Christchurch’s First ANZAC Day – 25th April 1916

On 25th April 1916, Christchurch along with the rest of the country, gathered together for the first time to acknowledge the landing of Australian and New Zealand troops on the Gallipoli Peninsula, Turkey during WWI. They were about to do their part in Winston Churchill’s campaign, hopefully resulting in the opening of the Black Sea to the allied forces. Our boys would have to defeat the Ottoman Empire.

It would take the deaths of 18,000 Kiwis and 60,000 Australians over the following eight months to prove the campaign a failure. What did rise from the ashes of this historic battle was the legacy of the ANZAC’S – the men of the Australian & New Zealand Army Corps.

The news of this landing reached New Zealand on 30th April 1915 and brought the country to a standstill. Schools and shops closed. Towards the end of 1915, with wounded ANZAC troops now returning home, the R.S.A (Returned Services Association) was founded in Christchurch and by February 1916, a committee had formed to organise a memorial day for their fallen comrades to ensure they would not be forgotten. It was decided to have a memorial service at the Christchurch Cathedral at 11am and the Canterbury Jockey Club was asked to postpone their races until 1pm out of respect – which they did.

Those still serving overseas also acknowledged the date with a dawn service – as that had been the time of the landing – followed by sport activities and fundraising in the shape of gambling.

In the torn up ground between the muddy cold trenches, a beautiful red petaled flame pushed up through the clumps of ground; the Papaver Rhoeas, a common weed known all over Western Europe. It was the Poppy – the flower of sleep, peace and death – now the symbol of the fallen soldier and ANZAC day.

We will never forget.

Pictured here are soldiers from the Canterbury Battalion digging out a trench at ANZAC Cove late April 1915.

“I know I speak on behalf of all New Zealanders when I thank you for the contribution you have made to our peace and security…your sacrifice, like the sacrifices of our servicemen and women in years before, will not be forgotten. Our servicemen and women help New Zealand play an important part in ensuring that we live in a stable, fair and just world…”

Prime Minister John Key to the Royal New Zealand Returned & Services Association National Council ~ 15th October 2012

*Image courtesy of the Alexander Turnbull Library – https://natlib.govt.nz – Reference: PAColl-3604-03*

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