First Anzac Day

25 April 1916

Anzac Day commemoration at Petone, 1916
Anzac Day commemoration at Petone, 1916 (Alexander Turnbull Library, APG-0589-1/2-G)

People in communities across New Zealand and overseas gathered to mark the first anniversary of the Gallipoli landings. New Zealand observed a half-day holiday from 1 p.m. The mood was solemn; race meetings were postponed and cinemas stayed shut until late afternoon.

The first Anzac Day provided an opportunity for the country’s political leaders to remind young men of their duty to volunteer for war service. Prime Minister William Massey concluded a speech at Wellington’s Town Hall by calling for more young men to come forward to fight for King and country. The possible introduction of conscription was an unstated threat.

Large crowds attended local ceremonies; there were 2000 at a religious service in Ashburton and 8000 at the dedication of a memorial flagpole at Petone railway station. In Wairarapa, locals erected a large cross on top of a hill overlooking the village of Tīnui.

Overseas, New Zealanders took part in commemorative events in Malta, Egypt and London, where crowds lined the streets to watch 2000 Australian and New Zealand soldiers march to Westminster Abbey for a service.

Anzac Day was observed on 23 April 1917 because of local body elections on the 25th. The commemoration reverted to 25 April in 1918 and has been held on that day ever since. In 2020 no public events took place because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

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