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A is for Anzac – some jottings on commemmorating 25 April 1915

A is for Anzac

Some jottings on commemmorating 25th April 1915
From The Presbyterian Banner, June 2002Rowland S. Ward


Note: For overseas readers it should be explained that ANZAC stands for Australian & New Zealand Army Corps, and Anzac Day commemmorates the costly landing at Gallipoli which represents Australia’s coming of age and developing national consciousness.


Many are commenting on the increasing numbers attending Anzac Day services despite the dwindling number of ex-servicemen. I confess to rarely attending an Anzac Day service myself, although my father was an original Anzac landing at Gallipoli with the Adelaide Rifles on 25th April, 1915, a few weeks short of his 17th birthday. Recently I was on vacation with my wife in New Zealand. The preacher on the Lord’s Day 28 April church service in Marurangi Presbyterian Church expressed encouragement from attendances at Anzac services and suggested a positive approach by Christians could serve the cause of the Gospel, particularly in the functions afterward. Our own Rev Stewart Ramsay spoke at the Anzac service in Wauchope on 25th April 2002.

Actually the origin of Anzac Day shows unmistakeable Christian influence. Canon D. J. Garland, a Tractarian Anglican priest in Brisbane, was a driving force. He had already successfully campaigned to change the Queensland Education Act in 1910-11 to enable ministers to teach religious education in schools and to have Bible reading included in the curriculum of primary schools. The first Anzac Day Commemoration Committee (ADCC) in Australia was formed in Brisbane in January 1916 with Garland as Secretary and the State Premier as Chairman. With viceregal patronage, 25th April was set aside as a day of remembrance and reflection, but not as a public holiday since the ADCC did not want hotels and sporting events operating to draw away from the significance of the event. Rather, it was expected that exservicemen would be given time off by their employer to attend. Ultimately in October 1921 the Queensland law did give a public holiday on Anzac Day, but no hotels were to open nor sporting events held. However, one could still go to the theatre. Business opposed the holiday but the combination of the ADCC and the RSSILA led in 1930 to a further amendment to close all hotels or entertainment, a change that lasted until the 1960s.

The aim of the Brisbane ADCC was that Anzac Day not only remember the sacrifice of the fallen, but reflect on the causes of war. It was to be a kind of solemn national requiem. In Professor John Moses’ words, it was “designed to call all men and women to humble repentance and to remind them of the sovereignty of Almighty God over the nations.” Garland had to reckon with the Roman Catholic/Protestant divide, so he thought in terms of denominational services in the morning, a parade in the afternoon, and a public meeting in the evening including a minute’s silence and the Last Post. By the mid 1930s what became the RSL gained control of ANZAC Day in Queensland. Increasingly its original focus was changed somewhat so it has become, to quote Dr Stuart Piggin, “the most prominent festival in the calendar of Australian civic religion,” rather than the national “All Soul’s Day” Garland intended.

Incidentally, a little known fact is that the first memorial to the landing on the 25th April 1915 is located in the South Parklands in Adelaide. It was unveiled by the then Governor General on 7th September 1915, and it mentions the “Australasian” soldiers at the landing on 25 April 1915 at the “Dardanelles”. The words Anzac or Gallipoli are not mentioned although the term Anzac had been used since early 1915. Soon after the evacuation it meant an Aussie or Kiwi who had fought at Gallipoli. These people later wore a gold “A” on their battalion colour patch.