What is Anzac Day? Everything you need to know about Australia and New Zealand day of remembrance

Georgia Chambers

Memorial services will be held in Australia and New Zealand this week to mark Anzac Day.

The poignant annual event honours Australia and New Zealand’s war dead, who lost their lives in the Gallipoli landings during the First World War.

In the UK, a service of commemoration and thanksgiving takes place at Westminster Abbey to mark Anzac Day. Last year, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were among the attendees.

Here’s everything you need to know about Anzac Day and why it is remembered:

When is Anzac Day?

A young girl watches sailors march during the Anzac Day parade in Melbourne (AFP/Getty Images)

Anzac Day was first made an official day of remembrance on April 25, 1916, and has been celebrated on that day every year since.

What is Anzac Day?

For Kiwis and Australians, Anzac Day is an important time to remember those lost in all conflicts, much like Remembrance Day in the UK.

‘ANZAC’ is an acronym for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.

On April 25, 1915, Australian and New Zealand soldiers formed part of the allied expedition that set out to capture the Gallipoli peninsula. These became known as Anzacs.

What were the Gallipoli landings?

Dawn: people walk at the Anzac Cove cemetery by the site, in Gallipoli peninsula, Turkey (AP)

On the morning of 25 April 1915, the allies, including the Anzacs, launched an expedition to capture the Gallipoli peninsula.

Their aim was to gain access to the Dardanelles - a strip of water the peninsular and mainland Turkey - which leads to the Black Sea and thus free it up for their navy.

This would then give them direct access to Constantinople (now Istanbul in Turkey) which, at the time, was the capital of the Ottoman Empire – a key ally of Germany during the war.

The plan was to hit Ottoman troops hard with a surprise attack and knock them out of the war whilst capturing their capital.

What happened?

Remembrance: People attend an Anzac Day dawn service in Canakkale, Turkey (AFP/Getty Images)

The Anzacs were met with fierce resistance from the Ottoman Turkish defenders.

The expedition quickly entered a stalemate which then dragged on for eight months – leading to huge losses and casualties on both sides.

By the end of the year, when Allied forces were evacuated, their deaths totalled over 56,000, including 8,709 from Australia and 2,721 from New Zealand.

Why is it an important day for New Zealand and Australia?

ar veterans make their way down Elizabeth Street during the ANZAC Day parade in Sydney (Getty Images)

News of the events at Gallipoli made a profound impact on Australians and New Zealanders and April 25 became the day on which they remembered the sacrifice of those killed.

On 30 April 1915, when the first news of the landing reached New Zealand, a half-day holiday was declared and impromptu services were held.

The actions taken by Anzac troops went down in history for their bravery and the hardships suffered, with many seeing their heroism as being key to national identity.

Following the Second World War, Anzac Day was used to commemorate the lives of Australians who died in both wars and now all military operations.

How is Anzac Day commemorated?

Memorial services are usually held at dawn to mark the time of the original landing in Gallipoli – in which those in attendance sing hymns and lay wreaths. The last post is played by military trumpeters.

This is followed by marches which take place in cities across Australia and New Zealand and commemorative services at churches and war memorials.

Traditions include wearing rosemary, which grows on the Gallipoli coast, and having a “gunfire breakfast” in which rum is added to coffee and reminiscent of what many soldiers had before entering into battle.