The word “Anzac” has been a part of Australian thought, language, and life since 25 April 1915. Devised by a signaller in Egypt as a useful acronym for “Australian and New Zealand Army Corps”, it quickly became a word with many uses and meanings.

From 1915 the word was applied to military formations (there were ANZAC corps in both world wars); to places (notably “Anzac area” on Gallipoli and “Anzac Cove” itself); to people (“Anzac” at first meant a man who had served on Gallipoli, and later acquired broader applications). As the attachment discussing “digger dialects” suggests, it generated many slang terms in the first Australian Imperial Force and has become a part of the Australian language. The popularisation of the term was largely the work of the official correspondent and historian Charles Bean. His The Anzac Book , edited on Gallipoli, sold tens of thousands of copies from 1916 on. The title of the first two volumes of his official history (The story of Anzac) confirmed the word's place. Despite its bilateral origin, and its use in New Zealand, Australia has largely appropriated the word, a fact regarded with some resentment in New Zealand. The use of the word “Anzac” in Australia has been governed by federal legislation since 1920.

Historians examining the importance of Anzac to Australia devised the phrase “Anzac legend” (or, more critically, “Anzac myth”). It refers to the representation of Australians in war, the way in which they think, speak and write of their war experience (which is not always the same thing as how they experienced it). Though aspects of the legend have been criticised, there is general consensus over the essence of what is regarded as the Anzac spirit. Anzac came to signify the qualities which Australians have seen their forces exhibit in war. These attributes cluster around several ideas: endurance, courage, ingenuity, good humour, and, of course, mateship. These qualities collectively constitute what is described as the Anzac spirit. Perhaps the best - and most widely misquoted - reflection of the meaning of Anzac is to be found in Charles Bean's one-volume history of Australia in the Great War, Anzac to Amiens. In describing the evacuation of Anzac area, Bean wrote:

"By dawn on December 20th Anzac had faded into a dim blue line lost amid other hills on the horizon as the ships took their human freight to Imbros, Lemnos and Egypt. But Anzac stood, and still stands, for reckless valour in a good cause, for enterprise, resourcefulness, fidelity, comradeship, and endurance that will never own defeat."

C.E.W. Bean, Anzac to Amiens, (Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1946): p.181

C02138 Gully off Anzac Beach where headquarters was located for the greater part of the Gallipoli campaign. C02138

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Dr Peter Stanley
Principal Historian
12 April 2002