ANZAC: Multicultural, Multifaith

ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) Day is the  anniversary of the landing of troops from Australia and New Zealand on the Gallipoli Peninsula, Turkey, in World War I on April 25, 1915. It is also a day of remembrance for those who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peace-keeping operations. In this article, we glimpse multicultural and multifaith aspects of ANZAC Day.


What is Anzac Day?

Anzac Day, 25 April, is one of Australia’s most important national occasions. It marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War.


 Simpson and his Donkey

The spirit of Anzac, with its human qualities of courage, mateship, and sacrifice, continues to have meaning and relevance for our sense of national identity. Dawn services, commemorative marches and remembrance services are held in cities and towns across Australia and New Zealand.


 Indian Mule Teams in Mule Gully AWM image A03809

What does ANZAC stand for?

ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. The soldiers in those forces quickly became known as Anzacs, and the pride they took in that name endures to this day.

Why is this day special to Australians?

When war broke out in 1914 Australia had been a federated nation for only 13 years, and its government was eager to establish a reputation among the nations of the world. When Britain declared war in August 1914 Australia was automatically placed on the side of the Commonwealth. In 1915 Australian and New Zealand soldiers formed part of the expedition that set out to capture the Gallipoli peninsula in order to open the Dardanelles to the allied navies. The ultimate objective was to capture Constantinople (now Istanbul), the capital of the Ottoman Empire, an ally of Germany.


Jewish Draftees, Imperial Recruiting Depot, World War I. Source: Australian War Memorial.

The Australian and New Zealand forces landed on Gallipoli on 25 April, meeting fierce resistance from the Ottoman Turkish defenders. What had been planned as a bold stroke to knock Turkey out of the war quickly became a stalemate, and the campaign dragged on for eight months. At the end of 1915 the allied forces were evacuated from the peninsula, with both sides having suffered heavy casualties and endured great hardships. More than 8,000 Australian soldiers had died in the campaign. Gallipoli had a profound impact on Australians at home, and 25 April soon became the day on which Australians remembered the sacrifice of those who died in the war.


Sikhs have been in Australia for nearly 200 years and at least 19 Sikhs enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) and the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) in World War One and continue to serve proudly in the Australian Defence Force today. Download the brochure Sikh Anzacs. The Sikh Interfaith Council of Victoria is a member of SHV’s Council – for further information go to their website:

Although the Gallipoli campaign failed in its military objectives, the actions of Australian and New Zealand forces during the campaign left a powerful legacy. What became known as the “Anzac legend” became an important part of the identity of both nations, shaping the ways in which they viewed both their past and their future.


turban-wearing soldier at North Beach, possibly Gurkha. AWM Image C301635

ANZAC Cove in Turkey hosted a cornucopia of soldiers from many nations:

  • Indigenous Australians
  • Anglo Celtic Australians
  • Maoris
  • New Zealanders
  • British: English, Scottish, Irish, Welsh
  • French
  • Indians: Sikhs, Gurkhas, Sindh and Punjabi Muslims and Hindus
  • Zionists: Russian emigres, Palestinian Jews expelled by the Turks
  • Turks
  • Germans

Indigenous Australians

An estimated one thousand Aboriginal people volunteered to enlist in World War One despite not being recognised as Australian citizens at that time. In recent years the contribution of Aboriginal servicemen and women has begun to be acknowledged. For a brief history of Indigenous Australians at War click here. A Victorian Indigenous Remembrance Service is held each year at the Shrine of Remembrance, Melbourne (11am Wednesday 31 May 2017 ). This Service was initiated by Aunty Dot Peters, a Wurundjeri Elder, who wanted to recognise the service of her father, who died on the Burma Railway, and  to commemorate the service of all those Aboriginal service men and women who have served in the Australian Defence Force.


 Indigenous Australian Soldiers

 The Khalsa symbol on the lower right front of this image – indicating the soldiers are Sikhs


 Image from the Gurkha Museum depicting soldiers at Gallipoli


 Jewish soldiers at muster


The Poppy – symbol of eternal remembrance

asato mā sadgamaya From the unreal, lead us to the real;
tamasomā jyotir gamaya From darkness, lead us to light;
mrityormā amritam gamaya From death, lead us to immortality
Oṁ śhānti śhānti śhāntiḥ Om peace, peace, peace




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