The term “Anzac” is the abbreviation of the “Australian and New Zealand Army Corps” and was first adopted by Field-Marshal W. R. Birdwood when he took command of this Corps in Egypt late in 1914. The Australian and New Zealand forces landed at Anzac Beach, Gallipoli, on 25 April 1915, while at the same time a large combined British and French force landed in the Cape Helles area. The allied casualties in this heroic but disastrous campaign were 33,532 killed, 78,518 wounded, and 7,689 missing, of which 2,721 New Zealanders were killed and 4,752 wounded. This campaign became a symbol of New Zealand's war losses, and the observance of 25 April to commemorate its fallen has been widened to include all who have given their lives in battle from the South African War to the present.
The day was first observed on 25 April 1916 by a memorial service and in the following year on 23 April, as there were municipal elections on the 25th. From 1918 Anzac Day has been observed on 25 April. The observance of Anzac Day usually follows a pattern which includes a dawn parade of returned service personnel and either a morning or afternoon parade followed by a memorial service with the laying of wreaths at a war memorial. During the day, flowers are laid on returned servicemen's graves and Anzac Day concerts are given in the evening.
The Anzac Day Act of 1920 stated that 25 April was to be observed throughout New Zealand as a public holiday. All licensed premises were to be closed and no race meetings held. This was amended by a 1921–22 Act which stated that 25 April was to be observed in all respects as if Anzac Day were a Sunday. This Act declared the observance of Anzac Day as a commemoration of the part taken by New Zealand troops in the Great War and of the sacrifice of those who gave their lives for the Empire. The Anzac Day Act of 1949 enlarged the scope of the original Act by making the day one of commemoration for those who served in the Second World War and the South Africa War as well as in the First World War.
Between the two world wars Anzac Day was most solemnly observed. Even today it is commemorated in a more sacred manner than Good Friday on which certain organised sporting events take place. Recently, there have been unsuccessful attempts to introduce recreational and sporting activities in the afternoon following the morning's memorial parades and services.
Such is the respect with which the term Anzac is held that an Order in Council was promulgated on 31 August 1916 forbidding the use of the word in connection with any trade or business.
by John Sidney Gully, M.A., DIP.N.Z.L.S., Assistant Chief Librarian, General Assembly Library, Wellington.