As public gatherings to commemorate Anzac Day in 2020 did not go ahead because of COVID-19, curator Heather Gill shared home movie footage of Anzac Day marches from 1933, 1946 and 1980. You can see these clips and more in our new Anzac Day curated collection.
These home movies provide us a glimpse of what was happening on past Anzac Days.
By 1933, traditions for marking Anzac Day were well established across Australia, with dawn vigils, marches, memorial services, reunions among members of the armed services and two-up games.
This is a clip of an Anzac Day march in 1933 at Strathalbyn, South Australia, taken from a home movie shot by K Loader:
The march comes down from Alfred Place, the site of the Strathalbyn and District Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital, past the then St Andrews Presbyterian Church to Sunter St. The procession stops at the Strathalbyn War Memorial, for the laying of wreaths.
Also marching are a group of women who may be active nurses or Red Cross members – they wear a uniform with the international symbol of the Red Cross. Youth organisations – like Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, Junior Red Cross, and school and marching bands – also featured prominently in Anzac Day marches around this time; a troop of boy scouts is visible briefly in this clip.
After the march there was a Grand Sports Day nearby, raising funds for the Strathalbyn Soldiers’ Memorial Gardens Improvement Fund. According to the Southern Argus newspaper, events on the day included a married ladies’ race, egg-and-spoon race for single girls over 15, a melon race on horseback and a competition to guess the weight of a sheep.
This is a clip from a 1940s home movie of a street parade through Sydney for Anzac Day. A change in route in 1947, and vehicle number plates aligning with those issued around 1945–6, suggest this footage was shot in 1946:
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the route of the march in 1946 included an incline – seen in the clip above at the St James end of Hyde Park – which caused some older ex-service personnel to collapse. From 1947, a longer route provided more vantage points for spectators. Ex-service personnel took to marching 16 abreast so that the duration of the march didn't increase greatly with the longer route. Above, you can see them marching in formations of 12 or fewer abreast.
Approximately 30,000 people attended the dawn service at the Cenotaph at Martin Place in Sydney in 1946, with some securing their vantage points the previous afternoon. The Barrier Miner newspaper reported that the procession through Sydney lasted more than two-and-a-half hours with 50,000 ex-servicemen and women marching.
In the clip we see women marching with men, which was unusual. A small contingent of women are marching together who may have been nurses, as they are not wearing uniforms. These marching women have medals pinned to the left-hand side, indicating that they served. Also visible are women in uniform, as they could serve in the Australian military from 1941. Servicewomen were banned from marching in Brisbane that year, essentially because their presence had not been planned for by march organisers.
After a decline in march numbers during the 1970s, the 1980 Anzac Day march saw its largest Sydney attendance in a decade, with 21,000 ex-service members. Melbourne recorded the biggest turnout in 20 years, with more than 15,000 taking part including Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser.
This clip from a home movie by Clive Linfoot shows a series of short excerpts of the Anzac Day march in Sydney, 1980:
The footage shot around Town Hall in Sydney includes a strong presence of marching bands, such as those from the Salvation Army and the police service. Marchers protesting the government response to the long-term effects of Agent Orange on those who had served wore orange crepe paper in their lapels.
Some of the reasons for the decline in march numbers in preceding years were the ageing of veterans from earlier wars and a broader questioning of the costs of war after Australia’s experiences in the Vietnam War. There were also counter marches to highlight the violence perpetrated against women during war.
You can see more Anzac Day clips and documentaries – including home movie footage of the 1977 march in Sydney – in our new Anzac Day curated collection.