ANZAC is the acronym formed from the initial letters of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. This was the formation in which Australian and New Zealand soldiers in Egypt were grouped before the landing on Gallipoli in April 1915.

The acronym was first written as “A & NZ Army Corps”. However, clerks in the corps headquarters soon shortened it to ANZAC as a convenient telegraphic code name for addressing telegram messages.

Use of "Anzac"

One of the earliest appearances of “Anzac” as a word was an appendix to the 1st Australian Division War Diary, dated 24 April 1915.

Extract from General Staff, Headquarters 1st Australian Division unit diary, April 1915 (RCDIG1009148)

After the Australians and New Zealanders had landed on Gallipoli General Sir William R. Birdwood was asked to suggest a name for the beach where the landing took place. According to his introduction in The Anzac book (1916), Birdwood “asked that this might be recorded as ‘Anzac Cove’—a name which the bravery of our men has now made historical, while it remains a geographical landmark for all time”. The area of the landing was often simply referred to as “Anzac”.

Soon after, “Anzac” was used to refer to the men themselves. At first an Anzac was a man who was at the landing and who fought on Gallipoli. Later it was used for any Australian or New Zealand soldier of the First World War. After Gallipoli, men who had served there wore a brass “A” on their colour patch to distinguish themselves as veterans of the campaign.

The word generated many slang terms in the first Australian Imperial Force. W.H. Downing’s Digger dialects included:

  • Anzac button: a nail used in place of a trouser button
  • Anzac soup: shell-hole water polluted by a corpse
  • Anzac stew: an urn of hot water and one bacon rind
  • Anzac wafer: a hard biscuit supplied to the AIF in place of bread.

By the end of the Great War “Anzac” was well known throughout the British Empire and much of the rest of the world. In August 1915 The Times (London) declared that “the whole Italian Press praises the valour of the Australasian troops in the Dardanelles at Anzac”. The word “Anzac” also began appearing in the New York Times from August 1915. A letter to the editor on the origins of “Anzac” was published on 8 October 1916.

The word “Anzac” sometimes aroused extreme responses. An article published in the Sydney Morning Herald in April 1918 suggested that “new words are among the things that have been born of this war. And the greatest of them all is Anzac.”

The official war historian F.M. Cutlack described the word “Anzac” as a war cry, “pitiless as a hurled spear. It cuts like a sword. It rings like the final shout in the rush of a Zulu impi or a charge of Japanese bayonets. It conveys something savagely masculine, ruthless, resolute, clean driven home.”

Other First World War ANZAC formations

After the allied withdrawal from Gallipoli the Australian and New Zealand forces in Egypt were expanded. The ANZAC was split into two new formations called I ANZAC Corps and II ANZAC Corps (despite the repetition of the word Corps in their name). Initially, I ANZAC Corps comprised the 1st and 2nd Australian Divisions and the New Zealand division, while the 4th and 5th Australian Divisions were assigned to II ANZAC Corps. Later, the New Zealand Division was transferred to II ANZAC Corps. Both corps were transferred to France and fought on the Western Front until November 1917, when the five Australian formations were regrouped into a single Australian Corps.

Also in March 1916, the ANZAC Mounted Division was formed from three Australian Light Horse Brigades and the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade for service in Sinai and Palestine.

In 1916—17 a joint signals unit, the 1st (ANZAC) Wireless Signal Squadron, operated with the British expeditionary force in Mesopotamia (now Iraq).

ANZAC formations after the First World War

In the Second World War, a new ANZAC was formed during the short Greek campaign of April 1941 when the 6th Australian Division and the New Zealand Division were joined under command of I ANZAC Headquarters (redesignated as ANZAC Corps).

A month after the Australian government committed the army to ground operations in Korea, New Zealand and Australian army chiefs discussed the formation of an ANZAC force for Korea. However, nothing came from the talks.

During the Vietnam War, two New Zealand infantry companies were attached to the 2nd, 4th, and 6th Battalions of the Royal Australian Regiment. They were designated 2RAR/NZ (ANZAC), 4RAR/NZ (ANZAC), and 6RAR/NZ (ANZAC).

Sources:

“Anzac Day”, Sydney Morning Herald, 26 Apr 1918, p. 7.

“Australia willing to link forces”, Sydney Morning Herald, 19 August 1950, p. 1.

C.E.W. Bean (editor), The Anzac book (Sydney: Cassell, 1916).

C. E. W. Bean, The story of Anzac: the official history of Australia in the war of 1914–1918, vols I and II (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1936).

“Bravery of the Anzacs”, Times (London), 13 August 1915, p. 5.

F.M. Cutlack, “Anzac Day: the name and its makers”, Sydney Morning Herald, 25 April 1921, p. 6.

Peter Dennis et al., Oxford companion to Australian military history (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1995).

W.D. Downing, Digger dialects: a collection of slang phrases used by the Australian soldiers on active service (Melbourne: Lothian, c. 1919).

Peter Edwards, Australia and the Vietnam War (Sydney: NewSouth, 2014), pp. 180–81.

E.H.L., “The origin of ‘Anzac’”, New York Times, 8 October 1916, p. E2.

Gavin Long, Greece, Crete and Syria: Australia in the war of 1939–1945, series 1 (Army), vol. II (Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1953), pp. 69–70.

 

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