The word Anzac is part of the culture of New Zealanders and Australians. People talk about the 'spirit of Anzac'; there are Anzac biscuits, and rugby or rugby league teams from the two countries play an Anzac Day test. The word conjures up a shared heritage of two nations, but it also has a specific meaning.

Anzac is the acronym for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. This corps was created early in the Great War of 1914–18. In December 1914 the Australian Imperial Force and New Zealand Expeditionary Force stationed in Egypt were placed under the command of Lieutenant General William Birdwood. Initially the term Australasian Corps was suggested, but Australians and New Zealanders were reluctant to lose their separate identities completely.

No one knows who came up with the term Anzac. It is likely that Sergeant K.M. Little, a clerk at Birdwood's headquarters, thought of it for use on a rubber stamp: 'ANZAC' was convenient shorthand. Later the corps used it as their telegraph code word.

The Anzacs first saw action at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. The small cove where the Australian and New Zealand troops landed was quickly dubbed Anzac Cove. Soon the word was being used to describe all Australian and New Zealand soldiers who fought on the Gallipoli Peninsula. Eventually, it came to mean any Australian or New Zealand soldier.

After Gallipoli

There were two Anzac corps on the Western Front from 1916, with the New Zealand Division serving initially in I Australian and New Zealand Army Corps and then, from July 1916 until January 1918, in II Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. During the Sinai–Palestine campaign the combined Australian and New Zealand Mounted Division was more commonly called the Anzac Mounted Division.

The term continued into other wars. A new Anzac corps was briefly formed during the campaign in Greece in 1941. During the Vietnam War, New Zealand and Australian infantry companies combined to form the Anzac Battalion.

How to cite this page

'The Anzacs', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/war/anzac-day/the-anzacs, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 19-Jun-2015