Sydney (AFP) – Tens of thousands of Australians and New Zealanders turned out Wednesday for Anzac Day dawn services and marches to honour their war dead and pay tribute to serving soldiers, with women leading some parades for the first time.
Anzac Day, named for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) marks the April 25 anniversary of the ill-fated 1915 landing of troops belonging to the two nations in Turkey’s Gallipoli peninsula during World War I.
Commemorations this year focused on the final campaigns ahead of the November 1918 Armistice that ended the fighting, including the Battle of Villers-Bretonneux, with Australian leader Malcolm Turnbull attending the dawn service in France.
“While the fateful landing at Gallipoli lies at the heart of the Anzac remembrance, over the years and across the generations the Anzac legend has come to encompass far more,” Turnbull said.
It was a day to remember “all those from every generation and every conflict who have put their lives on the line”.
The chief of the New Zealand defence force, Lieutenant-General Tim Keating, paid tribute to the sacrifices made by servicemen and women.
“We do not, as New Zealanders, seek to glorify war but we can acknowledge the courage, the commitment the sacrifice of those who have served their country well, with honour and with pride,” he told a dawn service in Wellington.
The Australian national march in Canberra was led by former army apprentices, while women were at the forefront of marches in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth as part of a “By the Left” campaign by the Women Veterans Network Australia.
Some female veterans have said they had stopped going to Anzac Day marches after being repeatedly challenged about wearing their medals on the “wrong side” as people did not believe they had served in the military.
Veterans wear their medals on their left chest while their family members wear the medals on the right.
“Female veterans do not want to be different, we want to be viewed the same — as veterans,” campaign organiser Kellie Dadds, who has been deployed eight times including to Iraq and Afghanistan, said.
“But to achieve this, we must first be seen.”
About 15 percent of serving Australian Defence Force personnel are women.
Security measures had been stepped up, with concrete barriers reinforced with steel to protect crowds against vehicle attacks in Sydney.
Authorities said no specific terrorism threats had been received, but added that the deadly van crash in Toronto on Monday was a “salient reminder” of what could occur.
World War I was devastating for Australia, which had a population of just five million at that time, in terms of deaths and casualties. Of the more than 400,000 men who enlisted, over 60,000 were killed and 156,000 wounded, gassed, or taken prisoner.
Of the almost 100,000 who served in New Zealand forces, more than 18,000 lost their lives and 41,000 were wounded.