ANZAC Day During World War One – Part 1 The Origin Of The Word ANZAC

This is the first part in a four-part series about Anzac Day and how it was commemorated in South Australia and Gawler, during the years immediately following the first landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915.

This week, in Part 1, you can read about the origin of the word ‘Anzac’ and Anzac Day. In Part 2, on 25 April you can read about the first observance of Anzac Day in South Australia on 13 October 1915. On 2 May, in Part 3, we will look at how Anzac Day was commemorated on 25 April 1916. Finally, in Part 4, which will be posted on 9 May, you will be able to read about the more organised Anzac Day commemorations that occurred in 1917 and 1918.

When Britain declared war against Germany on 4 August 1914, young men from all parts of Australia rushed to support the ‘mother country’ by joining the Australian Imperial Force. This was thought to be the opportunity for Australian men to prove their worth on the battlefield. They were blissfully unaware of the horrors to come as they boarded ships bound for the battlefield. Most were transported to Egypt where they were trained for the ill-fated assault on the Gallipoli Peninsula on 25 April 1915.

Lines of the Australian 9th and 10th Battalions at Mena Camp, Egypt, December 1914. Many Australian units took kangaroos and other Australian animals to Egypt. Some were given to the Cairo Zoological Gardens when the units went to Gallipoli.        Source: Australian War Memorial, C02588.

‘Anzac’ is an acronym formed from the first letters of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. This was how the Australian and New Zealand soldiers were grouped while in training at Mena Camp in Egypt, prior to embarking ships for the landing at Gallipoli.

The origin of the word ‘Anzac’ is open to conjecture – there are a number of possibilities. First is the claim of General Sir William R Birdwood that he chose the acronym as a telegraphic code for his ‘Army Corps’. He further claimed that when asked to suggest a name for the beach at Gallipoli on which the first Landing took place, he selected ‘Anzac Cove’¹. General Sir Ian Hamilton, in the foreword to a book published in 1915, claimed that he was the man who ‘omitted the five full stops and brazenly coined the word ‘Anzac’².

C E W Bean, in his book The Story of Anzac, and Robert Rhodes James in his book Gallipoli, gave similar accounts. Their version was that, early in 1915 in the General Staff of General Birdwood, two Australian clerks (Sergeants Little and Millington) were using a rubber with the initials A.&N.Z.A.C to register mail and correspondence. When the need for a code word arose, one of the clerks (probably Lieutenant A T White of the British Army) suggested ‘ANZAC’. The code word was approved and adopted but, according to Bean, it was some time before it came into general use and, even at the time of the Landing, it was not well-known. James, however, believed that the term ‘Anzac’ was in general use by January 1915³.

After the Landing at Gallipoli the word ‘Anzac’ came to be a word that described the soldiers themselves. When the war ended, it was used to refer to any Australian or New Zealand person who had served in World War One4. The spirit of Anzac recognises the qualities of courage, mateship, sacrifice and endurance in the face of death and despair5. By early June 1915, the word ‘Anzac’ made its first appearance in Australian newspapers6. In a telegram received by the Minister for Defence Major-General Sir Ian Hamilton reported that he had received news from Anzac of enemy reinforcements being sent to the Gallipoli Peninsula7.


On 25 April each year, we commemorate the landing of Australian and New Zealand troops at Gallipoli together with all Australians who served and died in all wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations. Services are held at war memorials at dawn, the time of the landing of Australian and New Zealand troops at Gallipoli. Later in the day marches and other services are held8.

The first official dawn service was held in Sydney in 1927. This was also the first year that all states recognised a public holiday on the day. Dawn services were at first attended only by veterans; the marches and services later in the day were for families and others9. These days, people from all walks of life and backgrounds go to the ANZAC Day services of their choosing.

Post Contributor: Anne Richards

[1] ‘Origins of the acronym ANZAC’, Australian War Memorial website,, accessed 23 November 2015.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] ‘Anzac acronym’, Australian War memorial website,, accessed 23 November 2015.
[5] ‘ANZAC Day’, Australian War Memorial website,, accessed 23 November 2015.
[6] For example, ‘A Good Advance’, The Argus, 7 June 1915, p. 9,, accessed 23 November 2015; ‘Australians at Work’, The Register, 7 June 1915, p. 8,, accessed 23 November 2015.
[7] Ibid., The Register, 7 June 1915.
[8] ‘ANZAC Day’, Australian War Memorial website.
[9] Ibid.



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