Today is ANZAC Day. On this day Australia and New Zealand mark the service and sacrifice of their armed forces and commemorate their fallen.
ANZAC stand for Australia New Zealand Army Corps and comes from World War One. The date of 25th April is important as it makes the first landings by ANZAC soldiers on the beaches at the start of the Gallipoli Campaign in 1915.
The Gallipoli campaign was an effort by the Entente forces (British Empire, France and Russia) to break the deadlock against the Central Powers (German, Austria-Hungary and Ottoman Empires). The plan was promoted by many in power including the First Lord of the Admiralty – Winston Churchill.
By landing on the Dardanelles Peninsula (in modern day Turkey) Entente troops could force a passage through the Bosporus and seize the Ottoman capital Constantinople (now Istanbul) potentially knocking them out of the war. It would also open up the Black Sea to allow supplies to reach Russia and potentially inspire other Balkan countries to join the fight against the Central Powers.
The campaign was badly designed, executed and led from the Entente side and skilfully handled by the Ottoman side, leading to another stalemate that persisted until Entente troops withdrew on the 9th January 1916.
ANZAC soldiers went on to serve with distinction on the Western front through the key battles of 1917-1918 and during the Sinai & Palestine Campaign that partly led to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1918.
By the end of the campaign both sides had reinforced their positions and just under 500,000 soldiers had served on each side (including over 50,000 Australian and 16-18,000 New Zealanders), during which both suffered over 200,000 casualties each, (killed, wounded and sick) the combined total of those killed number over 100,000. Over 8,000 Australian and 2,779 New Zealand soldiers died, for New Zealand this was almost 1/6 of those who fought there.
British, Indian and French troops also served in Gallipoli in large numbers and similarly suffered high losses. The casualties the ANZAC troops suffered and how those at home came to see the failure of the campaign, has become an important point in the history of Australia and New Zealand as the shared sense of loss and frustration felt, became one of the starting points for a national consciousness forming, as separate to their membership of the British Empire.
The date has been marked by them since 1916 and usually takes the form of a Dawn Service followed by parades and gatherings at war memorials. The day has grown to encompass subsequent conflicts such as World War Two and the Vietnam War but the original link to Gallipoli remains. Gallipoli and the wider Dardanelles Peninsula remain a place frequently visited by Australians and New Zealanders today to remember those lost.
As well as being marked in Australian and New Zealand, ANZAC Day is also marked in the UK, notably in London and Edinburgh to honour the service and sacrifice of ANZAC soldiers through the years. The day also serves to remember our own service personnel who fell during the Gallipoli campaign.