Red Poppies at ANZAC Day

ANZAC Day is observed on April 25th every year in New Zealand as a day of commemoration for those who died in the service of their country and to honor returned servicemen and women.

ANZAC Day is the anniversary of the landing of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) at Gallipoli in 1915. On the first anniversary of that landing services were held throughout the country in remembrance of the 2,721 New Zealand soldiers who died during the eight-month Gallipoli Campaign. Since 1916 Anzac Day has evolved to the observance that is still present to this day.

On this day in 1915, New Zealand troops landed at Anzac Cove on the Gallipoli Peninsula. The Australians, who were to have prepared the way for them, were swept further down the coast by the strong tide and they had to fight their way up steep cliffs in order to establish a foot-hold. A large Turkish army, dug in on the higher slopes, bombarded the New Zealand with rifle and shell fire. Many New Zealanders were killed or wounded as they came ashore.

ANZAC Day Memorial Service, April 25
Image © Steven Powell

Those who survived rushed bravely forward attacking the Turks with rifles and bayonets. They succeeded in driving them back, establishing a beach head, and digging in on the slopes. New Zealanders and Australians first got the name ‘diggers’ during the Gallipoli campaign.

ANZAC Day today means a National Holiday, a day to remember and a day of Memorial Services, Parades and placing of flowers at every War Memorial Monument in towns all over New Zealand. I always attend the wreath laying and find the atmosphere very patriotic. It is always nice to see every year that the number of young people attending these services is increasing. ANZAC Day is not just a memorial for those soldiers lost at Gallipoli, but also for those lost in later wars and conflicts, as well as an appreciation for the current Armed Forces members. During the Gallipoli campaign, of the 8,450 men who landed there, 2,721 were killed and 4,752 were wounded.

ANZAC Day starts with the Dawn Service, which is today the most popular of the Anzac Day observances. It is timed to coincide with the initial landings at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. The time is also poignant for veterans who recall the routine dawn “stand-to” of their war service. The added symbolism of darkness breaking into sunrise makes for a compelling and emotional experience for everyone.

The commemoration begins with a short parade by returned servicemen and women to the local war memorial. They are given pride of place while families and other members of the community gather informally around the memorial. Uniformed service personnel provide a catafalque guard of honour around the memorial — standing motionless, heads bowed over reversed arms — their youth a reminder to all present that the returned service personnel before them and those remembered today were once young.

A drum roll begins the short service which usually includes a prayer or reading; a piper playing the traditional Scottish lament “Flowers of the Forest”; an Address; the National Anthem, and the laying of wreaths (in some centers the Dawn Service has become the main Anzac Day service when all wreaths are laid).

The universal and distinctive part of the service is the reading of the Anzac Dedication:

“At this hour, on this day, Anzac received its baptism of fire and became one of the immortal names in history. We who are gathered here think of the comrades who went out with us to battle but did not return. We feel them still near us in spirit. We wish to be worthy of their great sacrifice. Let us, therefore, once again dedicate ourselves to the service of the ideals for which they died. As the dawn is even now about to pierce the night, so let their memory inspires us to work for the coming of the new light into the dark places of the world.”

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.

Many recite with the speaker the fourth stanza of Laurence Binyon’s ;For the Fallen‘ and then everyone together repeats “We will remember them”.

The most solemn phase of the service follows with a lone bugler sounding the Last Post, followed by a minute’s silence, and the sounding of Reveille. The silence provides the climax of the service when the crowd is left to remember the dead. With the first hint of dawn now visible, the service concludes, as it began, with a drum roll. The veterans reform and parade silently to the post-dawn function or breakfast.

The significance of the Dawn Service is the timing co-incides with the landing of troops in Gallipoli.

The darkness, calm and chill of the early morning; the sound of the single tap of the drum of the parade; the emotionless faces of the catafalque guard, and the mournful notes of Last Post sounded by a lone bugler, combine to give a feeling of deep solemnity. It is the intensity of the symbolism which contributes to its powerful impact upon participants; indeed what underlies its popularity. In a country with few public rituals, the Dawn Service continues to provide a sense of occasion as a meaningful ritual of remembrance.

Above all, the Dawn Service is a returned service ritual. For them the service recalls the dawn “stand-to” before the commencement of engagements, while the Last Post and Reveille recalls the inevitable military funerals which followed — all compelling participants to remember their wartime experiences. It is this “pilgrimage” into the past that makes the Dawn Service a truly returned service.

The importance of the Poppy with ANZAC Day: The red poppy has become a symbol of war remembrance the world over. People in many countries wear the poppy to remember those who died in war or who still serve. In New Zealand it is most commonly seen around Anzac Day, April 25.

Red Poppies at ANZAC Day

The red or Flanders poppy has been linked with battlefield deaths since the time of the Great War (1914–18). The plant was one of the first to grow and bloom in the mud and soil of Flanders. The connection was made, most famously, by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae in his poem ‘In Flanders Fields‘.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

About the Author:

Monica Toretto is a writer, painter, photographer and blogger. She lives with her two young sons in Invercargill near Bluff. She has travelled widely in Canada and the US and worked as a veterinary technician before returning to New Zealand. Her work has appeared in several magazines in the UK and New Zealand. She has also authored a book of poetry and photography called ‘Words’.

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