The ANZACs

The ANZACs

This hook explores the shared heritage of New Zealanders and Australians as expressed through the notion of the Anzac spirit.

New Zealand and Australian soldiers making bombs on the beach at Gallipoli(external link)

New Zealand and Australian soldiers making bombs on the beach at Gallipoli, ca. 1915. Photographer unknown. Australian War Memorial. A00883.

Context 

Anzac Day, Anzac biscuits, and the Anzac Cup: the word Anzac is culturally significant for both New Zealanders and Australians. Its significance means that it is not allowed to be used commercially. The term “Anzac spirit” is associated with “endurance, courage, ingenuity, good humour, larrikinism and mateship”.1 This definition contributes to a sense of national identity for both countries. 

The term ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) was coined early on in the First World War. In 1914, the New Zealand Expeditionary Force and the Australian Imperial Force in Egypt were both under the command of a British lieutenant general, William Birdwood. The group needed a collective name, but neither the New Zealanders nor the Australians were happy with the suggestion of the Australasian Corps. It is likely that the acronym ANZAC was first used by a clerk at Birdwood’s headquarters as shorthand to be written in the imprint of a rubber stamp. 

Initially the term ANZAC was reserved for New Zealand and Australian soldiers who had fought on the Gallipoli Peninsula in 1915, but the name was later applied to all New Zealand and Australian First World War soldiers. 

“Anzac” has also been used in other conflicts. For example, in 1941 an ANZAC Corps was formed in Greece, and during the Vietnam War there was an ANZAC Battalion. 

More recently, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has referred to “obviously historical parallels” between the deployment of Australian and New Zealand troops to Iraq and the Gallipoli campaign of 1915: “I am very pleased and proud that in this centenary of Anzac year Australia and New Zealand will be contributing to this important mission.” (See “The joint training mission to Iraq” under Supporting resources below.) 

The killing of around 40 male inhabitants in the Arab village of Surafend, in Palestine in December 1918 represented a darker side of the Anzac tradition. Trooper Leslie Lowry had been shot dead after disturbing a thief in his tent prompting a large group of Australians and New Zealanders to exact vigilante justice by burning the Surafend to the ground. The ANZACs refused to cooperate with the subsequent British investigation, leading General Allenby to condemn them as ‘a lot of cowards and murderers.’ The men responsible were never charged for the incident and it remains a dark stain on Anzac history. 

Possible discussion questions 

What is meant by the term “Anzac spirit”? How, when, and why is this term used? 

Why are the events at Anzac Cove (Gallipoli) considered to be so significant for New Zealanders? 

How would you describe our relationship with Australia today? What has influenced this relationship? 

What parallels are there between the recent deployment of Australian and New Zealand troops to Iraq and the Gallipoli campaign? 

What other countries share a close bond with New Zealand? How do these relationships compare with that of New Zealand and Australia?

1 This is a common form of a quote originally used by Charles Bean in his book Anzac to Amiens (Penguin Australia, 1983). This version of the quote is taken from: bit.ly/1HpnN4a

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