On February 24 1916 The Sydney Morning Herald reported that a hospital ship had arrived at Woolloomooloo wharf, carrying the last men from Gallipoli.

Rain was falling heavily. The whole scene was a study in gloom, and the voluntary motor cars of the Red Cross Society were splashing high the mud of a road under repair … Quite a number of people, mostly women, had taken up places as near to the wharf as they were allowed to go.

In 1916, people weren’t sure if they wanted to commemorate Gallipoli or just try to forget it. There was strong attendance at talks on Gallipoli, such as the Rev. T Gordon Robertson, Chaplain of the 6th Light Horse, who spoke at the Pitt Street Congregational Church of his experiences, or Ashmead Bartlett, an English war correspondent who gave a series of lectures at the Town Hall: ‘With the Anzacs at the Dardanelles’.[i]

There was almost daily discussion in the paper about the best way to commemorate the actions of the ANZACs at Gallipoli. Some writers of letters to the Sydney Morning Herald felt that the name ‘Anzac’ was being used too freely, and that this diminished its sanctity (29/1/1916) or, as one woman put it: “As a mother of two Anzac men I read with sorrow that it was proposed to name roads, avenues, tramlines after that most sorrowful of all names to so many.” (5/2/16) Others proposed various routes for ‘Anzac Avenue’, and one bold person suggested that our capital city be renamed ‘Anzac’ to commemorate “those brave and valiant boys of ours, who … by their universally acknowledged un-paralleled heroism and ‘grit’ re-discovered Australia to the masses of the western world, and incidentally the eastern also.” (10/2/16)

But there was more muted discussion about the idea of commemorating April 25. Mr P Board, Director of Education and under-secretary to the Department of Public Instruction, spoke strongly for the celebration of April 25 1915 as “an Australian Empire Day … [when] Australia passed beyond a partnership resting on the mere sentiments of kinship into a partnership of national sacrifice” (SMH 22/2/16). But even at that stage, after months of debate and with only two months to go, the NSW government hadn’t decided whether to mark the day. Maybe the whole Empire would celebrate the landing at Gallipoli – maybe there should be a day to commemorate all the large battles of the war, and that day should be set at the end of the war. On March 1 the Herald reports that Anzac Day will definitely be commemorated in Brisbane, but that it is not to be a fundraising event, and “no provision is to be made for rejoicing.” A letter on March 3 suggests that April 25 should be a day “set aside as a day for a street collection throughout NSW” for war widows and their children.

On April 25, 1916, the first Anzac Day parade in Sydney gathered in the Domain before marching down Macquarie, Bridge, George, Liverpool, Elizabeth Streets, then back to the Domain.

As the troops passed through the streets, the crowds received them warmly, very kindly, yet with a sort of awe. There was much hand-clapping, but little cheering. The people pushed and crowded to see the world-famous ‘Anzacs’. There was pride in the faces of the men, and tears in the eyes of the women, as the little groups went by; for in every group, almost, a man was to be seen without an arm, or with shattered features, or limping painfully with a stick. Fifty motor cars, carrying soldiers unable to walk, made a marked impression upon the onlookers.[ii]

The collection of funds was like a release for the people in the crowd.

The rattle of money-boxes kept pace with the marching troops. Lady collectors were everywhere at first, but a working partnership quickly developed between the cheerful invalids in the cars and the girls with the boxes. The collectors rode in the cars or on the footboards, and the soldiers pushed the boxes under the noses of the public. If coins came freely before, they came with a rush now. The people had been eager to do something to show how keenly they felt towards the ‘Anzacs’, and the ‘Anzacs’’ appeal for money provided the proper opportunity. Coppers were literally showered upon some of the cars, and the soldiers gathered the coins in their hats.[iii]

Little boys ran alongside to pick up the coins that fell, and ‘every penny was scrupulously placed in the collection boxes.’

[i] Sydney Morning Herald, February 12 1916.

[ii] Sydney Morning Herald, April 26 1916.

[iii] Sydney Morning Herald, April 26 1916.