Anzac Day: Rich traditions with modern-day relevance

More than a century after the Anzacs landed in Gallipoli in 1915, Anzac Day remains steeped in an abundance of traditions and still captivates us as a nation. (Image source: Pinterest)

By Bec Gaitaneris @bec_gaitaneris

As one of the most important dates on the Australian calendar, Anzac Day continues to be a day for Australians and New Zealanders to come together in remembrance.  

In the lead up to April 25, you may notice and/or hear about dawn services, Anzac biscuits, and wearing sprigs of rosemary.

But where have these traditions and rituals come from?

The Dawn Service

If you’re an early bird and willing to brave the cold, the first commemorative event of Anzac Day is a dawn service at 4:30am. I know, 4:30am seems rough, but this is about the time when the men of the Anzac approached the Gallipoli beach.

The timing is also symbolically linked to the origins of the ‘stand-to’ routine. The ‘stand-to’ was when active soldiers were woken at dawn to get in position for any enemy attacks in the half-light of dawn. It is a tradition and a moment that has been remembered and honoured for over a century.

(Image source: ABC News)

The Bugle Calls

In military tradition, the Last Post is a bugle call that signifies the end of the day. The Last Post is also played at funerals and memorials as a final farewell, indicating that the duty of the dead is over and that they can rest in peace.

(Image source: War History Online)

The Significance of Silence

Following the Last Post is typically one or two minutes of silence as a symbol of remembrance and commemoration. On Remembrance Day, at 11 am on the 11th day of the 11th month, Australians and News Zealanders also pause for one minute of silence to remember and honour those troops who died in wars, conflicts, and peace operations.

Gunfire Breakfast

Many RSL clubs and communities follow a dawn service with a ‘gunfire breakfast’. A ‘gunfire breakfast’ is a British tradition and was… the usual term for the early cup of tea served out to troops in the morning before going on first parade, whenever possible.

In the War [WWI] recruits in training always had ‘Gun Fire’ supplied to them, the work before breakfast being found particularly trying. The morning gun in a garrison town suggested the name probably.

(Image source:

 The Anzac Biscuit

The biscuit that most people have come to know as the ‘Anzac bikkie’ is typically a delicious and mouth-watering combination of store cupboard ingredients, including flour, oats, golden syrup, desiccated coconut, sugar, butter, and bicarbonate of soda.

The biscuits quickly became a popular food, which wives, mothers, and girlfriends of Australian and New Zealand troops would send over, due to their accessible ingredients, easy cooking method, and long shelf life.

(Image source: Getty Images))

Rosemary and Red Poppies are for Remembrance

On Anzac Day, wearing sprigs of rosemary is a symbol of remembrance and commemoration. Rosemary has particular significance for Australians and New Zealanders, as it is found growing wild on the Gallipoli peninsula, where they served during the First World War.

(Image source: Contact Magazine)

Worn on Remembrance Day each year (November 11), the red poppy, typically pinned to the breast of citizens, is a symbol of remembrance for those who fought in the First World War.

According to the Australian War Memorial, the red poppy, or Flanders poppy was among the first plants to spring up in the battlefields of northern France and Belgium after the war. The first sighting of the poppies inspired Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae to write the poem ‘In Flanders Fields’. The poem is often recited at Anzac Day and Remembrance Day services.

April 25 may seem like any other day to the rest of the world, but for Australians and New Zealanders this day is rooted deep in our culture. With rituals, traditions, and folklore associated with the date; Anzac Day has become part of our nation’s rich history.

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