Anzac Day and remembrance

Page 2 – Anzac Day activities

The activities here are not designed with a ‘start here and finish there’ in mind. Some require adapting both to meet the needs of your class and programme and also to reflect the current learning from home environment. Feel free to cherry-pick and change as necessary. Some of the activities support those of you looking for some quick, ‘once-over-lightly’ ideas to mark Anzac Day. Others are intended to support more in-depth inquiry into themes such as Anzac Day and its place in shaping national identity, the wider impact and significance of war on New Zealand. Anzac Day can also be used as a context for exploring ideas relating to commemoration and remembrance. A more challenging inquiry, perhaps for older students, might be explore whether Anzac Day continues to have any relevance for New Zealand society.

Commemorating Anzac Day 2020

In 2020, due to their governments’ responses to the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, all Anzac Day services in New Zealand and Australia were cancelled. This was the first time this had happened in the history of Anzac Day commemorations. The decision, understandable given the circumstances, was nevertheless upsetting for many people. It prompted calls on both sides of the Tasman to consider other ways of commemorating Anzac Day 2020.

The Anzac Day ceremony of 25 April is rich in tradition and ritual. It takes the form of a military funeral and follows a particular pattern. The day's ceremonies have two major parts: one at dawn and another public event later in the morning. For more on the typical format of an Anzac Day ceremony look here.

Some students may never have been to a ceremony such as a dawn service. The Anzac Day dawn service at Waikumete Cemetery, Auckland, in 2008 is shown in the following video.

The history of the dawn service is interesting. It is widely assumed that it marks the time at which the New Zealanders went ashore at Gallipoli. This is not so. The first New Zealanders didn't land until after 9am, with most landing after the middle of the day and some on the 26th. The 3rd Australian Brigade did land just before dawn. The first official dawn ceremony as part of Anzac Day commemorations was held in Australia in 1927, and New Zealand didn’t adopt this practice widely until 1939.

Anzac Day: what do you already know?

Give yourself one minute to write down everything you can think of or know in relation to Anzac Day. It could be words, dates or images – there is no right or wrong response.

Now see if you can tease out in a couple of sentences an explanation for someone from another country what Anzac Day is about.

Use the material available from the following links to help you complete the following tasks:

Find out the answers to the following questions:

  1. On 25 April 1915 approximately how many New Zealand soldiers landed at what became known as Anzac Cove?
  2. How many days did the Gallipoli campaign last?
  3. According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission how many fatalities were suffered by the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915?
  4. What was Evelyn Brooke's role at Gallipoli?
  5. Who wrote the poem 'For the fallen' commonly used at Anzac Day ceremonies?
  6. What do the letters RSA stand for?
  7. What did the 75th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings coincide with?
  8. What has Anzac Day become synonymous with in recent years?
  9. In what year did Anzac Day become associated with anti-Vietnam war protests?
  10. What is the name of the poppy commonly used as a symbol for Anzac Day?

Some of the traditions of the Anzac Day ceremony

Many remembrance services include a reciting of the last verse of the poem 'For the fallen' Written by the English poet Laurence Binyon in September 1914:

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.

Another feature of formal remembrance ceremonies is the playing of the Last Post, a bugle call used at military funerals and ceremonies. 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. You can here the Last Post here.

Flowers are used in many cultures as an expression of many things and have traditionally been laid on graves and memorials in memory of the dead. Roman Emperors often wore laurel wreaths made of interlocking branches and leaves of the bay tree to signify victory in battle. In ancient Greece and Rome, laurel wreaths were also worn around the head as signs of victory in pursuits of sports, music and poetry. The laying of a floral wreath has become an important tradition at services commemorating those who have died in war.

The poppy has also become popular in wreaths on Anzac Day as has rosemary, symbolising remembrance. honour.

The red poppy has become a popular symbol of war remembrance the world over. People in many countries wear the poppy to remember those who died in war or who still serve. In many countries, the poppy is worn around Armistice Day (11 November), but in New Zealand it is most commonly seen around Anzac Day, 25 April.

The red or Flanders poppy has been linked with battlefield deaths since the time of First World War. The plant was one of the first to grow and bloom on the battlefields in the Belgian region of Flanders. The connection was made, most famously, by Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae in his poem, 'In Flanders fields'

  • What things do we choose to remember – or forget – as:
    • individuals
    • communities
    • hapū or iwi
    • nations
    • Why do we remember some things and not others? How do we decide what is important to us?
    • What are some of the ways we show that some things – events and people – are more important or significant for us than others?
    • Have you ever attended a Dawn Service, or any other Anzac Day commemoration?
    • Why do you think the Dawn Service follows the traditions it does?
    • What do you think is the meaning of the verse of Laurence Binyon’s For the Fallen, used in commemorations such as Anzac Day?
    • What are some other ceremonies that you can think of that groups of people hold? What was the purpose of these other ceremonies?  Describe what they were like.
    • Is there a difference between commemorating something and celebrating it? If so, can you explain the difference
    • Why do you think we have national ceremonies and commemorations?
    • Why do you think we commemorate or remember Anzac Day in this way?

Designing your own Anzac Day ceremony

With official Anzac Day ceremonies cancelled in 2020, how might New Zealanders acknowledge Anzac Day in their own ‘Covid-19 lockdown bubble’? #StandAtDawn is an initiative launched by the New Zealand Defence Force and RSA. This makes a number of suggestions as to how people might be able to acknowledge Anzac Day in the current circumstances.

You might want to consider organising your own ceremony. Maybe you blend established traditions and practices with your own ideas, or go for something completely different:

  • What might such a ceremony look like? If you are a person of faith you might think of an appropriate prayer or karakia to use for your bubble, or perhaps a song or waiata. Another suggestion is to consider a reading of some description that reflects what Anzac Day means to you.
  • If you do have your own ceremony at home, you could record it in some way. Maybe you could film it on a mobile phone or camera, or record it as part of a journal.

Anzac Day and historical significance

25 April marks the landings of New Zealand troops at Gallipoli in 1915. By the time of their evacuation in December 1915, 44,000 Allied soldiers had died, including more than 8700 Australians and 2779 New Zealanders. Despite ending in defeat, Gallipoli is regarded by many on both sides of the Tasman as an heroic 'baptism by fire'. Many 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 as Gallipoli.

So, what makes what was a relatively small campaign in the wider context of the First World War, significant to New Zealand? We can view significant events as those that resulted in great change over long periods of time for large numbers of people. A person or event can acquire historical significance if we link it to larger trends and stories that reveal something important for us today. In asking how the experience of Gallipoli changed the lives of New Zealanders then and over subsequent generations. 

Significance can also depend upon your perspective. How might a parent or loved one have felt about the experience of a loved one serving overseas? What about the conscientious objector punished for their beliefs or actions? How might some iwi have felt about the call to serve ‘King and Country’ at the time given their experiences of war with the British Crown in the nineteenth century and the subsequent loss of land? How might a pacifist today view the events of 1915 and their commemoration?

  • In your opinion what makes Gallipoli historically significant – or not - to New Zealand and New Zealanders?  Consider significance over time, to New Zealanders living at that time and New Zealanders today as well as the differing perspectives of people at the time. How did the events of 1915 shape or change our history as a nation?

Lest we forget? Is it time to forget Anzac Day? An opinion piece for older students

Anzac Day has on occasions been a day of protest for those who see it as an opportunity to raise issues other than those of remembrance.  In 1967 protestors in Christchurch laid a protest opposition wreath on Anzac Day to highlight their opposition to the Vietnam War. They 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 Māori activists, all laid protest 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.

On Anzac day 2017, peace activists protested at the Wellington Cenotaph about the alleged killing of civilians killed by the SAS in Afghanistan in 2010. Protestors Ellie Clayton and Laura Drew while being interviewed by a television crew were interrupted by an animated 12-year-old James Broome-Isa, who declared that ANZAC day was an inappropriate day to protest – any day but this day was his plea. A poll carried about by the television broadcaster conducting the interview found overwhelming support for his view.

Protest actions on Anzac Day have at times bewildered and angered many New Zealanders, not least the returned servicemen and women who felt that their day was being hijacked. However, these actions forced the community to re-evaluate Anzac Day and its purpose. In 1996, then Prime Minister Jim Bolger suggested that Anzac Day should have the dual function of commemorating the war dead and celebrating nationhood.

Clearly Anzac Day means different things to different people and groups. For instance, those with a clear connection to someone who has served in the armed forces may well hold a different opinion to those with no obvious military connections. Anzac Day will continue to be redefined by each succeeding generation, especially as the number of veterans of war dwindle. Some may see this as highlighting the need for Anzac Day to reaffirm what these generations experienced and stood for. Others will see it as an opportunity to reassess the place of war in defining or shaping our sense of identity as a nation and to question its ongoing relevance.

  • In your opinion is Anzac Day a legitimate day of protest? Explain your answer.
  • Do you believe Anzac Day should be seen as a ‘celebration’ of nationhood as well as a day of remembrance? Why or why not?
  • Are the traditions and practices associated with Anzac Day still relevant to 21st century New Zealand? Is the cancellation of official ceremonies in 2020 an opportunity to rethink the place of Anzac Day in our national calendar?
    • Write down three reasons why you think Anzac Day ceremonies remain a relevant part of New Zealand life today. Prepare a justification for each argument.
    • Now write down three reasons why you think Anzac Day ceremonies are no longer a relevant part of New Zealand life today. Prepare a justification for each argument.
    • Is Anzac Day an important day for you personally? Why or why not?
    • How do people demonstrate the significance of Anzac Day as individuals or as part of a wider community? What do they do to acknowledge this day?

Why not Passchendaele day?

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.

On 12 October 1917, 843 New Zealanders were killed in one morning at Passchendaele, Belgium. This remains the greatest loss of life in a single day in New Zealand’s history. Despite these numbers, why is it that fewer New Zealanders know anything about Passchendaele in comparison with Gallipoli?

  • Letter to the editor

In letters to the editor people can express their opinions and views on particular topics of interest. Write a letter to the editor of your local paper outlining why you believe New Zealand should consider replacing commemorations on Anzac Day (25 April) with a new Remembrance Day on 12 October each year. You should try to provide three reasons why you believe such a change is justified.

Gallipoli and historical empathy

Martyn Davison’s (Pakuranga College) chapter in the excellent History Matters (Michael Harcourt & Mark Sheehan, editors), outlines how Gallipoli can be used to teach historical empathy. This has often been described as vicariously walking in someone else’s shoes in order to interpret or better understand the past. It is another useful way of considering historical perspective. Historical empathy is both cognitive and affective. It is cognitive because students have to think about how evidence fits together, and affective because it attempts to imagine what an historical character might have felt.

Davison uses Gallipoli as a context for teaching historical empathy and is guided by two historical questions:

  • Why did so many young men from New Zealand and Australia travel halfway around the world to fight in a war?
  • What was it like fighting on the Gallipoli peninsula in 1915?

Anzac Day fatalities

New Zealanders began to land on the beaches at Anzac Cove, Gallipoli at about 9 a.m. on 25 April. By the end of the day, more than 100 of them had died.

A list of 147 fatalities of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) was collated from Commonwealth War Graves Commission records. The exact date of death cannot be verified for 23 of those listed, for whom it is shown as, for example, 'died 25 April–1 May'. The list does not include those who were mortally wounded on 25 April 1915 and died later. Most of those who died on 25 April have no known grave. They are commemorated on the Lone Pine Memorial on the Gallipoli Peninsula.

  • The list provided of those New Zealanders presumed killed in the opening of the Gallipoli campaign includes brief biographical material. Use this information to:
    • Find the age of the youngest and the oldest New Zealander killed. (Those of you feeling particularly ambitious might like to have a go at working out the average age of those killed).
    • What general observations do you have as to the make up of those killed e.g. ages, occupations etc?
    • The New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) was arranged into four regional infantry groupings: Auckland, Wellington, Canterbury and Otago. From the list of fatalities which of these four regiments lost the most men in the opening exchanges at Gallipoli?
How to cite this page

'Anzac Day activities', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 29-Mar-2022