The Anzac Day Silence, Religion and Garland

At today’s National Ceremony for Anzac Day attendees will stand for one minute’s silence to remember all those who have lost their lives in wars and to reflect on what Anzac Day means. The minute’s silence has been part of Anzac Day since the first commemorations of Anzac Day on 25th April 1916. Digitisation of old documents allows us to see how the Anzac Day we know today was first conceived.

As I noted in my post, The Emergence of Anzac Day, planning for the first anniversary of the landing of Australian and New Zealand troops at Gallipoli started early in 1916. Queensland’s Anzac Day Commemoration Committee (ADCC) was formed at a public meeting in Brisbane on 10th January, 1916. This committee war chaired by the Premier of Queensland, T J Ryan, and included leaders of the Roman Catholic, Church of England, Presbyterian and Methodist churches, the Salvation Army, members of parliament, the mayors of Brisbane and South Brisbane, members of local councils and military representatives. The honorary secretary was an army chaplain, Canon D J Garland.

Canon David John Garland

Canon David John Garland

Canon Garland was a Church of England priest who had years of experience in public advocacy. He had been instrumental in campaigns which led to religious education being reintroduced in state schools in Western Australia (1893) and Queensland (1910). Most recently he had been invited to New Zealand to lead a campaign to have religious education reintroduced in schools there. The outbreak of World War I had derailed this campaign. Garland moved back to Brisbane and became a military chaplain.

Garland was asked by the Anzac Day Commemoration Committee in 1916 to devise a program which could be used throughout Queensland to commemorate Anzac Day. Committee member, H J Diddams recalled in 1921 that the program Garland submitted to the ADCC on February 18th included a minute’s silence (Diddams, p. 9). The ADCC encouraged towns and cities throughout Queensland to follow this program, the elements of which were publicised in newspapers such as The Brisbane Courier.

The Queensland ADCC were keen to encourage similar commemorations of Anzac Day in other states and in New Zealand. As this article in The West Australian shows, they shared the elements of the program they had devised with other states.

The minute’s silence has been part of Anzac Day since 1916, yet the Australian War Memorial says it was first proposed by a Melbourne journalist in 1919.

The composition of the ADCC was quite an achievement. At a time when sectarian conflict between Protestants and Catholics was a blight on public life in Australia, this committee included leaders from these churches. Despite coming from different religious backgrounds this committee worked effectively to see Anzac Day systematically recognised throughout Queensland.

Garland had experience working with a group of representatives from different churches. He had been very prominent in the campaign urging Queenslanders to pass the ‘Bible in State Schools’ referendum in 1910. He was the secretary of the Bible in State Schools League which comprised clergymen of all the major Protestant churches in Queensland.

Cover of 1916 Anzac Day program

Cover of the Anzac Day program for the commemoration held at Brisbane’s Exhibition Hall, 25 April, 1916.

The program that Garland devised for Anzac Day was designed to appeal to people from different Christian backgrounds. The ADCC encouraged each church to hold a special Anzac Day service but they wanted the whole community to come together in the evening for a public commemoration. It was important that nothing in the program would upset the various theological positions held by the different denominations.

The Anzac Day program for the public commemoration in Brisbane in 1916 includes hymns such as ‘Nearer My God to Thee’ and ‘Abide With Me’. The Queensland Governor and Premier gave addresses. The success of the work of the ADCC can be seen in the program with the Catholic Archbishop Duhig and the Church of England Archbishop Donaldson sharing the same platform to give successive speeches.

The cover of the program was carefully designed. The multi-racial of the British Empire’s military forces is depicted. There are a pair of winged lions which the ADCC website explains are the symbol of St Mark. This imagery draws attention to the fact that St Mark’s Day falls on 25th April.

Historian, Joan Beaumont, surmises that Anzac Day has “rituals with a semi-sacred quality that it retains to this day” because in 1916 “Anzac Day happened to fall two days after Easter Sunday (Beaumont, p. 180). Yet examination of the work of the ADCC demonstrates that the Christian nature of the commemoration they devised was not an accident due to the proximity of the day to Easter, it was deliberate. The support that this form of commemoration received not only in Queensland but elsewhere in Australia and New Zealand shows that the Christian nature of the day resonated with the people of Australasia at the time.

Beaumont identifies the Christian nature of the references to sacrifice and life after death that are mentioned on Anzac Day. An oft-quoted phrase used on Anzac Day is this:

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

This passage is from the Bible, John 15:13.

The Anzac Day program in 1916 was designed by a Church of England clergyman for a society who mostly came from a Christian background. Yet it needed to be a moderate form of Christian expression to avoid dissension between the denominations and also cater for those who had little or no faith. The success of the program was due to the fact that Christianity breathed softly through the program.

The Christian basis of Anzac Day breathes softer still, ninety-eight years later, but it is still there. Today participants will sing three hymns at the National Ceremony, one of which is a hymn that was on the program in 1916, ‘Abide with Me’.

The account of the history of Anzac Day I have outlined here is drawn from the work of historian, John Moses. Over many years Moses has researched the life of Canon Garland and has written many articles about Garland’s work which played a large part in the development of Anzac Day as we know it today. Last year John Moses, together with George Davis published a book they wrote which explores this history more thoroughly –  Anzac Day Origins. This book also examines the reasons Australia and New Zealand entered the War as well as details of Garland’s service as a chaplain in the Middle East. If you want a more thorough and deeper understanding of the religious nature of Anzac Day, you should refer to the work of Moses.

People often refer to the ‘sacred’ nature of Anzac Day. This word indicates the religious nature of the Day. Anzac Day is not simply an expression of civic religion imbued with some vague spirituality. It draws from Christianity but expresses it in a manner which is acceptable to many who come from a wide range of religious or non-religious backgrounds.

Further Reading


Since publishing this post it has been amended to delete a broken link to the Department of Veteran Affairs website. I have also updated it to reflect the content of the 2015 National Anzac Day service. 

17 thoughts on “The Anzac Day Silence, Religion and Garland

  1. Great post Yvonne. I was interested to read your corrections to the AWM and DVA’s history of the minute’s silence, and to Beaumont’s reading of the significance of the proximity of Easter and Anzac Day. I especially liked your characterisation of Christianity ‘breathing softly’ through Anzac Day services to this day; what a wonderful image. Something that intrigues me is the idea that for many Australians, Anzac Day services must be their once-a-year brush with Christianity, and even religion overall. Does the religious character of services persist in most places? If so, why, and how do people (especially the non-Christian and non-religious) react to it?


    • Some regard Anzac Day as a form of secular religion though more typify it as ‘civil religion’. The success of Anzac Day is that it is acceptable to many people, including those who do not profess any religious belief. How many of the young people who have attended the Anzac Day service at Gallipoli over the last ten years would be people who would regard themselves as atheist or agnostic? I am not Christian (I’m a Baha’i) and I find the religious nature of it acceptable. Anzac Day is a reverent remembrance of those who have served and died without any preaching or reproach about the beliefs of those who are deceased or those who are attending the ceremony. It meets the human need to respectfully remember those who have died.


  2. “…not simply an expression of civic religion imbued with some vague spirituality. It draws from Christianity but expresses it in a manner which is acceptable to many who come from a wide range of religious or non-religious backgrounds.”

    Hi Yvonne, I am slow to provide this comment but time for reflection has been recently short, like the minute of silence.

    The Christian origins of Anzac Day is to be seen, particularly in the Queensland connection, and particularly in John Moses’ historical work and the Anglican connection. But how far is it acceptable is a complex and difficult question. The history is surely as uncomfortable to Christians, as equally for Non-Christians, for whom sanctification of war dead is troubling, and that is without going to further difficulties, such as the idea of an ultimate sacrifice being required, and the way commemoration shields devotees from critical questions which arises from the history. None of those questions and their answers need be disrespectful of war dead — individually sons & fathers (and maybe a few daughters and mothers).

    “Lest we Forgot”, and yet how quick we are to forget, not merely the responses of war critics in those years gone-by, but the responses of the past veterans who were repulsed by the ceremonial acts of commemoration, finding it a intrusion on private grief and/or a shallow glorification of national honour.

    Not to take anything away from the excellent research that is produced on Canon David John Garland and the original Queensland ANZAC Commemoration Committee, but I believe the historical perspectives have yet to include a wide range of religious or non-religious backgrounds. Furthermore, although your point can be taken that in its origins ANZAC Day was “…not simply an expression of civic religion imbued with some vague spirituality”, I believe, its status of a civil religion quickly developed. What gets forgotten in time is the theological position of Anglicans like Garland at the start of the war, and when Garland was a major recruiter for the war effort. Then it was about a God-ordained duty to King and country. Those who opposed the war were shirkers and apostates. The theological justification of the war gets quietly forgotten when the movement for international peace becomes popular in the 1920s.

    “Vague spirituality” is, in fact, I think very characteristic of the history. First, John 15:13 gets quoted but, lets face it, it is not an orthodox Christian doctrine that the death of soldiers in war is a sacrifice in love for a country. The scripture passage has been taken out of its theological context for the sake of linking the Christian religion with a national tragedy. It is a convenient fit, but it is not what most theologians would agree is Christian spirituality. Secondly, there has been several papers on spiritualism and the post-World War I experience. Spiritualism was on the rise before the war, but the loss of loved ones in the war meant a popular turn to séance and other occult practices to an attempt reconnect and ease grief. Again, it is not orthodox Christian belief, and such spiritualism is certainly vague.

    So, you can see that the history, even if it is strongly linked to a (note singular) Christian tradition in its origins, can not be left there. An interesting question is whether Irish Catholics had a slightly different view to the ANZAC commemoration than the way Garland viewed it? Where are the Society of Friends during these years, and how did they see commemoration? What about the German Lutherans interned, particularly the old pastors? And the Methodists? Christian soldiers one minute, pacifists the other?

    There is much to be researched on a broad range of views about war and peace, and national commemoration and personal grief, both during the war and in the 1920s.




    • You are right Neville, there is a lot of work to be done regarding faith and WWI. I don’t think anyone claims that the origins of Anzac Day reflect a pure form of any denominational position. Certainly Garland would not think so. It is most definitely a compromise which is also sensitive to those who are not believers. However, looking at Anzac Day from outside Christianity as I do, it is clear that the way Anzac Day is remembered has some roots in the Bible. I don’t think it would have developed in this form in a non-Christian society.

      Some historians have already had a look at these issues and aspects of your arguments but as you note, there is a need to explore all this further.


      • An excellent comment, as it is a pertain point in Australian religious history about denominational position. Of course, the claim can not be one of a pure form. That would be agreed upon. However, it seems to me that Garland’s Anglicanism had a significant part in the ANZAC Day history, and the roots surely must link directly to a particular Christian tradition, than the question of a elaborate layering of ‘biblical history,’ branching out in different directions over the centuries, on the very issues which ANZAC Day touches upon.

        Of course, there is a fit between an interpretation of the biblical history and its expression in the start of the ANZAC tradition. But that is at the choice of ignoring different interpretations expressed by different Christian traditions.

        It is a debatable point, and it would be interesting to know the extent of dissent in the process, and the representation of views on the ANZAC Day Committee.

        Furthermore, I don’t think that the role of the Church in the recruitment in, and justification of, the war should be too far from its participation in the national memorial of the war. Sure, ANZAC Day was about communal loss of loved ones. That does not need to be denied, but the fact that that is true is no discount to the fact that certain Christian tradition were completely aligned with the state and national policies of the day, and offered no alternative view, some might argue ‘Christian view’, as a counterpart in the history.


      • These are interesting questions Neville and can be examined from a variety of positions, from within the Anglican Church (Moses’ position), within Christianity but outside the Anglican Church, from outside Christianity, or from an atheist position. Each perspective could reveal different elements of this history and present it differently.


      • Yes, each perspective could reveal different elements of this history and present it differently, but it wasn’t my point if that is understood simply as the process of elaborating different elements of the history from different historiographical positions.

        What I thought worthy of scholarly debate is what could be agreed are prime motivations and how representative each motivation was for Garland and others involved in the ANZAC Day Committee. Here I am thinking about mutual examination of the different perspectives within the history (i.e. the multiplicity of beliefs from the historical players, and considering their comparative measure of emphasis and support at the time) which could be reasoned within a common disciplined historiography, albeit some disagreements debated and accepted without any final resolution.

        At the end of the day, among differing scholars, it doesn’t matter what the historical subject did believe, only that we have understood it accurately. And then, of course, there is an amalgamation of historical subjects, the beliefs of whom we need to work out how they collectively worked together for the outcome of ANZAC Day, or not.


  3. I can’t find where I commented on this excellent post and you replied. I just wanted to add my favorite global fiction on women in war zones.
    A Golden Age: A Novel, by Tahmima Anam.
    Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
    Both are about civil war. And thanks again for your list on Goodreads. I need to figure out how to get involved there. But I can’t get a copy of Wright’s prizewinner, even on ILL.


    • Thanks for the tips regarding the books Marilyn. I too was scratching my head about where your previous comment was, but I’ve found it. Your comment is on my post, Histories and Life Writing in Autumn which is on the Australian Women Writers Challenge website.

      The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka is definitely a book you should read. You may find it particularly interesting as you probably know about the Californian Gold Rush which preceded the Australian ones. I wonder what can be done to improve accessibility of Australian books in the US. I’ll think about this…


      • Getting Australian books is much easier than it was when I started reading them two years ago thanks to ebooks, but their availability remains slow and inconsistent. I had looked for The Forgotten Rebels twice before with no luck. Yesterday I found ebook versions on both Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Maybe it helps to win a literary prize or at least get listed.
        Pressure to get publishers to make ebooks available for non-Australian readers is probably what would help most.


  4. Re: “One Minute’s Silence” – John Moses claims that Garland had “devised” the rite and that it was the “genius of Garland’s concept … that enabled persons of Roman Catholic or Protestant persuasion as was their custom, while atheists and agnostics could engage in a reverential reflection.” Further research suggests however that the period of silence may not have such a clear cut genealogy as Moses suggests. While it was not a regular feature of funereal practice in Britain or in the United States before World War 1, it may well have been practised in South Africa prior to Garland’s “invention” of it. When suggesting a period of silence be observed around Armistice Day commemorations in 1919, the British High Commissioner for South Africa, Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, claimed that a noon day “three minute’s pause” had been observed in Cape Town since 1916. In June 1916 the New York Times reported the practice in a ceremony paying tribute to the war dead, though that newspaper did not report the 1916 Anzac Day commemoration in Australia. Long before 1916, the practice of the “silent toast” was common as mark of respect to the deceased, especially in military circles. The prevalence on three English-speaking continents of a ‘period of silence’ around bereavement suggests that the practice need not have been “invented” at all. Rather it was “found” and therefore applied as a culturally appropriate demeanour to acknowledge war casualties.


    • Thank you for your interesting comment Mark. It makes sense that the silence has a longer and more widespread history. The idea of ‘finding’ rather than ‘discovering’ is something that is relevant to many cultural practices. Concepts and actions often emerge from past practices that may be obscure. Given the multinational nature of WWI as well as the pre-war Empire network, it is likely that Garland would have had some awareness of the silence.


  5. An excellent, interesting post, plus discussion afterwards. My interest is in the liturgy and sacred music of the Great War in Great Britain (I am based near York, England). While I undertook some research into the Two Minutes’ Silence in Great Britain as part of some earlier work, my current research has focused at the beginning rather than the end of the war, and therefore the Australian newspaper items which I downloaded from Trove some time ago have remained neglected in a folder until recently when I was asked to speak on the origins of the Two Minutes’ Silence, as well as writing an article evaluating the claim of the inhabitants of Farnham, Surrey, England, that they held the first Two Minutes’ Silence in May 1916.

    I can add little to your findings, but, if nothing else, I concur with your findings that the enactment of the One Minute’s Silence as part of the Anzac Day commemoration on 25th April 1916 (which just predates Farnham) provided the model for the Two Minutes’ Silence across the Empire; and that while the Melbourne journalist, Edward George Honey, cites the silence which occurred at the time of the funeral of Edward VII in 1910 as the inspiration for his suggestion, I cannot believe he would have been unaware of the silence that for three years had been part of the Anzac Day commemoration in his native country. What I can’t prove, though, is that the Anzac Day silence in any way influenced the suggestion of the Farnham silence. It seems too much of a coincidence that the plans and enactment of each occurred within weeks of each other at opposite ends of the globe, yet silence does not appear to have been part of the Anzac Day commemorations which took place in London, nor can I find any reference to the Australian One Minute’s Silence in British newspapers. However, (as mentioned in a previous reply) across the British Empire there were many contemporaneous examples of silence being used as a visible token of respect to the dead, including those such as minute-guns and minute-bells where the passing of time is clearly delineated; therefore, the suggestion to ritualise one, two, three or five minutes silence is perhaps unsurprising.


    • I have been pondering your comments today and did a little hunting around. I agree with you that Edward George Honey is very likely to have been aware of the use of silence to commemorate the dead, especially as a soldier during the Great War.

      It is conceivable that he was not aware of the use of the silence during Anzac Day services as each state of Australia observed that day differently. Honey was from Victoria. I don’t know whether Victorians were observing silence during Anzac Day services during the war. Australia had only been a nation for a short time. Prior to this each colony had developed its own nascent national culture. As Moses and Davis explain in their book it took many years for a more uniform observance of Anzac Day to develop in Australia. Each state had developed their own form of observance organically. An example of this is the first Anzac Day observance in Australia that I have found. It was in South Australia and was more in the form of a celebration than a commemoration. I explain that in my ‘The Emergence of Anzac Day‘ post.

      I looked up the National Archives of Australia database of WWI service records and could not find a record for Honey which suggests that he served with the British Army as many Australian soldiers did. Thus he would not have been as exposed to Australian observances during the War.

      I agree that the fact that there were so many places throughout the Empire which were using the silence at much the same time suggests that there was already a cultural practice of observing silence for the deceased prior to the War.

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment.


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