Anzac Day social studies activities

Page 1 – Introduction

Why is Anzac Day so special?

25 April marks the landings of New Zealand troops at Gallipoli in 1915. This campaign was a complete military disaster for the Allied force of which the Anzacs were a part. By the time of their retreat in December 1915, 44,000 Allied soldiers had died, including more than 8700 Australians and 2779 New Zealanders. Victory came at a high price for the Ottoman Empire, which lost 87,000 men repelling the invasion. 

Anzac Day is marked on both sides of the Tasman as some sort of heroic defeat, a 'baptism by fire' for both nations. As such it has overshadowed other aspects of the war. Far more New Zealanders – over 12,000 – died on the Western Front in France and Belgium, yet the Somme or Passchendaele are not so obviously etched into the collective memory of the nation. A 2012 benchmark survey prior to the commencement of the First World War Centenary programme confirmed that in terms of fronts and battles of the First World War, the Battle of Gallipoli and the Gallipoli Front (79% and 63% respectively) were most well-known, followed by the Battle of the Somme (45%), and the Battle of Passchendaele (43%) . Only 17% knew that more New Zealanders were killed on the Western Front than Gallipoli - 52% believed it was Gallipoli.

The First World War had a seismic impact on New Zealand, reshaping the country's perception of itself and its place in the world. Ormond Burton, a hero of the First World War who subsequently became a leading pacifist, believed that 'somewhere between the landing at Anzac and the end of the battle of the Somme New Zealand very definitely became a nation'. Anzac Day itself can be used as an entry point for those wishing to exploring the key events of Gallipoli and the war in general, but more importantly the role war has played in shaping our sense of identity as a nation. The First World War highlighted attitudes that many New Zealanders today might struggle to appreciate, such as 'fighting for King and Empire'. But other attributes – bravery, tenacity, practicality, ingenuity, 'mateship' – are all recognised as qualities that have helped New Zealand define itself as a nation. For many who lost loved ones in war, such matters are of little significance, and for them the day remains one of commemoration. For New Zealand, with a population of around one million in 1914, the First World War was a hugely traumatic event; 58,000 casualties out of a force of 100,000 equated to one in every three men aged between 20 and 40 being killed or wounded. 

  • For activities and ideas that explore the wider issue of war and remembrance go here.

Anzac Day is not just about the Anzacs

Useful links
NZHistory.net has a number of features that teachers and students will find useful in  exploring some of the themes associated with Anzac Day, the Gallipoli campaign and New Zealander's experiences of the First World War in general. These include:

In addition, the site Anzac.govt.nz is essential reading.

How to cite this page

'Anzac Day - social studies activities', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/classroom/anzac-day/anzac-day-social-studies-activities, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 23-Mar-2020