The Incredible Christian Origins of ANZAC Day

25 April 2024

8.3 MINS

ANZAC Day is a solemn remembrance of the fallen. But due to its rich spiritual heritage, it is so much more. The ANZAC spirit is truly sacred.

Many people today attend an ANZAC Day service to commemorate those who served Australia and New Zealand during WWI and subsequent conflicts.

The rich Christian tapestry that wove the ANZAC Day traditions and gave them eternal significance is often lost. This is something the first ANZACs, were they here, would lament.

The roots of ANZAC Day are varied. But we must not understate the contribution of two Christians in particular: Albert Talbot and David Garland.

Albert Talbot (1877–1936)

Albert Talbot was born in England but moved to Australia at age 36. He arrived at Circular Quay in 1912 and immediately began his new position of Anglican Dean of Sydney.

After the outbreak of war, Talbot took up chaplaincy in the NSW division of the AIF. He served overseas from September 1914 to March 1916.

Talbot didn’t land on the Gallipoli beach on 25 April 1915. But he was on a transport ship out at sea close enough to witness the devastation. Whilst onboard, he performed a double role of chaplain and medic. He bandaged the wounds of soldiers and took funeral services for the dead.

“War”, he said, “is a terrible thing, and nothing could… justify it” except that it was a fight for “the triumph of those principles that we believe to be essential to the peace and righteousness of the world.”

Having arrived back in Australia, Talbot quickly became involved in various endeavours to help returned veterans. He was elected Vice President of the NSW Returned Soldiers’ Association (RSA) shortly after returning from service.

Almost immediately he began plans for marking the first anniversary of the Gallipoli devastation. It was a Christian duty.

As NSW Premier William Holman wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald (29 March 1916, p. 10), “The Government has decided to invite the heads of the churches to hold a memorial service at some hour to be arranged on 25th April [1916] throughout the length and breadth of the State.”

Talbot, along with John Wright, Archbishop of Sydney, organised the first public ANZAC Day service in Sydney, held at The Domain at noon.

It began with a minute’s silence, observed by the 60,000 present that day.

Talbot performed the role of MC, while Wright gave the main address. The crowd sang the hymns Abide with Me, Lead Kindly Light and O God Our Help in Ages Past.


Archbishop Wright addresses the crowd in Sydney’s Domain, Anzac Day 1916. (Source: Australian War Memorial)

David John Garland (1864–1939)

David Garland was born on 4 October 1864 in Dublin.

He migrated with his parents to New South Wales, and in 1889 joined the Church of England ministry.

Garland became the senior army camp chaplain in Queensland from 1914 to 1917. In this role, he prepared soldiers in Brisbane for active service. In one of his initiatives, he organised sending Bibles and prayer books to soldiers overseas.

Garland had a masterful skill at organisation (Paul in 1 Cor 12:28 would call it a gift of ‘administration’). He used this gift to establish, organise, direct and lead countless organisations to help soldiers and the general war effort.

From 1918 to 1919, he served as a chaplain overseas in the Middle East.

But perhaps most of all, he is remembered as “the architect of ANZAC Day”.

Garland began as the honorary secretary of the ANZAC Day Commemoration Committee of Queensland (ADCCQ) in 1916. At the same meeting as his appointment to the position, the committee set aside the 25th of April as “ANZAC Day”.

From 1916, he campaigned relentlessly for government recognition and endorsement that ANZAC Day be set aside for the public remembrance of those who died in the war.

Garland was a well-regarded and respected member of society, widely acknowledged for his energetic organisational skills. In 1926, Queensland acting premier W. N. Gillies described him as the “life and soul” of the ADCCQ.

He was appointed O.B.E. (The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) in 1934.

Garland’s influence on ANZAC Day is extensive and enduring. He “initiated the ANZAC Day march, the returned soldiers’ luncheon, the two minutes silence, the wreath-laying ceremonies at memorials and the special church services.”

Laurence Binyon (1869–1943)

While many today may not know his name, they certainly know the words he penned. The now-famous words of The Ode of Remembrance read:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

The Ode is the fourth stanza of Laurence Binyon’s poem “For the Fallen”. Binyon, a British poet, composed it in August 1914, while the Great War ravaged on in its early stages. On 21 September that year, the poem was published in The Times.

Binyon’s referencing of William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra is widely recognised. The English poet’s words, “Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn”, closely mirror Mark Antony’s pronouncement of his love for Cleopatra (“Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale”).

But lesser known is Binyon’s reliance on the Bible. Binyon was the son of an Anglican minister and received a thorough grounding in the Scriptures. In the first stanza of the poem, “Flesh of her flesh” – referring to the departed soldiers as children of their mother England – is a direct reference to Genesis 2:23–24.

In the final stanza, the words describing the fallen being raised like stars “moving in marches across the heavenly plain” are a reference to Daniel 12:2–3.

However, during ANZAC Day, it is these words that are most familiar: “At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them”. Binyon took his insistence on remembering the fallen from Deuteronomy 16:6 (KJV) which reads, “Thou shalt sacrifice the Passover at even, at the going down of the sun, at the season that thou camest forth out of Egypt”.

Passover is a memorial to the Exodus, remembered at the going down of the sun. This act of remembrance was concluded “in the morning” when the Israelites returned to their tents (Deut 16:7).

Moses commanded the Israelites, “You shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt” (Deut 16:12). Binyon’s rendering, “We will remember them”, concludes what is now called The Ode.

Death and Resurrection

The Christian themes of death and resurrection feature prominently in ANZAC Day. Services often include this sequence:

  • The call to remembrance, The Ode.
  • Followed by the sounding of The Last Post.
  • A minute of silence.
  • Followed by the bugle sound, The Reveille.

The Last Post is the traditional evening bugle call signalling soldiers to return to their barracks. The day’s work has now come to an end. When employed during an ANZAC service, The Last Post signifies the soldier’s life work has come to an end through death.

Coupled together, The Ode and The Last Post powerfully call for the remembrance of the deaths of those who fell during the war.

Silence is a sombre reminder of death. It signifies the bodies that lie silent in the grave.

Psalm 115:17 powerfully puts silence and death together, saying “It is not the dead who praise the LORD, nor any of those descending into the silence of death.”

The silence is ended by The Reveille – a French word meaning ‘awaken’.

The Reveille (or sometimes the Rouse) is also a barracks bugle call sounded to awaken soldiers in the morning.

We must not miss the connection of The Reveille to the resurrection.

The idea of ‘sleeping’ as a symbol of death is solidly scriptural. In 1 Thess 4:15, Paul refers to Christians who had died as those who had “fallen asleep”. His train of thought is that they will ‘awaken’ to resurrection life (1 Thess 4:16).

The Reveille is a powerful reminder that those who fell in war will awaken in the resurrection. They will ‘sleep’ no longer!

Not surprisingly, we find the use of The Last Post (and sometimes, The Reveille) at funerals. This again ties them closely with the themes of death and resurrection.

The earliest written reference comes from Free Church of Scotland minister W. B. Clark in 1853. He commented that sounding The Last Post but not The Reveille at a funeral did not indicate the absence of the hope of resurrection. Rather, Clark stated that “when the soldier is placed in his long home, what music so appropriate as The Last Post. But there is a day coming when tones of a trumpet more solemn will be heard, and a reveille will be sounded which will not fail to rouse every sleeper.”

The ANZAC liturgical form was woven together by Talbot, Garland and other Christians who understood that death is not the end. Death’s apparent silence will be swallowed up in victory by resurrection.

The Christian meaning is starting and spiritually rich. As Darren Mitchell, a foremost historian of ANZAC Day puts it,

“The Ode introduces The Last Post, the signal of death, and The Reveille, the signal of resurrection. In between, we recognise in silent reflection the passage of time between Jesus’ death on Good Friday and his rising to new life on Easter Sunday.”

Deeply woven into ANZAC Day is a magnificent portrayal of the Gospel!

Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance

The Christian origins of ANZAC Day are not only found in the content.

Melbourne’s war memorial, the Shrine of Remembrance, has overtly Christian themes embedded into its architecture.

Most notable is the central section called the Sanctuary – often called “the heart of the Shrine”. At the centre of the Sanctuary is the Stone of Remembrance.

Engraved into the Stone is the inscription, “Greater Love Hath No Man” – a quote from the King James Version of John 15:13.

ANZAC Day Stone of Remembrance

Stone of Remembrance. Source

The Sanctuary is designed so that at precisely 11:00 am (AEST), the sun’s rays illuminate the word ‘love’ on 11 November – the timing of the 1918 Armistice.

ANZAC Day Ray of Light

Ray of Light at the Shrine of Remembrance, 11 November 1934. Source:

It is not surprising that love has been singled out as the supreme attribute by those who paid the ultimate price of their lives. For it is a wonderful reflection of God’s love which is at the centre of the Christian Gospel (e.g. John 3:16), displayed by the sacrifice of Jesus who laid down His life for His friends.

The Shrine of Remembrance has been designed to remember the great acts of love of those who served in the Great War. But at a deeper level, it points to the greatest act of love ever shown. An accomplishment that all of history centres upon – and because of which, is moving history to its climax in the return of Christ.

Commemorating ANZAC Day and the Gospel

In Australia and New Zealand during both World Wars, the vast majority of the population, and therefore those who served in the conflicts, were Christians. Their belief in the Gospel enabled them to lay their lives down, knowing one day they would be brought back to resurrection life.

For those back in Australia struggling to respond to the horrors unfolding on the other side of the world, it was Christianity that brought meaning to the masses in the face of death.

As Mitchell comments, “Christianity was the principal cultural repository for responding to the disastrous consequences of the Great War.”

And as historian John Moses states, ANZAC Day “was intended to be an intensely solemn national requiem, designed to call all men and women to humble repentance and to remind them of the sovereignty of Almighty God over the nations.”

In commemorating ANZAC Day, we should be grateful for these remaining elements of Christian witness to our nation that needs as much exposure to Jesus and his good news as possible.

We should pray that God would use these small gospel seeds to grow a desire in people for Jesus and His offer of a future resurrection to everlasting life.

This ANZAC Day is an occasion to remember the supreme sacrifice of those who gave their lives for us. And as we remember them, we turn our gaze upon the One who gave His life for us as a ransom payment for sin (Mark 10:45).

We may or may not be called to physically lay down our life for another. But Jesus calls everyone to die to self and live their life in service for others (Matt 16:24–27; Phil 2:3–4).

In doing so, we follow the example of the great sacrifice, in both His life and a gruesome death by crucifixion (Phil 2:5–8).

Until the bugle/trumpet sounds on the Day of Christ (1 Thess 4:16), at the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember Him.


Acknowledgement: This article is greatly indebted to Darren Mitchell’s research and doctoral dissertation titled “Anzac Rituals – Secular, Sacred, Christian“.

Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

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  1. Warwick Marsh 25 April 2024 at 8:34 am - Reply

    Masterful exposition of the glorious truth of Christs love that underpins Anzac Day!

  2. Marg 25 April 2024 at 8:42 am - Reply

    What an amazing article, Samuel. I did not know that background to Anzac Day, so it was extremely enlightening to realise the roots of this commemoration. Thank you so much for all your research.

    • Samuel Hartwich 29 April 2024 at 12:29 pm - Reply

      Thank you, Marg. I was unaware of much of it too until uncovering it for this article. The history must be told!

  3. Marg Malin 25 April 2024 at 9:00 am - Reply

    What an enlightening article, Samuel. I did not know the history behind the origins of Anzac Day commemorations. Thank you for your in-depth research.

    • Samuel Hartwich 29 April 2024 at 12:30 pm - Reply

      Thank you Marg!

  4. Kathy Gasper 25 April 2024 at 11:01 am - Reply

    Fresh from attending my local Anzac service it is comforting and thrilling to commemorate this day with a Christian service. May we jealously guard and support this tradition.

    • Samuel Hartwich 29 April 2024 at 12:31 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Kathy, it is a wonderfully deep and rich tradition. Long may it continue!

  5. Rosemary 25 April 2024 at 11:59 am - Reply

    thankyou Samuel, a beautifully truthful writing on that which we hold dear to our hearts and give thanks to Almighty God for our freedom in A&NZ, and the holiness of freedom ‘In Christ’.

    • Samuel Hartwich 29 April 2024 at 12:32 pm - Reply

      Thank you, Rosemary! Our freedom in Australia and New Zealand is a true gift.

  6. Dorothy McCredie 25 April 2024 at 12:44 pm - Reply

    Your covering of a difficult subject has been so well done. You are to be commended for such an excellent explanation of a very special day in the hearts of many people. God Bless You and your family, in Jesus name.

    • Samuel Hartwich 29 April 2024 at 12:32 pm - Reply

      Thank you, Dorothy, you too.

  7. Pauline Tondl 25 April 2024 at 3:00 pm - Reply

    Thank you Samuel, for this precious insight into this profoundly Chrisitan memorial. To the great glory of our living God; it is a fitting solemn tribute to those who gave their lives and to whom we owe much freedom, and a blessing to whoever puts their trust in God our Saviour.

    • Samuel Hartwich 29 April 2024 at 12:33 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Pauline. It has brought so much more depth to me, also. Darren Mitchell’s doctoral research, which he completed in 2020, formed the basis of much of my understanding. He has done a great service to the Church and Australian history for his hard work.

  8. IAN Moncrieff 25 April 2024 at 3:22 pm - Reply

    I have been so enriched by this article. Thank you Samuel.

    • Samuel Hartwich 29 April 2024 at 12:34 pm - Reply

      Thank you, Ian, as have I for writing it!

  9. Warwick Marsh 25 April 2024 at 7:27 pm - Reply

    It is great to see so many heartfelt comments about this brilliant article!!!!

    • Samuel Hartwich 29 April 2024 at 12:34 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Warwick!

  10. Annette 25 April 2024 at 9:39 pm - Reply

    Thanks Samuel for your important article about ANZAC Day.
    Regarding the Melbourne Shrine of Remembrance. As you’ve noted, the Sanctuary is designed so that at precisely 11:00 am (AEST), the sun’s rays illuminate the word ‘love’ on 11 November – the timing of the 1918 Armistice. Unfortunately so-called Daylight Saving Time starts at the end of October and interferes with the careful design when according to AEDT it’s 12midday on the 11th November when the sun’s rays are at the correct angle.

    • Samuel Hartwich 29 April 2024 at 12:37 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Annette, yes I came across that about the Shrine of Remembrance, but it was too much to put in the article. The light is reflected now to adjust to daylight savings time, so at least the effect is still the same. The initial design to have the light shine exactly on the word ‘love’ is incredible.

  11. Warwick Marsh 26 April 2024 at 8:16 am - Reply

    No matter if man changes the time the word love is still illuminated by God because God is love and perfect love casts out all fear!

  12. Warwick Marsh 30 April 2024 at 9:25 am - Reply

    Great to see this really great article get the attention it deserves!!!!

  13. Pearl Miller 30 April 2024 at 9:37 am - Reply

    Yes! Marvellous! I’m going to encourage our military band (Queensland Services Heritage Band Association) to re-engage with the original hymns… Thanks for that!

  14. Gail Petherick 2 May 2024 at 11:40 am - Reply

    Thank you Sam. This is a truly beautiful article.. It would reach the heart and soul of every Australian who has been to war or involved in war. It would bring a great depth of knowledge, esteem and respect to any school children who haven’t understood what happened in WW1 (and WW2) and the price paid.
    Thank you for your deep research and for the way you have described the heroes of that time like Albert Talbot who had been a Dean but then enlisted as a chaplain for the AIF. He saw the horror of Gallipoli from his ship which could not move into shore, but ministered as both medic and chaplain to the dying, injured and took funerals. He did so much afterwards to set up a way to honor the Veterans and soldiers, including the march, the minute of silence and the Returned Soldiers Association.
    There were so many who contributed to the ANZAC day. So many fallen. So many who gave their lives for their country. You have captured so much of this!
    Thank you too for explaining the origins of the words in ‘The Ode Remembrance’ by the UK poet Laurence Binyon, who wanted to honor the fallen
    ‘They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
    Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
    At the going down of the sun and in the morning
    We will remember them.’

  15. Warwick Marsh 3 May 2024 at 8:51 pm - Reply

    Fantastic article. I have said this once, Twice, Three times. Here I go again!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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