The meaning of ANZAC

12 March 2022

What is the true meaning of ANZAC Day and has it stood the test of time?

As the sun begins to rise each year on 25 April, tens of thousands of people gather at local RSL Sub Branches and war memorials across the country to commemorate the legacy of the ANZACs. 

It’s a tradition that began over a century ago, when the ANZAC soldiers marched in London to Westminster Abbey for a service attended by the King and Queen to commemorate a year since their fateful landing at Gallipoli. It was at this service the then Australian Prime Minister Billy Hughes praised our Defence Force by saying “Soldiers! Your deeds have won you a place in the Temple of Immortals!” which set the tone for our ANZAC traditions to this day.

When measuring the outcomes against the objectives, the landing at 4:29am on 25 April 1915 may have failed. Troops landed a mile or so from the planned destination and the Turks were waiting. By the end of the day, the battle on the cliff face of Ari Burnu had claimed the lives of 754 Australians, 147 New Zealanders and injured over 2,000 soldiers.

The Gallipoli landing, 1915 (State Library of Queensland)

A national identity is forged

However, those few hours arguably made a greater impact on the history and respect for Australia as a nation than our Federation in 1901.

The landing at Gallipoli was our coming of age as a sizeable force for good in the world, despite our small population and geographical isolation. Thousands of men set off to defend our national and individual core values, many losing their lives, but their ultimate sacrifice for their country underscored a powerful legacy that remains relevant today.

In a letter sent to General Sir Ian Hamilton, commander of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force for the Gallipoli campaign, an Australian soldier described the Gallipoli campaign as one where “every man in the First Division absolutely threw their lives away to make a name for Australia and make things easier for others…”.

The ANZAC legacy 

As decades have passed, many bloody battles and wars have been fought and won on foreign lands across the globe, yet the ANZAC legacy has remained steadfast in our approach to protecting and representing our country. The legacy itself is hard to define, but the values of courage, ingenuity, endurance, humour and mateship are often repeated in commemorative speeches and on war memorials around the country.

In 1946 Charles Bean wrote, “But ANZAC stood, and still stands, for reckless valour in a good cause, for enterprise, resourcefulness, fidelity, comradeship, and endurance that will never own defeat.

When you really stop to think about it, these values have defined our country’s direction in every aspect of our lives. Whether it’s the shared mission of other public servants like police or paramedics, our drive to help communities affected by natural disasters or even through our personal hardships, many Australians adopt the ANZAC spirit without even knowing it. To many, spirits aren’t seen, they’re felt. This resonates with the ANZAC spirit, which is the patriotism and courage every Australian feels when reflecting on our war history each ANZAC Day.

Not only has the meaning of ANZAC Day evolved to the civilian world, but the day, and the emotion it brings, has grown within the Defence community to honour those who fought in WWII, Korea, Malaya, Vietnam, the Middle East, and served on our many peacekeeping missions.

Lest we forget

The sobering reality for everyone on ANZAC Day comes when we pause to remember every soldier, airman or sailor who lost their life defending Australia. It’s also a time to pause and think about those who are currently serving our country across the world.

Our war history is a story of courage. Although we may be small in size, our pride is big. Ultimately, what brings us together on ANZAC Day is our patriotic values, our respect for those who sacrificed their lives for our country’s benefit, and the importance of mateship to each and every one of us.

As time passes, and ANZAC Day ends for another year, we forget the horrors of war and the thoughts of “Imagine if I was there in 1915” and move on with our lives. But no matter how far we travel or how many years pass between Dawn Services, the Australian culture is defined by the ANZAC Spirit.

This ANZAC Day as you commemorate your way and pause to remember those heroes who braved the gunfire that fateful morning in Gallipoli, and every Australian service member who has followed in their footsteps to defend our country, take a moment to reflect on the many different meanings of ANZAC Day and how our Defence Force, through incredible sacrifice, has helped shape our country into the great place it is today.

Commemorate Your way on ANZAC Day

The ANZAC spirit lives on in us all, and on 25 April we invite you to honour our Defence community and commemorate in a way that is meaningful to you. On ANZAC Day, you can attend your local RSL ANZAC Day service, light up the dawn at home at 6am, participate online, or hear stories of inspirational Australians who embody the characteristics of the ANZAC spirit.



  • ANZACspirit
  • Courage
  • Endurance
  • Humour
  • Ingenuity
  • Mateship