Anzac Day social studies activities

Page 5 – Commemmorating Anzac Day

Commemorating Anzac Day

1. Brainstorm/discussion

Building on the results of the scavenger hunt or other diagnostic work, use the following questions to help you learn about any experiences your students might have had with Anzac Day.

  • How many of you have attended a Dawn Service?
  • How many of you have been to or participated in any other Anzac Day commemoration, for example, wreath laying?
  • If you have students who have attended Anzac Day ceremonies, ask them to describe the event: the people, sounds, what it felt like, etc. You might want to summarise or list some of the key points on the board.
  • Listen to the recording of this dawn ceremony recorded at Ohinemutu in 1956.
  • The Last Post is a bugle call used at military funerals and ceremonies commemorating those who have fallen in war. It was originally a bugle call used in British Army camps to signal the end of the day. It has been incorporated into military funerals, where it is played as a final farewell, symbolising that the duty of the dead soldier is over and that he or she can rest in peace.

2. The meaning of Anzac Day

These can be completed as written answers or as the basis of class discussion. The following links will be useful for the purposes of this exercise:

  1. What do you understand by the word 'commemorate'?
  2. What do you think Anzac Day commemorates?
  3. What do you think is the meaning of the last verse of the poem 'For the fallen'?:
    They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
    Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
    At the going down of the sun and in the morning
    We will remember them.
  4. What are some of the symbols used to represent Anzac Day?
  5. What do these symbols represent?
  6. How did some people turn Anzac Day into a day of protest?
  7. Why did the RSA want Anzac Day to be treated as if it were a Sunday?
  8. Is Anzac Day nothing more than a holiday to many New Zealanders? Explain your answer.
  9. How has Anzac Day been used to promote a sense of New Zealand's identity as a nation?
  10. What are the things that make us stand tall as a nation today?
  11. In your opinion should Anzac Day be abolished in its current format? Explain your answer.

3. The Dawn Service

Imagine you are an exchange student visiting from Switzerland. Your host family has taken you to an Anzac Day Dawn Service at their local war memorial. In a letter back home to your family outline to them what the purpose of the day is and why the ceremony takes place at dawn. Describe some of the sights and sounds you experienced at the ceremony and your impressions of it.

4. Lest we forget: class debate

The notion of remembrance is a key part of the tradition of Anzac Day. We honour and remember New Zealanders killed in war and honour returned servicemen and women. Gallipoli was a costly failure for the Allies, and the campaign itself was a relatively minor part of the First World War. The event itself was characterised by military blunders that resulted in the deaths of many of thousands of people.

Even as early as 1950 there was some concern that Anzac Day was not being 'observed in the spirit of which it was instituted'. Was it relevant to New Zealand society? Listen to Today in New Zealand History, 25 April 1950, The Spirit of ANZAC, to help set the scene for this debate.

'Anzac Day and the whole Gallipoli thing: seeing as we lost and it was full of blunders, shouldn't we forget it?'

  • Divide your class into groups of four.
  • Ask half of the groups to prepare arguments that support the notion that Gallipoli was a military disaster so another day should be selected to commemorate New Zealand's war dead.
  • Ask the other groups to prepare arguments that support the notion that Gallipoli is the most appropriate day on which to commemorate New Zealand's war dead.
  • Ask each group to add their thoughts to two lists either on the board or on large sheets of paper.
  • Now select six members of the class to debate this question, applying the usual rules of a formal debate with a team in the affirmative, a team in the negative, speaking times, etc.


There will be students in your class for whom Anzac Day and its connection with commemorating the war dead will have absolutely no meaning. Perhaps their family ethnicity meant they had no involvement in any of these wars. As an alternative debate you could put forward the topic that 'Anzac Day has no relevance to New Zealand in the 21st century.'

5 . Anzac Day and protest

In 1967 two members of the left-wing Progressive Youth Movement used Anzac Day as an opportunity to highlight their opposition to the Vietnam War. They laid a protest wreath in Christchurch and were subsequently convicted of disorderly behaviour. Further incidents followed at later Anzac Days as protestors sought to bring attention to their anti-war cause.

In 1978 renewed controversy arose when a women's group laid a wreath in memory of women killed and raped in war.

During the 1980s other lobby groups – feminists, gays, anti-nuclear and peace activists, and Maori radicals – all laid wreathes at the Anzac Day services. Anzac Day had become more than a commemoration of New Zealand war dead and war service; it was increasingly being used to make statements about war and society.

Such actions bewildered and angered many returned servicemen who felt that their day was being hijacked by other groups. However, these actions forced the community to re-evaluate Anzac Day and its purpose. Increasingly Anzac Day was regarded as an appropriate day on which to debate defence and war-related issues. For instance, ex-servicemen and politicians used Anzac Day ceremonies to speak out on anti-nuclear policy during the 1980s. In 1996 Prime Minister Jim Bolger suggested that Anzac Day should have the dual function of commemorating the war dead and celebrating nationhood. Anzac Day continues to be redefined by each succeeding generation, especially as the last of the Second World War veterans pass away.

  • Is Anzac Day a legitimate day of protest in your opinion? Explain your answer.
  • What do your students think of Jim Bolger's idea?
  • How has the current generation redefined Anzac Day?
How to cite this page

'Commemmorating Anzac Day', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 23-Jan-2015