Anzac Day

The New Zealand Story, what it is and why it matters.

The 25th of April is a very special day for New Zealanders and Australians. Do you know why? What does ANZAC mean? When did the tradition of the dawn service first start? Why do we wear the red poppy, and play the Last Post? This book will tell you all these things and more, and it’s crammed full of fascinating pictures as well.


The first Anzac landings

On Sunday 25 April 1915, the Anzac troops landed on the beaches of the Gallipoli Peninsula - first the Australians at 4.30am, followed by the New Zealanders from about 9.30am. For the Anzacs, the plan went wrong from the start. Weighed down by their packs, some of the men drowned in deep water within minutes. They were put ashore, not where they were expecting to land, but at the cove at Ari Burnu: a narrow beach beneath steep cliffs where Turkish forces held the higher ground. Everything was muddled and confused, the maps were inaccurate, and soon the units were all mixed up. Over 3000 New Zealand soldiers landed that day, and by the evening, one in five of them had been killed or wounded.

The peninsula reminded the New Zealanders of parts of their own coastline. The view over the Aegean Sea to the islands of Imbros and Samothrace in the distance could be beautiful, especially at sunrise and sunset. But most of the time, it was a nightmarish jumble of hills, ridges and gullies, trenches and dugouts.

The story behind the book

Every year, we go to the Anzac service held in the grounds of our local school. As we walk in through the gates, people are waiting to hand out service sheets, and they are waiting again to collect them at the end, to re-use them on the next Anzac Day. This means that each year, the format of the service – the words that are spoken, the music that is played, the songs that are sung – remains much the same.

One year, I started to wonder why that was so, and why we always spoke those same words and played that same music.

I wanted to find out more about the Anzac service, but then I realised that there was a lot more to find out: how Anzac Day came about in the first place, and why we have the dawn service and the red poppy, and how memorials of different sorts help us to remember. I have tried to put together a history of Anzac Day from many different viewpoints, without glorifying war but honouring the memory of those who served and died for their country, to show why it has been important in the past and what it might mean for us today.

Reader's Activity

• Investigate your local war memorial and find out when it was built, what names are on it and if any of those families still live in the area.

• Read some books about the First World War. Some good ones to start with are My brother's war by David Hill, Nice day for a war by Matt Elliot and Chris Slane, War Horse by Michael Morpurgo.

• Make a batch of Anzac biscuits.

• Look at page 59 (More things to do) for more follow up activities. Send me an email and tell me what you’ve found out


It is rare to encounter an entirely new subject in a book for young people but Philippa Werry's Anzac Day: the New Zealand story is unique... The overwhelming first impression of Anzac Day is the richness of the material Werry has gathered... Anzac Day by Philippa Werry is a book for every New Zealander so treasure.
Trevor Agnew, Magpies, March 2013

"This A to Z of all things Anzac is a captivating resource that will provide children with added understanding when they attend their next dawn service. But don't think this book is for children only - many RSA members and visitors would find it an enjoyable and insightful read. Frankly every RSA should have it handy to the coffee and Anzac biscuits this Anzac Day."
Stephen Clarke, Chief Executive RSA, RSA review, Autumn 2013

John McIntyre's review on National Radio.

Interview on Nine to Noon.

Interview on Sounds Historical.

Shine TV

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