Since that fateful landing, Australia’s first battlefield engagement during the Great War of 1914-1918, the tradition of and ideals of ANZAC began to emerge – that of courage and sacrifice, endurance and mateship.
According to the Australian War Memorial website the first Anzac Day commemorations were held in 1916. Marches were held all over Australia; in the Sydney march convoys of cars carried soldiers wounded on Gallipoli and their nurses.
During the 1920s Anzac Day became established as a national day of commemoration for the more than 60,000 Australians who had died during the war. In 1927, for the first time, every state observed some form of public holiday on Anzac Day. By the mid-1930s all the rituals we now associate with the day – dawn vigils, marches, memorial services, reunions, two-up games – were firmly established as part of Anzac Day culture.
Tradition has it that the first “dawn” service on Anzac Day in Sydney occurred when, in the early morning hours of Anzac Day 1927, five members of the Australian Legion of Ex-Service Clubs saw an elderly woman laying a sheaf of flowers at the Cenotaph. They asked if they could join her in silent tribute.
Little publicity was given to that simple ceremony, but in 1928, about 150 people were present. The next year an open invitation brought 250 people. By 1930 more than 1,000 people attended. On the 20th anniversary of ANZAC, 10,000 people attended, and then in 1939, with the threat of another war imminent, 20,000 turned up.
And on the Gallipoli centenary an estimated 30,000 attended the dawn service, including my nephew, Air Force Cadet Aaron Mitchell and I. We laid wreaths for my parents Jack and Valerie, who both served in Vietnam and WWII respectively. Dad served 20 years with the RAAF and mum was one of the Australian Women’s Army Service (AWAS), the first group of women to see active service overseas, although she suffered a nervous breakdown in New Guinea after only three weeks and was shipped home.
The half-light of dawn was one of the times favoured for launching an attack. Soldiers in defensive positions were woken in the dark before dawn, so by the time first light crept across the battlefield they were awake, alert, and manning their weapons; this is still known as the “stand-to”. As dusk is equally favourable for battle, the stand-to was repeated at sunset.
Over the years other conflicts have brought new waves of veterans to march in memory of their comrades. An estimated 20,000 service men and women marched in the centenary Anzac Day march of 2015.
Part of an Anzac Day service is the reading of the Ode, taken from the Ode to the Fallen by O L Binyon:
They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old,
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
Lest we forget.
The Cenotaph in Martin Place is a focal point each Anzac Day. The word “Cenotaph” means an empty tomb, a sepulchral monument in honour of a person whose body is elsewhere. The word is derived from the Greek “Kenas” meaning empty, “Tophos” meaning a tomb, and “Kenotaphfion” meaning Cenotaph. There is a slight discrepancy about the first dawn service timing mentioned in the beginning of this week’s blog as the Cenotaph was not completed until 1929.
My tribute to my grandfathers today is to bake my grandmother’s recipe for Anzac Cakes as she calls them. Tradition says that the women at home during WWI wanted to make something that could survive the two month journey by ship to the Western Front. Out of the ingredients they had during the war years – oats, flour, sugar, coconut, golden syrup and butter – they created biscuits now known as Anzac biscuits. The recipe in the photo is in my grandmother, Dorothy Beryl Lilja’s handwriting, from her recipe book.