Anzac Day and remembrance

Page 3 – War and remembrance activities

War has played a defining role in shaping our nation since we first sent troops overseas to South Africa in 1899. Over the course of the centenary of the the First World War (2014-18) many New Zealanders reflected on the impact of this war on their families or on our nation. At the conclusion of the official centenary programme 89 percent of New Zealanders surveyed felt that it was important to commemorate the centenary of the First World War and 82 percent believed that the First World War has been relevant in shaping our national identity to some extent

The World Wars were hugely significant moments in our history in the 20th century. More than 250,000 New Zealanders served in both of these conflicts, at a cost of 30,000 lives. A further 70,000 were wounded. The impact on the families and friends of those killed and wounded, as well as on their communities, was immense.

Acknowledging those who had served or died was an important way for communities to make sense of the human cost of war. One common expression of this collective grief lay in the building of memorials. Many of the nation’s 1000 public war memorials were built after the First World War. Typically they reflect our historic ties with Britain with references to fighting for ‘King and Country’ or ‘King and Empire’. Others stress the notion of fighting for some sort of ‘greater good’ and how many had willingly ‘lain down their lives’. Not all memorials are monuments to the dead. Second World War memorials tend to be more utilitarian or practical, as seen with numerous memorial halls, libraries, swimming pools, highways and parks.

Many memorials have implored us not to forget the fallen through inscriptions such as ‘their names liveth for evermore’. Our First World War veterans are long gone and there are fewer Second World War veterans to be seen at the various public commemorations such as Anzac Day. Nevertheless, there is evidence that the number attending dawn parades has increased in recent years. This suggests that remembrance remains important to New Zealanders. Maybe our war dead are not forgotten. But it is worth considering to what extent there is an acknowledgement of our collective loss as opposed to a commemoration of the individual. Who do we have in mind when we acknowledge the sacrifice?

Considering this topic with school students can be problematic. For those with a clear personal or family connection with war, remembrance may be first and foremost a private matter. It may provide an opportunity to share or learn more about family history. Opportunities might exist to talk to or interview family members, to examine family records or consult online databases such as Auckland War Memorial Museum's online Centotaph Database. Others may have no connection with war at all or at least no personal connection with what we might refer to as ‘our’ national experience of war. They may struggle to see the relevance of our memorials and rituals associated with remembrance. They may reject such notions as shared grief or collective loss. It is worth noting that with 40% of Aucklanders not born in New Zealand, many new settlers may have a totally different experience of many of the conflicts we commemorate. Their expereince of war may be more immediate and it may be something that has shaped them personally in a way other New Zealanders may not relate to.

A century on from the First World War, New Zealand is a vastly different country in terms of its ethnic make-up and world view. How we commemorate is largely a tradition imposed in a different era. The National War Memorial in Wellington for instance reflects the values and beliefs of a society that was decidely British and Christian in its outlook. A question which could be used to initiate a discussion on national commemoration and remebrance could be to askwe might do differently today if, for instance, our memorials were lost in a natural disaster. What – if anything – would we replace them with? This could be expanded upon to consider the differences between between remembrance and commemoration and patriotism and nationalism? More contensiously, is it possible to consider whether our commemoration of war has any room for the notion of 'celebration'? Celebration was identified as one of the four key national themes developed for WW100 Anzac Week communications in 2015. It recognised that those who have served in conflict areas in remembering their comrades honour them by celebrating what their sacrifice achieved and their contribution to what we have as New Zealanders today. This is not celebration like the kind of triumphalism that might have been pushed in the 1920s. Nor is it some sort of celebration of the Kiwi male’s ‘special aptitude for war’ as has too often been claimed.  

For teachers and students interested in looking at Anzac Day as part of a current event topic around 25 April, there are a number of activities available in the junior social studies and history section of the Classroom in the NZHistory website. It is worth remembering that as important as the Gallipoli campaign was, far more New Zealanders served and died on the Western Front in France and Belgium. The activities or suggestions which follow are therefore designed to not only reflect this but broaden the study to the experiences of New Zealanders at war. These activities  have been designed to provoke thinking as opposed to providing you with a list of tasks to complete in any linear fashion. You are encouraged to adapt these to meet your needs. Through such inquiry students can explore how war has influenced the ways in which different generations of New Zealanders have ‘seen themselves’. It has also clarified ‘their own identities in relation to their particular heritages and contexts’ (NZC statement Social Sciences). The context of war can also be used to examine places, sites and events of local, regional, national and international significance.

Much of the historical thinking and interpretation which follows needs context. The War and Society section of NZHistory is a good place to start for those seeking content on New Zealand’s wartime experiences, ranging from our own internal wars to the major conflicts of the 20th century. For some the New Zealand Wars might represent a 'bridge too far' but it is interesting to compare the memorials associated with these internal struggles and those commemorating overseas conflicts in which we have participated. NZHistory also has a memorials register which has details and images of New Zealand’s public war memorials. This is organised on a regional basis.

The Classroom contains a number of activities that explore our experiences of war including 'Why not Passchendaele Day?' which considers the possibility of an alternative national day of remembrance given that 843 New Zealanders were killed at Passchendaele on 12 October 1917, our nation's greatest loss of life in a single day. There is more on this here in the archived WW100 website which is worth spending some time familiarising yourself with if you haven't already. Another activity examines why our National War Memorial does not acknowledge our own internal conflicts of the nineteenth century as well as a number of other activities designed to support a visit to Pukeahu National War Memorial Park.

War and remembrance at your school

If your school was in existence at the time of either of the world wars there is a strong likelihood that those ex-pupils who served in the armed forces have been acknowledged in some way. It might be in the name of a building or a school trophy or award. Perhaps a roll of honour to those who served or were killed while fighting overseas is displayed somewhere in your school.

  • How does your school acknowledge the contribution made by ex-pupils who served in either of the world wars? Provide a written description or image of the ways in which these contributions are acknowledged.
  • What other examples can you find in your school of war commemoration?

If your school has an honours board listing those who served or were killed:

  • Where is it located within the school? How prominent is it?
  • How many ex-pupils from your school served overseas? Were any killed? If so, how many?
  • Think of some questions you could ask your schoolmates about this. For instance, is this something students have noticed before? Did they know what it was? Your class could interview fellow students with these questions.
  • Does the school have photos from its own archives of these ex-students relating to when they were at school?
  • Does your school have any special ceremonies to commemorate the war(s) and those involved?
  • What are some different ways students at your school today could acknowledge and remember those former pupils who lost their lives in war? For example, you could brainstorm some ideas that you could use for a special school assembly or perhaps organise a display.

War and remembrance in your community

What examples can you find of how your community has memorialised those who served and died in overseas wars?

While many communities have what we might describe as the more traditional cenotaph or memorial in stone, others have street names or halls or other public amenities as a tribute. On the NZHistory site you can find a memorials register. This has details and images of New Zealand’s public war memorials and is organised on a regional basis.

1. How does your local community commemorate and acknowledge its citizens who served or died in the First World War?

  • Provide a written description or image of the ways in which these contributions are acknowledged.
  • Can you find the names of ex-pupils on the local memorial or cenotaph?

2. Now think a little more about some of these memorials. You can brainstorm some lines of inquiry or consider the following:

  • the type or nature of the memorial
  • the tone of the inscription – who or what is being honoured?
  • when were they built?
  • what are they made of?
  • how were they paid for?
  • how was the design agreed to or who designed it?
  • is this a ‘thing of remembrance’ or a ‘practical’ memorial
  • can you find records relating to unveilings or openings?
  • what was the importance of the memorial to people at the time of its construction – why was it considered necessary to construct?
  • design and conduct  a survey of people in your town as to what is known about your local memorial(s) and or people’s thoughts about them.

They shall not grow old...

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.

This is the fourth stanza from Laurence Binyon's poem For the Fallen. Referred to as the Ode of Remembrance, it was first published in The Times of London in September 1914 and has been incorporated into the ritual of remembrance in many countries.

Many memorials to those killed in the First World War contain epitaphs such as ‘they liveth for evermore’ or ‘lest we forget’. How well have succeeding generations lived up to these expectations? We know about the feats of some soldiers whose deeds were acknowledged with medals and other accolades. But little is known about the vast majority of servicemen and women whose names appear on our memorials. This activity investigates the life of someone from your community who served in the armed forces.

Information and guides for anyone researching New Zealand's First World War experience can be found here 

1. Start with a local memorial such as a school honours board or cenotaph, or perhaps you already know of a family member who served. Select a name and either as an individual or in pairs carry out an inquiry into that person’s life. There are several very useful websites that students can go to if they want to find out more about someone who died during military service.

This excellent database enables you to search for personal records on those who served in the New Zealand forces during wartime. Some entries include photos as well as links to military personnel files at Archives New Zealand. These documents are currently being digitised and some are available online.

This site allows you to investigate the place where the selected person is buried or – as is the case for many of our dead with no known grave – where their names are comemmorated on a memorial.

This site has more than two million pages of digitised New Zealand newspapers and periodicals covering the years 1839 to 1945 and from all regions of New Zealand. I have found this to be a veritable goldmine of information in a lot of my own research. It is searchable by date, region or title as well as specific words and phrases. It offers a glimpse into how news of the war and in particular its impact on the local community was received and communicated at the time. Papers of the time frequently listed the exploits of those from their area as well as updates on casualties.

A good example of the value of this site came when I was researching the story of Reginald Deck from Motueka for a school visit to the National War Memorial. Deck, I discovered, was married two weeks before he sailed for Egypt. He was killed at Gallipoli. I found his widow's death certificate and it appeared that she never remarried and lived until the early 1950s. This offered another insight into the impact of the war on family and loved ones.

2. If you are looking at ex-students you could use your findings to create a school database. This could:

  • map the places where people served or were killed and/or buried,
  • be used to create graphs showing the dates of deaths or the ages of those killed

What or who are we fighting for?

In announcing the decision to send New Zealand troops overseas for the first time in 1899, Premier R.J. (‘King Dick’) Seddon spoke of the ‘crimson tie’ of Empire that bound New Zealand to the ‘Mother-country’. In supporting Britain in the Transvaal, South Africa, it was accepted that a strong empire was essential to our own security. In August 1914 when King George V declared war on Germany this was effectively a declaration on our behalf, which was duly confirmed the following day when the news reached Wellington. When the Second World War broke out 25 years later the need to resist Nazi aggression seemed compelling. Yet Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage also reminded us of our ties to Britain: ‘Where she goes, we go. Where she stands, we stand’.

There are a number of ways you and your class can examine why New Zealand has at various times in its history made the decision to send tens of thousands of its people overseas to fight. While the First and Second World Wars dominate, there is an opportunity to consider some of the changes that occured after 1945. This period was shaped by our opposition to the spread of communism during the Cold War as well our commitment to peacekeeping duties on behalf of the United Nations. The War and Society section of NZHistory is a good place to start any such inquiry.

Who or what is worth fighting for?

Brainstorm some of the reasons why you might consider it appropriate to go to war. Are these individual or personal reasons as opposed to ones considered universal?

1. With reference to a specific conflict, e.g. the First World War, organise a class debate on whether we should send soldiers or not. The debate could be set at the time of the war or the present day. To help prepare for the debate divide your class into groups of four:

  • half of the groups are to prepare arguments that support going to war while the other half prepare the opposite argument
  • Each group then adds their thoughts to a ‘master list’ for their position, i.e. there is one list for and one against.
  • 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.

2. Design a diagram or some type of graphic presentation that outlines why New Zealand went to war.

3. Imagine you are the Prime Minister of the day. Prepare a speech to give to Parliament explaining why your government has made the decision to go to war.

4. Letter to the editor
In letters to the editor people can express their opinions and views on particular topics of interest. There are normally guidelines given in the letters to the editor page in the newspaper, for instance, about the length of a letter. Have a look at the letters to the editor page in your local newspaper to get a feel for how a letter might read.

  • Write a letter to the editor of your local paper outlining why you either support or oppose our decision to go to war. Make sure your letter is no longer than the word limit specified in your local paper.
  • A selection of these letters could be read to the class and or published as part of a class letters to the editor page.

Symbols and ritual

There are many symbols and rituals associated with how we commemorate war and the fallen. The red poppy is one very familiar symbol both here and in many other countries. While in New Zealand the poppy is associated with Anzac Day (25 April), elsewhere it is typically worn around Armistice Day (11 November). Find out more about the significance and choice of the red poppy as a symbol of remembrance.

1. Compile a list of some of the symbols, words and images your class can think of that are commonly associated with commemoration and remembrance. Your students could discuss the importance of such symbols and, with the centenary of the First World War (2014-18) looming, perhaps consider an appropriate symbol or image to represent this important milestone for New Zealanders today.

2. While Armistice Day is increasingly recognised in New Zealand, Anzac Day remains our country’s focus:

  • How many of your students have attended any of the various Anzac Day ceremonies?
  • Get them to describe for those who have never witnessed such an event what a typical dawn ceremony looks and 'feels' like.
  • Why does it take this form?

Anzac Day is rich in tradition and ritual. It is, essentially, a military funeral, with all the solemnity and symbolism such an event entails: uniformed service personnel standing motionless around a memorial, with heads bowed and weapons reversed; a bier of wreaths laid by the mourners; the chaplain reading the words from the military burial service; the firing of three volleys; and the playing of the Last Post, followed by a prayer, hymn, and benediction.

  • Is it time to overhaul the ritual associated with Anzac Day?
  • Is it really relevant to younger New Zealanders? The generation that fought in the Second World War is passing away so to keep things relevant for the 21st century isn’t it time to change?

Lest we forget: class debate.

There will be students in your class for whom occasions such as Anzac Day and the whole deal of commemorating the war dead will have absolutely no meaning. Perhaps their family background means they have no involvement in any of these wars. Maybe they simply don’t care. An alternative discussion or debate could be that 'Anzac Day has no relevance to New Zealand in the 21st century.'

  • Divide your class into groups of four.
  • Ask half of the groups to prepare arguments that support the notion that Anzac Day has no relevance to New Zealand in the 21st century.
  • Ask the other groups to prepare arguments that support the notion that Anzac Day remains as relevant to New Zealanders now as it ever has.
  • 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.

Alternatively consider the following moot

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

‘Mondayising’ Anzac Day

In 2012 Labour MP David Clark introduced a private member's bill into Parliament which aimed to ‘Mondayise’ the public holidays of Waitangi Day and Anzac Day on those years in which they fell on a weekend. The essence of his argument was that it was unfair that Kiwis missed out on a day off on such occasions. The idea, maybe not surprisingly, appeared to have widespread public support. An alternative opinion which also had some support argued that Anzac Day shouldn't just an excuse for us to have a holiday. Some fear its meaning or significance would be lost if it simply became part of a long weekend. In the end the bill was passed in April 2013 with a very narrow majority (one vote) indicating how closely divided opinion proved to be on the matter.

What do you think about the idea? There are many ways you could discuss or consider this as a class, including:

  •  completing plus and minus charts
  •  letter writing
  • a mock parliamentary debate on the bill

Commemoration and protest

In 1967 protestors laid a protest wreath in Christchurch on Anzac Day to highlight their opposition to the Vietnam War. They were subsequently convicted of disorderly behaviour. A decade later further controversy arose when a women's group laid a wreath in memory of women killed and raped in war. During the 1980s other activist groups – feminists, gays, Māori and peace activists – all used Anzac Day services to seek publicity for their cause. Some ex-servicemen and politicians also used Anzac Day ceremonies to speak out during the anti-nuclear debate of the 1980s. In 1996 Prime Minister Jim Bolger suggested that Anzac Day should be a day not only of commemoration but should also celebrate our nationhood.

Other New Zealanders were uncomfortable with turning Anzac Day into a political event. Many returned servicemen felt that their day was being hijacked. Others argued that the ritual and symbolism associated with such occasions had already made it a political occasion. They argued that as this day focused the country's attention on war it was the perfect day to debate defence and war-related issues. Shouldn't we try, they argued, to avoid the need to build future war memorials?

  • 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?

Questioning the monuments

Michael Harcourt from Wellington High School shared an interesting article with me which opens up a whole other way of considering this topic. In How to question historical places, monuments, memorials, and museums Mark Hatlie explores the way in which ‘historical markers create a link between three different situations’. The event or person to which the marker refers; the building of the marker itself and the ‘now - you standing in front of the marker and "learning" from it’. The marker ‘creates communication over time and sometimes over space, depending on where the marker stands relative to the historical locations of the events memorialized. The distances in time and space can be very great or very small. All three of these layers or situations have a wider context which is important for the monument.’

In the quest for historical perspective Harcourt suggests students look at how events such as Anzac Day or places such as the National War Memorial (or any memorial) have been used over time by different people for different reasons. He cites the visit of US Vice President Lyndon Johnson to the National War Memorial in 1966. It is common for visiting dignitaries to visit the memorial but the sole purpose of Johnson’s visit to New Zealand was to firm up our government’s support for the United States in the Vietnam War. As such this visit took on a whole different meaning. The protestors who greeted the Vice President on his arrival were well aware of how the memorial was being used for reasons other than remembrance.

Many school visits to the National War Memorial take a ‘traditional’ approach. The emphasis is on loss and mourning as well as the historical reasons for this. But is this the memorial's only purpose? How do we include other perspectives on war? The memorial should present an opportunity to question and debate. If such places suddenly vanished what would we replace them with? How or who would decide what would be appropriate now?

For an upcoming publication Harcourt considers an approach to places of significance such as war memorials. To assist this he has developed a list of criteria to determine the geographical significance of a place. These are:

Power – is it a place which reveals power relations in society? Its meaning for some people might have been silenced or marginalised in the past. Perhaps some people felt or continue to feel a sense of belonging there while others are excluded.

Legendary – The place is ‘storied’. People tell legends there and it is used to sustain myths.

Affected by change – How has the place changed over time, whether this be physically or in terms of how it is used or viewed?

Contested and connected – was this place argued over? Is it still a source of debate? People may feel a strong sense of connection to it, often for different reasons.

Evocative – The place is one where you can ‘feel’ history.

It would be interesting to apply these criteria to a place of local significance such as a local memorial. Likewise, it would be interesting for students to apply Hatlie’s three ways of historical connection with historical markers such as memorials and monuments.

Remembering the New Zealand Wars

In memorialising our experiences of war, to what extent have we overlooked our own internal wars? Of the more than 800 war memorials to be found in New Zealand, only some 70 commemorate the people, places and events associated with our 19th century wars. NZHistory provides a map of these New Zealand Wars memorials with further information on each. It also provides an overview of these internal conflicts as well as separate features on the main campaigns.

These wars have always been problematic for many New Zealanders. There has been disagreement over what to actually call them or how to explain their causes. These wars remain the ‘elephant in the room’ for many exploring our history. They were quite localised conflicts, which might explain why they are not acknowledged by a single national monument. But it would be worth exploring some of the other reasons for why this might be the case.

  • Why do you think there is no national war memorial to the New Zealand Wars?
  • Your class could consider putting a case for including something that acknowledges the New Zealand Wars at the National War Memorial in Wellington. If you have never been to the memorial you can get some sense of what it is like here to help you with this activity. In 2004 the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior was ‘added’ to the memorial some 70 years after it was opened – so there is precedent for change at the memorial. The Ministry for Culture and Heritage is responsible for this site. You could write to the ministry outlining individual proposals for such an addition or perhaps a collective idea as to what would be appropriate and why. Alternatively you could consider arguments for why such a commemoration would be inappropriate for this site.
  • Look at some of the inscriptions on some of the memorials catalogued on the New Zealand Wars memorials map. What seems to be the tone/style of these memorials? What words or expressions stand out for you? Compare the wording or style with the world war memorials also found on What, if any seem to be the key differences?

Anzac Day quiz

This is a simple diagnostic tool to help you get a sense of your students' understanding and awareness of Anzac Day. You can print this out to use with your class, or you can use the interactive version of this quiz, which can be done online.

If your students get any incorrect answers they can use the following to help them check their answers:

Anzac Day is held on:

  1. 19 April 
  2. 27 April
  3. 25 April
  4. 25 March

ANZAC stands for:

  1. Australian and New Zealand Army Corps
  2. Australian and New Zealand Artillery Company
  3. American and New Zealand Army Corps
  4. Australian and New Zealand Army Club

Anzac relates to New Zealand soldiers participating in a battle at:

  1. Pearl Harbor
  2. Passchendaele
  3. Gallipoli
  4. Ypres

The first Anzac Day commemoration occurred in:

  1. 1915
  2. 1916
  3. 1939
  4. 1990

A symbol commonly associated with Anzac Day is:

  1. A red poppy
  2. A silver fern
  3. A kiwi
  4. A yellow rose

The Allied forces were at Gallipoli as part of a plan to control which strategic waterway?

  1. Suvla Bay
  2. The Mediterranean Sea
  3. The Dardanelles
  4. The English Channel

Lieutenant-Colonel William George Malone commanded which unit at Gallipoli?

  1. The Wellington Battalion
  2. 'A' Coy. Auckland Regiment
  3. 16th (Waikato) Coy
  4. Canterbury Regiment

Who led the Turkish counter-attack at Chunuk Bair?

  1. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk
  2. Sari Bair
  3. Ari Burnu
  4. Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Where was the main Allied landing on the Gallipoli peninsula on 25 April?

  1. Anzac Cove
  2. Suvla Bay
  3. Cape Helles
  4. The Narrows

What battle site at Gallipoli did Brigadier-General Andrew Russell, commander of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade, refer to as 'an abominable little hill'?

  1. Walker's Ridge
  2. Chunuk Bair
  3. Hill 60
  4. Achi Baba
How to cite this page

'War and remembrance activities', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 4-May-2021