Kimberley Heenan
Wilderness School
Runner-up – South Australia

‘We will remember them’ – How and why have Australians commemorated the ANZAC experience?

Since 1915 Australians have commemorated the heroic feats of the ANZACs that gave birth to the renowned ANZAC spirit and contributed to the establishment of Australia’s identity. As well as the marches and services held at memorials around the country on ANZAC Day, there are also vast educational programs in schools throughout Australia allowing young Australians to learn about the ANZAC experience, thus keeping their memory alive for future generations.

One of the core reasons Australians have commemorated the ANZAC experience is because it was the foundation of what is known as the ANZAC spirit. The Australian troops displayed great bravery, resilience and mateship while enduring horrendous conditions at Gallipoli and such traits have become the heart of the ANZAC legend. "Many of them went on with the fighting and the fatigues without ever reporting sick; it was to them, perhaps, a little too much like ‘letting their mates down.’" (Denton 1986:107) The cliffs the ANZACs were faced with at Gallipoli were almost unclimbable; the conditions in the trenches repulsive and the constant blasting of guns, the dangers of disease and the terror were unbearable. Yet the soldiers and commanders served together, suffered together and supported each other, resulting in the ANZAC spirit becoming renowned for mateship and courage. Such characteristics have been reflected down the generations of Australia’s Defence Force since the First World War to present day. The ANZAC experience has also proven to be inspirational to the rest of the Australian community. For instance, the recent efforts of the fire fighters in Sydney; battling a firestorm 40 metres high and winds of up to 50 kilometres per hour they have worked courageously in scorching heat and choking smoke to help save the homes and lives of four million fellow Australians. (Holloway, 9/12/02) They have upheld qualities such as courage and stamina, similar to those demonstrated by the ANZACs. There have also been other constant reminders of this inspirational spirit including the Second World War in which the offspring of many original ANZACs fought and Australia’s peacekeeping missions in East Timor and Afghanistan. The feats of those who served at Gallipoli have inspired generations of Australians to commemorate the ANZAC experience.

Another reason Australians have commemorated the ANZAC experience is that it had such a massive impact on society. The attack at Gallipoli caused a devastating shock to sweep over Australia as people came to realise the true reality of war. When troops were sent off to war, many thought their experience would be adventurous, thrilling and glorifying. It was anything but that. One soldier wrote in his diary: ‘It is simply terrible to see your pals shot down beside you’ (Simmelhaig and Spencely 1987:42) and another: ‘It was one long grave, only some of us were still alive in it.’ (Denton 1986:87) These primary sources show that the soldiers no longer regarded war as an adventure or game. Although they only reflect the experiences of a few soldiers and it is possible they may have been cautious with what they wrote so as not to upset loved ones, the sources correspond with wider knowledge of the ANZAC experience. Those back home also faced this sudden wave of realisation. Letters sent home from loved ones, paintings, sketches and photographs from war artists and notification of those deceased or missing were all constant reminders for all back in Australia of the Gallipoli campaign. Coinciding with this tragic loss came the birth of a nation. Before the attack at Gallipoli Australia’s national attitude was said to be confused and muddled and it was generally considered that Australia was nothing more than a part of the British Empire. However the ANZACs changed this. Australian troops came to admire their own officers and blamed the British for mistakes in planning and executing the campaign. A magazine article released on ANZAC Day 1916 captures the altered national sentiment: "No matter how the war may end … we are at last a Nation with one heart, one soul, one thrilling aspiration." (Simmelhaig and Spencely 1987:46) Being from a magazine, it is possible that this description is exaggerated however it is effective in portraying a sense of the general atmosphere in society. This attitude was adopted by most, Australia wide, which is why Australians have commemorated the ANZAC experience.

One of the most significant ways in which Australians have commemorated the ANZAC experience is through war memorials. The Australian War Memorial has played a major role in the commemoration of the ANZACs, as have smaller community memorials around the country. Since the Australian War Memorial was opened in 1942 it has been dedicated to commemorating Australians who have served and died at war, including the ANZACs. By maintaining the Roll of Honour, conducting national ceremonies and through its exhibitions and displays, the Memorial helps Australians remember and appreciate the sacrifices made by Australian soldiers. The services the Memorial runs include the Dawn Service and the ANZAC Day ceremony, following which families often place red poppies next to the names of relatives on the Memorial’s Roll of Honour. The Australian War Memorial also offers vast educational programs that are available to schools and displays galleries exhibiting numerable and invaluable military relics and records. Probably the most prominent feature of the Australian War Memorial is the Hall of Memory, housing the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Retrieved from a cemetery in France then being buried in Australia with a slouch hat, a sprig of wattle and soil from the Pozieres battlefield, the Unknown Soldier symbolises all Australians who have died in war. The experience of the ANZACs at Gallipoli also inspired many local Australian communities to erect memorials, dedicated to their war heroes. Through this, their memory has lived on, reminding us of the ANZAC experience and acting as a focal point for Australians to commemorate the ANZAC experience.

Probably the most widely recognised way Australians have commemorated the ANZAC experience is through parades and services held annually on ANZAC Day. ANZAC Day is one of Australia’s most significant national occasions. In 1916, April 25th was declared a day of commemoration of the ANZAC experience and since 1927, ANZAC Day has been a national public holiday. It was a day for ex-service men and women to march together, and even 87 years later there is a turnout of thousands to parades held nationwide. The Dawn Service is held at dawn on ANZAC Day each year, having symbolic connections to the landing of the ANZACS at Gallipoli. A typical ANZAC Day service includes laying of wreaths a recitation, usually of ‘The Ode’, the ‘Last Post’ a period of silence, and the ‘Reveille’. Laurel and Rosemary are the most common flowers woven into wreaths; Laurel representing bravery and honour and Rosemary being associated with remembrance.

For over 87 years, Australians have commemorated the ANZAC experience. Through the countless memorials nationwide and the parades and services held annually, Australians have honoured those who shaped Australia’s national identity and were the origin of the ANZAC spirit. The light the ANZACS lit will never die inside of me, but continue to burn as I honour and am inspired by their experience. Because of the horror, resilience, mateship and courage that is the ANZAC experience, as Australians, ‘We will remember them’.

  1. Burton, G., et al, 3/6/01, ‘Australians at War: Faith enough for all of us’, Video Recording, Beyond Productions, Mullion Creek Productions, Australia.
  2. Denton, K., 1986, ‘Australian’s at War: Gallipoli – One long grave’, Life-time Books Australia, Sydney.
  3. Holloway, G., 9/12/02, ‘Fire fighters gaining upper hand in Sydney fires’, <http://asia.cnn/2002/WORLD/asiapcf/auspac/12/09/sydnkey.bushfires/> [Accessed 09/12/02]
  4. Hunt, S., 12/05/02, ‘Their spirit inspires today’s generation’, The Gold Coast Bulletin, Queensland, Australia, p5.
  5. Laffin, J., 1999, ‘Gallipoli’, Simon & Schuster, Australia.
  6. Lewis, R. and Gurry, T., 1999, ‘The Anzac Experience’, Ryebuck Media, Australia.
  7. ‘Rest in Peace, the spirit of Anzac lives on’, 17/5/02, The Australian, Australia, p9.
  8. Simmelhaig, H. and Spencely, GFR, 1987, ‘For Australia’s Sake’, Thomas Nelson Australia, Melbourne.
  9. Smith, P. A., 1991, ‘Gallipoli’, Penguin Books Australia, Victoria.
  10. Thompson, C., 18/05/02, ‘Death highlights strength of spirit’, The Cairns Post, Queensland, Australia, p3.
  11. ‘World War I – Gallipoli’ 2002, <> [Accessed 05/11/02]

Return to List of Winners 2003