If you’ve been travelling in New Zealand this April, you may have heard ‘Anzac Day’ mentioned. Perhaps you’ve noticed the locals wearing red poppy badges over their hearts or spied tasty looking Anzac biscuits on sale in bakeries. So what is Anzac all about?
Here’s a visitor’s guide to understand what Anzac Day is and what it means to New Zealanders.
What is Anzac Day?
Every year on April 25th, the people of New Zealand stop to honour the men and women who served their country in war and remember those who died.
While Anzac Day is now a national remembrance day dedicated to all those who served in military conflicts, it marks the day in World War I when the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps – known as the ANZACs – landed in Gallipoli, Turkey on April 25th, 1915. The brutal eight month campaign resulted in over 140,000 fatalities, of which 8,500 Australians and 2,770 New Zealanders lost their lives.
The first Anzac Day was held in 1916 on the one year anniversary of the first Gallipoli landings and has been recognised every year since.
2015 held special significance because it marked the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign.
What happens on Anzac Day?
Most towns in New Zealand host a special service and/or parade on Anzac Day.
It is most common for the services to be held either at dawn or very early morning by serviceman at their local war memorial or Returned & Services Association (RSA). Services usually follow a format involving a combination of prayers, hymns, the playing of the Last Post and the national anthem, in the tradition of a military funeral.
Not all services are held at dawn, and some also incorporate a military parade that marches to the service grounds. Afterwards, many participants return to the RSA for time to reflect over refreshments.
Where can you observe Anzac Day?
Anzac services are open to the public and held across the country in most town centres. Joining a service provides a great opportunity to witness first hand a commemoration service that is very close to New Zealanders’ hearts. If you would like to join an Anzac Day commemoration, ask your Stray driver or one of the locals about Anzac Day events/dawn services in the area.
Or search via the official RSA website: rsa.org.nz/find-an-anzac-day-service
Want to see or learn more?
In 2015, Te Papa Museum in Wellington joined forces with the world renowned Weta Workshop team (the guys behind the Lord of the Rings films) to create an incredible ground-breaking exhibit called ‘Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War’ to mark the 100th anniversary.
The exhibit is still open to the public. It is free of charge and provides an in-depth look at the eight month long Gallipoli campaign as told by the New Zealanders who lived it. For anyone with an interest in history or who is a fan of Weta’s creative works, this absolutely is a must see exhibit.
In addition, both Auckland and Wellington typically have notable Anzac celebrations happening throughout the week, including nightly illumination displays on their city War Memorials over the long Anzac weekend.
Note for Stray travellers: Tuesday, 25 April, 2017 is a New Zealand public holiday. Most shops will be closed until at least 1.00pm in recognition of Anzac Day and some will remain closed for the whole day.
This will not affect Stray bus services, but may impact cafes and shops you visit. The Stray office will be open 8:00am – 5:00pm.