Aust to mark centenary of first Anzac Day

A century ago Australia marked the first Anzac Day with big crowds across the nation and overseas remembering those who fought and died on Gallipoli.

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In Sydney up to 60,000 gathered to mark the occasion, among them many wounded veterans but not the prime minister Billy Hughes who spent seven months of 1916 in London.

There were similar commemorations across the nation, joining private grief with the government’s desire to recruit more soldiers for the ongoing war effort.

In Egypt soldiers of the new 4th and 5th Division, soon to deploy into the bloodbath of the Western Front, marked the occasion with a commemorative service in the morning and sports in the afternoon.

But all were surpassed by events in London where 2000 Australian and New Zealand troops marched through cheering crowds to a service at Westminster Abbey, attended by King George and Queen Mary, generals and politicians and Prime Minister Hughes.

All of this was well before the now familiar dawn service. That started in 1929, reputedly after a group of veterans heading home from a pre-Anzac Day night out encountered an elderly woman laying flowers on the unfinished Sydney cenotaph.

They stayed with her until the sun rose, concluding that was such a worthwhile experience they would return and do it again the next year.

There were times in the ’60s and ’70s when it was thought Anzac Day might fade away completely but it’s now stronger than ever, fortified by a new generation of veterans from more recent conflicts.

For the Gallipoli centenary last year an estimated 120,000 braved the cool Canberra weather to attend the dawn service outside the Australian War Memorial. Police estimated half as many but still a record turnout.

A year on from the centenary, it’s not anticipated as many will attend this Monday morning.

Similar dawn services will be held across Australia, followed later in the day by services at which veterans, including the diminishing number of those who fought in World War II and those who served in more recent conflicts, will march.

In Canberra Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will attend the national service at the war memorial.

On Gallipoli there’ll be the traditional dawn service, though it’s not expected to be on the same scale as last year’s centenary event. The Lone Pine service, traditionally held later in the morning, has been replaced by a wreath-laying ceremony on the afternoon of the previous day.

In Iraq Australian and New Zealand troops – engaged in training Iraqi forces to fight the Islamic State group – will mark the 101st anniversary of Gallipoli with a dawn service.

There’ll be similar commemorations at Australian bases in Afghanistan and the United Arab Emirates.