Anzac Day

Page 6 – Another war and peace

Public enthusiasm for Anzac Day waxed and waned during the 1920s and 1930s. Another war rekindled interest. For some years, crowds flocked to Anzac Day. It was a time to express grief and to show that loved ones had not died in vain.

The spirit of Anzac: the Second World War

The outbreak of war in 1939 gave new meaning to Anzac Day, as commemorations focused on the current war. Speeches appealed for people to follow the 'spirit of Anzac'. Links between the first Anzacs and the women and men now serving overseas were stressed. During the six years of war, public interest in the day grew, although security concerns meant that large crowds were not encouraged. In 1942, when a Japanese invasion was feared, Wellington’s dawn and citizens’ services were replaced by a wreathlaying ceremony.

Changing times: post-war years

Important changes were made to Anzac Day after the war. In 1949, legislation protected the holiday from being 'Mondayised' (held on the Monday closest to the actual anniversary). Anzac Day would always be marked on 25 April, whatever day of the week it fell on.

The 1949 legislation also confirmed the fact that the Second World War had turned Anzac Day into a commemoration of all the overseas wars in which New Zealanders had taken part. Veterans of both world wars and the South African War now paraded together. The day became inter-generational. Māori veterans were more in evidence too. In all, the day seemed to reflect the ideal of New Zealand as a united community. Attendance at ceremonies increased; 6000 people attended the dawn service in Auckland in 1957.

The commemoration itself changed. The afternoon citizens' service was gradually moved to mid-morning, and the popularity of the dawn service increased. Time had changed the tone of the day from mourning to commemoration.

Hotels were closed on Anzac Day, but Returned Services' Association (RSA) clubrooms were open. In the 1960s people complained about this apparent double standard. Returned servicemen and women could enjoy a drink on Anzac Day, but the general public was denied access to hotels or cinemas. In 1965 the RSA recommended liberalising the afternoon of Anzac Day. From 1967 hotels and, later, shops could open in the afternoon.

The religious aspects of the day were also an issue. For a time the RSA wanted to remove religion from the ceremonies altogether. Roman Catholics were prevented by their own rules from attending ecumenical services, and many Catholic and Jewish returned service personnel did not attend Anzac Day ceremonies. Protestant churches protested – in their view, the day was already too secular – but in 1965 the churches resolved their differences.

Also in 1965, an official New Zealand party including diplomats and veterans attended events at Gallipoli marking the 50th anniversary of the landing. Not many veterans ever returned to Gallipoli, but a precedent for annual ceremonies at battle sites sacred to New Zealanders (and Australians) had been set.