Anzac front page | Anzac Day | The Anzacs | Paintings | Photographs | Biographies | Maps

The Anzacs

ANZAC is the acronym for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, the formation created in December 1914 by grouping the Australian Imperial Force and New Zealand Expeditionary Force stationed in Egypt under the command of Lieutenant-General William Birdwood. Initially the term 'Australasian Corps' had been mooted for this force, but there was a reluctance among both Australians and New Zealanders completely to lose their separate identities.
The Homecoming from Gallipoli. W.A. Bowring. 1916. NCWA 898/532. National Archives (17k)
The acronym itself was probably devised at Birdwood's headquarters by a New Zealand clerk, Sergeant K.M. Little, for use on a rubber stamp. Some time later it was taken on as the telegraph code-word for the corps. Consisting of the 1st Australian Division and the New Zealand and Australian Division (under Major-General A.J. Godley), the corps made its operational debut at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. The small cove where Australian and New Zealand troops landed was quickly designated 'Anzac', and the word was soon being used to describe all Australian and New Zealand soldiers who fought on the peninsula, and eventually any Australian or New Zealand soldier of the First World War. 

Fleurbaix, Christmas 1916. W.B. Wollen. (1919) NCWA 898/493. National Archives (12k)On the Western Front there were two Anzac corps, with the New Zealand Division serving in II ANZAC Corps until early 1918. During the Sinai-Palestine campaign the combined Australia and New Zealand Mounted Division was more commonly called the Anzac Mounted Division. The Anzac Corps was briefly resuscitated during the campaign in Greece in 1941, while New Zealand and Australian infantry companies combined to form an Anzac battalion during the Vietnam War. 

As an adjective the word was soon being used to describe items ranging from biscuits to buttons. Shrewd entrepreneurs saw the commercial advantages of the term, but there was strong popular opposition to such exploitation. On 31 August 1916 the word 'Anzac' was protected by law to prevent its exploitation for business or trade purposes. 
Australian Wreath (11k)
Anzac continues to denote both a distinctive nationalistic spirit of sacrifice and courage. Whereas in New Zealand the word retains its connotation of Australian - New Zealand kinship, there has been a tendency in Australia to take the NZ out of the acronym, and to use the word to denote purely Australian endeavour in the First World War. In both Australia and New Zealand Anzac Day, on 25 April, is the main day of remembrance for the fallen in all wars.

A draft from the forthcoming Oxford Companion to New Zealand Military History, edited by Ian McGibbon assisted by Paul Goldstone. To be published by Oxford University Press on Anzac Day 2000.

© C O P Y R I G H T  Historical Branch, Dept of Internal Affairs. All rights reserved


Anzac front page | Anzac Day | The Anzacs | Paintings | Photographs | Biographies | Maps