Anzac Day marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War. The acronym ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, whose soldiers were known as Anzacs. Anzac Day remains one of the most important national occasions of both Australia and New Zealand, a rare instance of two sovereign countries not only sharing the same remembrance day, but making reference to both countries in its name. When war broke out in 1914, Australia and New Zealand had been dominions of the British Empire for thirteen and seven years respectively.
After the First World War, returned soldiers sought the comradeship they felt in those quiet, peaceful moments before dawn. With symbolic links to the dawn landing at Gallipoli, a dawn stand-to or dawn ceremony became a common form of Anzac Day remembrance during the 1920s. The first official dawn service was held at the Sydney Cenotaph in 1927. Dawn services were originally very simple and followed the operational ritual; in many cases they were restricted to veterans only. The daytime ceremony was for families and other well-wishers and the dawn service was for returned soldiers to remember and reflect among the comrades with whom they shared a special bond.
Before dawn the gathered veterans would be ordered to "stand-to" and two minutes of silence would follow. At the start of this time a lone bugler would play "The Last Post" and then concluded the service with "Reveille". In more recent times the families and young people have been encouraged to take part in dawn services, and services in Australian capital cities have seen some of the largest turnouts ever. Reflecting this change, the ceremonies have become more elaborate, incorporating hymns, readings, pipers and rifle volleys. Others, though, have retained the simple format of the dawn stand-to, familiar to so many soldiers.
Typical modern dawn services follow a pattern that is now familiar to generations of Australians, containing the following features: introduction, hymn, prayer, an address, laying of wreaths, recitation, the playing of "The Last Post", a minute of silence, "Reveille", and the playing of both New Zealand and Australian national anthems. At the Australian War Memorial, following events such as the Anzac Day and Remembrance Day services, families often place artificial red poppies beside the names of relatives on the Memorial's Roll of Honour. In Australia, sprigs of rosemary are often worn on lapels and in New Zealand poppies have taken on this role.
ANZAC Day goes beyond the anniversary of the landing on Gallipoli in 1915. It is the day we remember all Australians who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations. The spirit of ANZAC, with its human qualities of courage, mateship, and sacrifice, continues to have meaning and relevance for our sense of national identity. On ANZAC day, ceremonies are held in towns and cities across the nation to acknowledge the service of our veterans. In Canberra, the Memorial, in close cooperation with RSL ACT, hosts the Dawn Service and the National ANZAC Day Ceremony. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commemorative Ceremony will be held after the ANZAC Day Dawn Service at the Aboriginal Memorial plaque on the side of Mount Ainslie.