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 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.
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.
- I have written about an Anzac Day held in South Australia in 1915 as well as the first Anzac Day in Brisbane in another post, ‘The Emergence of Anzac Day‘.
- Joan Beaumont, Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War, (Allen & Unwin: Crows Nest, Sydney, 2013).
- H J Diddams, Anzac Commemoration 1921, A Brief History of the Movement, Sermons and Addresses Delivered Throughout Queensland, The Immortal Story of the Landing, (1921)
- John A Moses, ‘The struggle for Anzac Day 1916-1930 and the role of the Brisbane Anzac Day Commemoration Committee’, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, 88(1), 2002, pp. 54-74. This article is available online at The Free Library, or alternatively you can look up this journal at your state library.
- John A Moses & George F Davis, Anzac Day Origins: Canon DJ Garland and Trans Tasman Commemoration, (Barton Books: Canberra, 2013).
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.