The Origin of the Word ANZAC

The abbreviation of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps to ANZAC is attributed to Lieutenant AT White who was a British clerk in Lieutenant General Birdwood’s Corps Headquarters. At first it was abbreviated to A & NZ Army Corps, and later ANZAC. It was a way to shorten the long name given to the corps and was used as a codeword when communicating with other headquarters. Following the Gallipoli campaign the acronym was carried over into subsequent Australian and New Zealander groupings. Most notably:

  1. I and II ANZAC Corps, which fought in France later in WWI.
  2. The ANZAC Mounted Division, which fought in Palestine later in WWI.
  3. ANZAC Corps, which fought in WWII.

ANZAC battalions also served in Vietnam through the attachment of New Zealand Infantry Companies to battalions of the Royal Australian Regiment.

The name ‘ANZAC’ has remained synonymous with Australians and New Zealanders, both within military context and outside of it.

Protection of the Word ANZAC

The word ‘Anzac’ was officially protected under Australian regulations in 1921. This protection means that any use of the word in an official or corporate manner must be approved by the Minister for Veterans' Affairs. The regulations also outline that while there is no rule or law that dictates how the word ‘ANZAC’ should be written, it should generally be written as the acronym ‘ANZAC’ when referring to the corps, and ‘Anzac’ when referring to the official day or events related to the commemoration. It also outlines the regulations around the use of the words Anzac biscuit and Anzac slice including what can and can’t be named as such.

Anzac Biscuits

The original Anzac biscuits varied vastly in composition to the ones we enjoy today. During WWI, parcels were often sent from Australian homes to the soldiers on the front line. Many included home baked goods. This supplemented their daily rations of bully beef (similar to spam) and hard tack (similar to Sao crackers). The original Anzac biscuits often contained rolled oats, golden syrup and flour, just like the ones today, with some additions and subtractions to the recipes used today. The ingredients made a densely nutritious biscuit from a calorific standpoint whilst maintaining high shelf life to survive the shipment overseas.

The First Anzac Day

Due to the significance of the Gallipoli Campaign in early 1916, then Acting Prime Minister George Pearce, who held the office of Minister for Defence, named 25 April as Anzac Day. This act of nationalism not only aimed to commemorate the lives of those lost to the campaign and other campaigns since, but to also boost dwindling enlistment numbers for the still active war in Europe. Pearce was a fierce supporter of conscription later in the war, on the conscription plebiscites of 1916 and 1917. He came to believe that conscription was necessary to the survival of democracy at the time.

The first Anzac Day consisted of a march for Gallipoli veterans who had returned from active service as well as new enlistees preparing to depart for war. Lunch was then provided for the veterans and festivities continued into the evening in many cities and towns.

Interestingly, each of the States commemorated and celebrated in different ways, with some States seeking to fundraise for the war efforts while others focused on commemoration. Society’s opinion was divided on what the day should be set aside for. Yet many of the returned servicemen were reported as wanting the day to be a festive one to celebrate the lives of those lost. Troops stationed in Egypt at the time spent the day playing cricket.

By 1927, each of the States had formalised a public holiday to mark the occasion each year. By the mid-1930s, the rituals we now recognise as distinct Anzac Day traditions were embedded in Anzac Day culture. Dawn vigils were held as well as marches, memorial services, a minute of silence and wreath laying. As time went on and more wars were fought, Anzac Day became a way to commemorate all men and women who fought to defend our freedoms across all theatres and battles, including peace keeping and domestic operations. Although the popularity of Anzac Day waned throughout the 1960s to 1980s, in recent times we have seen the resurgence of its importance as a national holiday.

Birdwood’s Influence on the ANZAC Tradition

It is said that Lieutenant General Birdwood was the one who requested that the beach where the majority of the ANZAC troops landed during the Gallipoli campaign be known as Anzac Cove. In 1917 he approved an AIF order that entitled all Gallipoli veterans to wear a brass ‘A’ on their unit shoulder patches to distinguish them as original ANZAC veterans. Although this was controversial, particularly for those who had fought in later battles of WWI but had not participated in the Gallipoli landings, it was an important step in recognising the significant sacrifice the soldiers and officers of the Gallipoli landings had made. The bloody battle was our first fight as a newly formed nation, and although it was on behalf of the Commonwealth, and with New Zealanders by our side, it was an important step in forging our reputation and forming our psyche as a nation.

Soldier playing with a kangaroo, the regimental mascot.

Image 1: Purple horizontally aligned rectangular colour patch for 1 Divisional Signal Company, with brass 'A' in the centre, denoting Gallipoli service. Worn at the head of the sleeve as a unit indicator by 2115 Corporal Leslie William A Breguet of 1 Divisional Signal Company. Breguet enlisted on 19 April 1915 and served initially with 5 Battalion, AIF before transferring to signals. He returned to Australia on 21 March 1919.

Charles Bean

Lastly, we must recognise the significance of the work of Australia’s first official war correspondent, Charles Bean, who so meticulously detailed every part of the Gallipoli campaign that allows us to now recognise the immensity of the battle. He was mentioned in dispatches for his bravery under fire and much of what we now know to be history is only so due to his records of the war. Not only did he afford us the great privilege of being able to read about the war from the comforts of our own home. His writing was also pivotal in igniting passion and courage in men to volunteer for enlistment to support the war later on – something that was vitally important to survival as a component of the Commonwealth.

After the war he recommended that a National War Memorial be created in commemoration of those who died. He was then appointed to write the official history of the First World War for Australia. The history that he wrote undoubtedly continues to drive recruitment to this day, as the stories of our ancestors inspire us to serve our nation. Without Charles Bean, we would not know what we do today.

Lest We Forget.