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ANZAC Day is the anniversary of the landings on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey by allied forces on 25th April 1915. What followed was one of the bloodiest battles of the First World War, with heavy casualties sustained on both sides.
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Including those wounded or evacuated for sickness, the total number of Allied casualties numbered around 142,000. The Turkish forces lost over 86,000 in addition to more than 164,000 wounded. Australian and New Zealand forces fought for the first time under a united command as the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, or, more famously, the ANZACs.
Casualties at Gallipoli amounted to almost 9,000 Australians killed and in excess of 19,000 wounded. For New Zealand, near to 3,000 lost their lives and over 5,000 were wounded. These figures do not include those who died in the years following as a result of their physical wounds or mental trauma. For many the very personal cost of war continued daily long after the end of the war. While the guns fell silent, those fortunate enough to survive returned to a world forever changed, many left to face their own personal battles. First officially recognised during the First World War, shell-shock, combat fatigue - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - is an enduring experience of all wars.
In both countries, ANZAC Day, 25th April, not only commemorates those first landings at Gallipoli, but also all Australians and New Zealanders who have given of themselves in the service of their countries and communities in the years since then.
Westminster Abbey has been closely associated with ANZAC Day commemorations from the very beginning.
On 25th April 1916, around 2,000 Australian and New Zealand soldiers marched through the streets of London to the Abbey where a special service was held in the presence of King George V and Queen Mary to mark the first anniversary of the Gallipoli landings.
The Times newspaper reported that a large crowd gathered outside the Abbey overflowing with
joy and pride in these men from the Dominions who had won fame on impossible battle grounds.
During the service, the Abbey's Dean, Herbert Ryle, invited the congregation to:
unite in praise and thanksgiving for those our brothers who died at Gallipoli for their King and Empire, in the high cause of Freedom and Honour… Their deeds will be remembered evermore. Their memorial is already inscribed in men's hearts. In future ages the sons of our Empire will seek to emulate the imperishable renown of their daring and bravery. We are resolved that, by God's gracious favour, our brothers shall not have laid down their lives in vain.
Read more in this copy of the full order of service from 1916.
Sydney-born Dr Agnes Bennett, who treated some of the wounded from Gallipoli while working in hospitals in Egypt, was among the congregation at the first ANZAC Day service.
In 1959, she recalled the experience in this radio recording, included here with thanks to Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision.
‘Marking the first Anzac Day in London’ Excerpt from Talk by Dr Agnes Bennett on her experiences in World War I, 1959. Radio New Zealand collection, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision ID27632.
Services of Commemoration and Thanksgiving continue to be held regularly at the Abbey. Following the precedent set by George V, the service is often attended by members of the Royal Family, who join veterans from Australia and New Zealand and members of the ex-pat communities from both countries in remembrance.
In recent years, the procession of the flags of Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom through the Abbey, alongside that of Turkey, has become an important part of the annual service, and a poignant symbol of reconciliation.
The flags are carried by members of the armed forces of each country, before being presented at the High Altar.
At the heart of the service is an Act of Remembrance. The Turkish Ambassador to the United Kingdom is invited to read the moving words of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, President of Turkey from 1923-38, which are inscribed on the memorial at ANZAC Cove in the Dardanelles:
Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives… you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours… You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.
The High Commissioners for Australia and New Zealand are then invited to lay wreaths at the Grave of the Unknown Warrior.
Brought home from the battlefields of northern France, the Unknown Warrior was buried in the Abbey in 1920. His grave stands as a remarkable tribute to the fallen of the First World War and more recent conflicts.
The Act of Remembrance concludes with the sounding of Last Post.
The Abbey service in 2015 was particularly moving as it marked the centenary of the Gallipoli landings. The service was attended by HM The Queen, accompanied by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh.
In his Bidding, the Abbey’s then Dean, John Hall, said that day:
The memory of the Great War provides for us warning and encouragement. We are warned that war must involve terrible suffering and death. We are encouraged by the spirit of national pride and determination shown by those we remember this ANZAC Day.
The following year, 2016, Prince Harry joined the congregation in the Abbey to mark the centenary of the first ANZAC Day commemorations.
As well as the annual service, other links between the Abbey and the ANZACs endure. William Birdwood was commander of the Australian and New Zealand contingents in 1915 and led the landings at Gallipoli. After the war he was made a Field Marshal and later created Baron Birdwood of Anzac and Totnes. As a Knight Grand Cross of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath he has a stall plate in the Order's chapel at Westminster Abbey.
I’ve worked here for over thirty years and have seen many of the major services - it’s strange to realise that you are in a small way part of history.