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History of Anzac Day

Anzac Day marks the anniversary of the landing of New Zealand and Australian soldiers – the Anzacs – on the Gallipoli Peninsula in 1915. Their aim was to capture the Dardanelles, the gateway to the Bosphorus and the Black Sea. At the end of the campaign, Gallipoli was still held by its Turkish defenders.

New Zealanders have commemorated the Gallipoli landings ever since and Anzac Day has been a public holiday since 1921. On this day people gather to acknowledge the sacrifice of all those who have died in warfare, and the contribution and suffering of all those who have served.

Historical resources

Our websites, NZHistory and Te Ara the Encyclopedia of New Zealand have comprehensive collections of material about the different conflicts New Zealand has been involved in including the First and Second World Wars.

New Zealand at War (NZHistory)

Anzac Day (NZHistory)

War and Defence (Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand)

New Zealand casualties in overseas wars (data.govt.nz)

How the meaning of Anzac Day has evolved

Over time the way the day has been commemorated has changed, reflecting the changing nature and concerns of our society.

The first Anzac Day service in 1916 focused on the Gallipoli campaign, New Zealand’s first major engagement of the First World War, where most of New Zealand’s war dead up to that date had fallen. In 1917–18, though, the nation’s attention was firmly focused on the Western Front in Europe – a campaign of much greater significance and one that would ultimately claim almost five times as many New Zealand lives as Gallipoli. It wasn’t until April 1919 that the country first commemorated Anzac Day in peacetime, and from 1921 it was recognised as a public holiday.

Anzac Day has only grown in significance since those early services, when it helped distressed communities make sense of the First World War’s terrible toll. The hundreds of civic monuments erected throughout the country between 1916 and the late 1930s remain the most tangible expression of New Zealanders’ sorrow and pride in their wartime sacrifices.

Although Anzac Day remains closely linked to its Gallipoli origins, over time it has come to embrace New Zealanders’ service and losses during the Second World War, and in Korea, Vietnam and many other conflicts and peacekeeping operations. Anzac Day is an opportunity to recognise the diversity of New Zealanders’ experiences of war.

As well as those who did not return, Anzac Day is a time to remember the many more who did, and acknowledge their struggles and achievements in post-war society. We should also remember those at home who have supported, endured or opposed wars, and reflect on our hopes for a world in which all people can share in a sense of peace, security and wellbeing.

The Anzac Day ceremony

Dawn Service

Anzac Day commemorations generally start with a Dawn Service held at the local war memorial. Dawn marks the time of the initial landings at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 and holds the symbolism of darkness making way for a new day.

The focus of the Dawn Service is mainly military. Returned service personnel march to the war memorial where they are joined by members of the armed forces and the public.

The Ode of Remembrance

A short service is held, generally finishing with the iconic fourth verse of Laurence Binyon’s ‘For the Fallen’, otherwise known as the ‘The Ode of Remembrance’:

They shall grow not 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.

The te reo Māori version of The Ode is as follows:

E kore rātou e kaumātuatia
Pēnei i a tātou kua mahue nei
E kore hoki rātou e ngoikore
Ahakoa pēhea i ngā āhuatanga o te wā
I te hekenga atu o te rā
Tae noa ki te aranga mai i te ata
Ka maumahara tonu tātou ki a rātou.

The Last Post is then played by a lone bugler, followed by a minute’s silence which is ended by the playing of Reveille.

The parade of service personnel

Later in the morning a citizens’ service is often held, featuring a parade of service personnel wearing their medals and displaying military banners and standards. Veterans are joined by community groups such as the Red Cross, Cadet corps, Scouts and Girl Guides. They march to the local war memorial where ceremonies include the laying of wreaths and speeches.

After the official ceremonies, Returned and Services’ Association (RSA) clubs may host veterans and their families who take the opportunity to talk about times gone by and friends lost.

Anzac Day latest resources

Keyword: Anzac Day Dawn Service 2024 order of service
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Anzac Day Dawn Service 2024 order of service
Keyword: Anzac Day 2024 National Commemoration booklet
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Anzac Day 2024 National Commemoration booklet
Keyword: Anzac Day Atatürk Memorial wreathlaying ceremony 2024
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Anzac Day Atatürk Memorial wreathlaying ceremony 2024

Anzac Day official messages

Organisers of Anzac Day commemorations may wish to include the official messages from the Prime Minister and the Governor-General.

Rules for wearing medals

The rules for how to wear service medals in New Zealand are called the Order of Wear. These rules permit family members to wear the medals of deceased ex-service personnel on the right side of the chest on national days of memorial. This includes Anzac Day (25 April) and Armistice Day (11 November). This same rule applies to serving members of the NZ Defence Force who may wear their deceased relative’s medals while in uniform on national days of memorial.

The rules or conventions are:

  • Members of the public should only wear one set of medals. The medals should be those of a direct relative, for example, a sibling, parent or grandparent. In all cases the medals are worn on the right side of the chest.
  • Relatives can only wear medals and decorations that are mounted on either a full-size or miniature medal bar.
  • Royal Honours insignia such as neck badges, sashes, sash badges or breast stars cannot be worn by anyone other than the original recipient. The same rule applies to any Unit and Personal Commendations that the deceased wore on their right chest.
  • As well as on Anzac Day and Armistice Day, it may be appropriate for next-of-kin and other relatives to wear their deceased relatives’ medals on an occasion when either the relative’s service or their unit is being commemorated.
  • Ex-service people should wear their medals on the left side of their chest ( mounted and worn in exactly the same manner as if they were in uniform).

For more information about medals is available on the NZDF website.

 Medal applications (NZ Defence Force)

Legislative guidance on Anzac Day as a holiday

In 1916 the Government issued a notice in the New Zealand Gazette proclaiming Anzac Day as a half-day holiday.

Anzac Day Gazette notice 1916 (NZHistory)

The current Anzac Day Act 1966 recognises Anzac Day as a day of commemoration. Though it permits lawful activity to resume after 1pm, the nature and purpose of the Anzac Day commemorations should be kept in mind.

In April 2013, the Holidays (Full Recognition of Waitangi Day and ANZAC Day) Amendment Act was passed. This legislation enables an extra public holiday when Anzac Day falls on the weekend (for employees who do not ordinarily work on the weekend).

Legislation relating to Anzac Day is available on the Government’s legislation website:

Anzac Day Act 1966 (New Zealand Legislation)

Holidays (Full Recognition of Waitangi Day and ANZAC Day) Amendment Act 2013 (New Zealand Legislation)

Shop Trading Hours Act 1990 (New Zealand Legislation)

Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012 (New Zealand Legislation)