Anzac Day – how local body leaders initiated a half-day holiday in NZ

When did New Zealanders first commemorate Anzac Day? We have been checking the files and find a story akin to rival trans-Tasman claims about Phar Lap and pavlova cake.

Naturally, the Australians claim they were first with an announcement by the Premier of New South Wales W A Holman proclaiming on  March 27, 1916 that the landings on  Gallipoli on April 25 , 1915 should be marked by services followed by recruiting drives.

But in New Zealand, city and suburban mayors gathered for their annual conference in Wellington that same month.

On March 14 they discussed the question of commemorating Anzac Day. According to the Press Association they decided to interview the Premier and suggest that a half-holiday be proclaimed from noon on April 25, with a view to holding a united memorial service with special military parades.

The interview occurred and on April 5, the Prime Minister W F Massey announced the government had decided to observe a half-holiday, commencing at 1 pm on Tuesday, April 25, in commemoration of “Anzac Day”. 

Massey said:

“I  shall be glad if the Mayors of all cities and boroughs, the Chairmen of County Councils and Town Boards, as well as other local bodies, as far as their districts are concerned, will similarly observe the day in remembrance of the notable deeds performed by the Australians and our brave New Zealand soldiers on that memorable and historical occasion.

“It is specially fitting that on this occasion special services of public worship be held by all religious denominations, and I therefore appeal to all ministers of religion and all congregations to hold such services on behalf of the people of the Dominion at such hours during the forenoon or afternoon as are found convenient.

“The New Zealand Ensign will be displayed on all public buildings in the Dominion from sunrise to sunset.

“It is requested that the managers and representatives of shipping companies should direct that all ships in the various harbours display their flags during that day”.

Massey continued:

The Government is of opinion that the day should not be marked by the holding of sports or similar forms of entertainment. It is considered, however, that the occasion is particularly one upon which opportunity should be taken for all recruiting bodies and others to arrange patriotic meetings for the evening, not only to commemorate the anniversary, but also with a view to assisting the recruiting campaign, the question of how this may best be done being left entirely to the discretion of those immediately concerned.”

And so the tradition began.


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