Tens of thousands of Australians and New Zealanders gathered yesterday to honor their war dead, attending somber dawn services and thronging veterans parades to remember those who fought.
ANZAC Day commemorations are held each year on April 25 to mark the anniversary of the ill-fated landing of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) at Gallipoli in World War I.
Deputy Australian Prime Minister Wayne Swan said almost a century after the start of the Great War, the ANZAC tradition was stronger than ever.
“One need only look at the commemorations around the country to see the many young faces in the crowds,” he said in remarks at a dawn service in Brisbane, one of many held around the country.
“It is the one day of the year where we as Australians truly unite, where we come together as a nation of equals, no matter who we are, how old we are or where we’ve come from,” he added.
Veterans and their families thronged Sydney’s Martin Place for the dawn service, followed by a parade through the city streets in which about 20,000 serving and former military personnel were thought to have taken part.
Although no allied WWI soldiers survive, with the last combat veteran Claude Choules dying last year aged 110, spectators burst into spontaneous applause for the oldest war veterans as they were driven along George Street.
In Melbourne, tens of thousands braved bitter cold and rain to attend the dawn service and watch the march of veterans, among them 90-year-old Harold Ramsey, a former Japanese prisoner of war.
“I will march for as long as I can,” Ramsey told Australian Associated Press.
In Gallipoli, now part of -modern-day Turkey, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard spoke at a moving dawn service that was broadcast live on Australian television.
More than 10,000 New Zealand and Australian servicemen died in the failed eight-month campaign on the peninsula and Gallipoli has become a defining symbol of courage and comradeship for the two nations.
“We remember what the ANZACs did in war,” Gillard said. “And for what they did to shape our nation in peace. In this place, they taught us to regard Australia and nowhere else as home.”
Later, Gillard told Australian reporters traveling with her that ANZAC Day struck the “deepest emotional chord for us.”
In New Zealand, about 3,000 people attended a service in Wellington at which the French Ambassador Francis Etienne, spoke of the importance of remembering Gallipoli, saying that France also lost more than 10,000 soldiers there.
“Enemies of a century ago have become the friends of today. This is the reason why it is so important to remember,” he said. “The worst of conflicts can lead to the most ... enduring peace.”
After the Sydney parade, the pubs of Australia’s biggest city overflowed, with many gathering to enjoy betting on two-up, a coin toss game once popular with soldiers and which is only legal on ANZAC Day.