especially since in New Zealand and some states Sunday was closed. Churches wanted services on Sunday and anything secular on Monday, including the march; employers opposed a Monday holiday; civic and RSL leaders divided; in New Zealand the RSA bristled at what its 1919 conference called ‘Mondayising’ Anzac Day, but many sub-branches moved there. In 1920 the day was commemorated sometimes on Sunday, sometimes on Monday, sometimes on both. By 1926 New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and the Commonwealth had shifted the march to a Monday holiday, but other states kept to Sunday. For decades a Monday holiday was debated and haphazard. For example 25 April was a Sunday in 1954, but less than three weeks before the Darwin RSL was still asking the Administrator if the Monday would be a holiday. Among other concerns, it wanted to know how many ‘free eats’ to cater for after the march.24

Fiddling with rituals many saw as sacred may have provoked one more instance of spontaneous combustion on Anzac Day: the dawn service, which arose so spontaneously that we debate where it began. The word ‘service’ implies a religious origin, but the Australian War Memorial claims that the dawn service ‘has its origins in a military routine … stand to’. In fact noone has been able to link the origins of the dawn service to either church or military.

In Australia an unofficial ‘first dawn service’ competition has three claimants. The earliest is Toowoomba, where at 4am on Anzac Day 1919 a small group of returned men laid flowers on war graves and memorials, then toasted their mates with rum. In 1920 and 1921 a bugler joined them to sound the Last Post and Reveille. This was not strictly a ‘service’, but it was certainly dawn.

Sydney laid claim. Near dawn on Anzac Day 1927 some carousing Anzacs were coming home from the Gallipoli Club. Passing the Cenotaph, they saw an old lady laying flowers. Somewhat shame-faced they helped her, and in 1928 organised Sydney’s first dawn service. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the organisers, not the RSL but the Association of Returned Soldiers and Sailors Clubs, ‘expressed their satisfaction at the unexpected success of the innovation. ‘Such a gathering’, [the secretary] said … ‘shows that the public is still very far from forgetting what the occasion means.’’ The Herald wrote, ‘About 100 men and 30 women and children gathered at the Cenotaph at 4.30am, and heads bowed in silence.’ Wreaths were laid, but there was no bugle, no speeches, no prayers. ‘One old lady, partly crippled with age and obvious long distress, haltingly walked to the foot of the Cenotaph, where … she hid modestly her token of long remembering – a tiny bunch of white daisies, picked from some suburban garden, and held together with a piece of cord. She could not have given more.’ Messages on those wreaths share with newspaper In Memoriam notices the most moving moments of Anzac Day: ‘To my dear daddy’, one said in 1928, another ‘To Jack, for all at home in England, 1914-18. From Mother’, and a third, ‘Here I am darling.’

The third ‘first dawn service’ claimant is Albany, from where the first AIF – NZEF convoy left in 1914. Nothing known supports claims for an Albany dawn service in 1916, 1923 or 1929, but in 1930 the rector of St Johns wrote in his church register, ‘Anzac Day, 6am. Holy Communion – 30 (attended)’, adding much later, ‘Procession to Memorial – Wreaths laid – Collection for distressed soldiers’ fund – First dawn service in Australia’. The Albany Advertiser reported this ceremony, and in 1931 two additions to it, when the congregation filing up to take communion passed the coffin of the mother of an Anzac, and when the rector led some of his flock up Mt Clarence. But in 1929, two years before, the same paper reported a dawn service in Perth. The West Australian too reported an early morning ‘march’ to a service at the State War Memorial in 1929, run by the RSL, with no clergy reported.

Even Perth was not first. In 1916 Rockhampton held a 6.30am service in the town centre, conducted by Protestant clergy, with hymns, prayers, and addresses. Despite heavy rain 800 people came, but no returned men, though 20 marched later that day. The service was not repeated in 1917, 18 or 19.25 And time zones let Tinui on New Zealand’s north island shade Rockhampton and probably other Australian towns. After early church, though later than dawn, the vicar led his congregation up a steep hill overlooking the village, including Scouts lugging the pieces of a large metal cross, which they erected on top. If there is a first dawn service this might be it, though I haven’t checked Fiji or Tonga!

The dawn service spread quite slowly: to Unley in 1930, Brisbane 1931, Hobart 1932, Melbourne 1933, Hindmarsh 1934, Adelaide and London 1935, Auckland 1939, Canberra 1943, Alice Springs 1948, Narrandera 1950, Darwin by 1955, Moruya 2012. As it spread its simplicity eroded. Today it is commonly thought the appropriate service to mark grief and honour sacrifice, and wreath messages can still tug the heart, like one in Darwin in 1966: ‘To my Son whom I shall never see again on this earth.’26 But bugles and clergy and officials are now common, and spontaneity rare.27 Yet today ‘dawn’ might be 4.30am as at Anzac Cove, or anywhere between 4 and 6am local time.

What is Anzac Day’s future? Supposedly it is a returned services’ day, but the reunions and two-up are fewer and less boisterous now, and the sports once dominated by returned men now make only token reference to them. Is it the national day? Waitangi Day reconciles more than divides, so has more power than Australia Day. Outside New South Wales especially, 26 January can cause dissent, even hostility, and Anzac Day challenges it. Yet 25 April looks back, neither warning nor inspiring the future towards ideals useful to peace.

In other ways too the Day has been shepherded towards conformity, yet retains some of its early diversity. What services should be held, by whom, and where? Each place finds its own answer, but in general an RSL or RSA branch decides, sometimes and sometimes not allowing clergy to declare the meaning of sacrifice or the importance of memory. Many churches still hold special services on 25 April and on the nearest Sunday, but only for their congregations, not as voices of national commemoration. Should the silence be one minute or two, and should silence or the Ode fall between the Last Post and Reveille (or Rouse, as it has become in some places)? There is no common answer. When should the march be? Afternoon and evening processions have moved to various times in the morning. Where should it finish? Town hall, church, oval and Boer War monument were soon supplanted by that widening spread of Great War memorials which so changed the landscape of the Anzac countries, but not all marches end there – Adelaide’s doesn’t for example. Who should march? Former enemies, as Turks did in 1953 and in some places have since? Defence Force contingents not comprising returned men or women? They march now, and they help march organisers, but so do police and council workers, who don’t march. Only the Defence Force marches as an occupation. Next of kin? Most villages and small towns say yes, reflecting community spirit. Bigger places either say no, or confront straggling next of kin groups which now out-lengthen any other. They will keep lengthening until almost everyone is eligible to march: what then? Might the march become just a procession? Already it is as much about ancestor worship as memory. Is this better than no march at all? Perhaps, yet what an Anzac Day it would be, to see the last veteran marching alone, band playing, crowd applauding, symbolically announcing for how long Australia and New Zealand have been at peace.


1 Pte T Carroll, 4 Bde HQ, Farm labourer, of Ballarat, Vic. RTA 12/4/19, aged 31. L 28/4/16, Australian War Memorial (AWM) 3 DRL/7685.

2 KS Inglis (J Lack ed), Anzac Remembered (Melbourne: University of Melbourne, 1998), 14-15.

3 AWM Souvenirs 1, 1/2/1, 2/1/1, 3/1/1.

4 E Andrews, ‘25 April 1916’, JAWM 23, Oct 1993, 16-18; M McKernan, The Australian People and the Great War (Melbourne: Thomas Nelson, 1980), 120; Bruce Scates, Frank Bongiorno, Laura James and Rebecca Wheatley, ‘‘Such a great space of water between us’: Anzac Day in Britain, 1916-39’, Australian Historical Studies 45, No. 2 (2014): 220-241.

5 Tpr NM Bethune, 8 LH, Farmer, of Swan Hill, Vic. DOW 19/4/17, aged 31. L 27/4/16 courtesy Nicky Tichener, Adelaide.

6 E Andrews, The Anzac Illusion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 186; P Payton, Regional Australia and the Great War (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2012), 197.

7 Bill Harney’s War, Sydney 1983 (originally J Thompson, Harney’s War, ABC Radio, 1965?); KS Inglis, Sacred Places (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1998), 243–4.

8 JG Pavils, Anzac Day: The Undying Debt (Adelaide: Lythrum Press, 2007), 2-3; Anon, The Emergence of Anzac Day, web posted 23 April 2011, 2.

9 Inglis, Sacred Places, 67, 210-12, 429.

10 For this paragraph, KS Inglis (C Wilcox ed), Observing Australia 1959 to 1999 (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1999), 67-9, 78, 127-9; talk with Ron Bibby, Darwin RSL, 26 Sep 2012; NTRS 1715, Darwin RSL Minutes, Box 1, 30 Mar 1953; NTRS 226, TS 663, Peter Spillet interviewed by Francis Good, Darwin 1991, tape 2, 15-16, 6 Feb, & tape 6, 8, 25 Feb, both courtesy of Francoise Barr, NT Archives Service.

11 Garland to Perth City Council, 23 March 1916, in Anon, 3.

12 Brisbane 1916: NAA MP472/1, item 1/16/3062; Andrews, JAWM, 13-20; Anon; Brisbane Courier, 10 January 1916; JA Moses, ‘The struggle for Anzac Day 1916-1930’, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, 88: 2 (June 2002), 54-74; JA Moses,Anzac Day as Australia’s All Souls’ Day…, Australian Association for Mission Studies address, Oct 2008.

13 Townsville Daily Bulletin 24, 25 April 16; Rockhampton Morning Bulletin 26 April 16.

14 NT Times, 20, 26, 27 April 1916.

15 Adelaide 1916: Pavils, 10-11; MJ Reardon, ‘Anzac Day in Adelaide, 1916 to 1922’, (Adelaide University History Honours thesis 1979), 2-7.

16 Perth 1916: Mercury 26 April 1916; West Australian 26 April 1916.

17 Melbourne 1916: Andrews, Journal of the Australian War Memorial, 13-14

18 Hobart 1916: Mercury 25-29 April 1916.

19 Sydney 1916: SMH 24, 26 April 1916;Mercury 26 April 1916; Andrews, JAWM, 15; Moses, 2002, 64.

20 For this paragraph, Albany Advertiser 29 April 1916; P Donovan, Storm: An Australian Country Town and World War 1 (Adelaide: Donovan & Associates, 2011), 94; B Gammage, Narrandera Shire (Adelaide: Narrandera Shire Council, 1986), 204-5; Inglis, Sacred Places; S Morris, Anzac Days, ms Wagga nd c/- Ian Hodges.

21 NZ 1916: Dominion, 26 April 1916; Masterton Anzac Day Program, 25 April 1916; M Henry, ‘Making New Zealanders through commemoration: Assembling Anzac Day in Auckland, 1916-1939’, NZ Geographer 61:1 (April 2006), 5 (online 1-16).

22 NZ holiday: Dominion, 26/4/16; Henry, 5, 10; JO Melling, ‘The New Zealand Returned Soldiers’ Association 1916-1923, (Victoria University of Wellington MA Thesis, 1952), 123-5; Moses, 2002, 65; NP Webber, The First Fifty Years of the NZ RSA 1916 to 1966, Wellington 1966?

23 Australia holiday: Premier’s Conferences 1921-3, NAA A457, 520/1/58 & A461, 13/1/10 Part 1; Inglis (Lack ed), 15-16; Inglis (Wilcox ed), 63-9; Moses, 2002, 54-74; Pavils, 42-4.

24 NT Times 24 April 1920, 23 April 1921; Darwin RSL Minutes, NTRS 1715, box 1, 31/3 & 7/4/54; NAA A461, 13/1/10 Part 1; Webber, 13.

25 Dawn Services. Sydney: John Hayes to Lucas Jordan, 28 Sep 2012; SMH 26 April 1926, 25 April 1927, 26 April 1928. Albany, Perth: Albany Advertiser 25 April 1929, 24 April 1930, 27 April 1931; West Australian 26 April 1929; J Bartlett, Built to Last (Albany: 1998), 122. Toowoomba, Sydney, Albany: G Seal, ‘… ‘and in the morning…’: adapting and adopting the dawn service’, Journal of Australian Studies 35, No. 1 (March 2011): 49-63. Rockhampton: Morning Bulletin 26 April 1916-19.

26 NTRS 1268/P1, Darwin RSL Correspondence Files 1952-71, Box 7: Wots Doin News Sheet 5, June 1966, NT Archives.

27 Dawn service spreads: Adelaide Advertiser 26 April 1930, 26 April 1935, 27 April 1936; Hobart Mercury 29 April 35; Northern Standard 30 April 1948; Gammage, 213; Henry, 11; Inglis, Sacred Places, 330-1, 422-4; Pavils, 123-5; Seal, 49-63.

Beyond Gallipoli: New Perspectives on Anzac

   by Raelene Frances and Bruce Scates