Anzac Day Format, Terminology and Style

The following is an excerpt from the Anzac Day Media Style Guide – Centenary Edition

In Australia, Anzac Day usually begins with a dawn service, often followed by a gunfire breakfast or sausage sizzle organised by a local RSL sub-branch.

In some communities, the dawn service may be a preceded by an all-night ‘youth vigil’ attended by participants from local service organisations and youth groups, including Scouts Australia, the Country Fire Service, Navy, Army and Air Force Cadets and the Surf Life Saving movement. For more information contact your state branch of the RSL, eg in South Australia click here. In addition, some local RSL branches now hold twilight services in the week leading up to Anzac Day.

Following the dawn service, a commemoration march of veterans (including full-time, Reserve and former serving members) takes place during the morning, sometimes ending at a church in time for a commemoration service. Take care to avoid the word ‘celebration’ when referring to Anzac Day services and the march: ‘commemoration’ and ‘remembrance’ are more appropriate. Similarly, avoid the term ‘parade’ as this also designates a more celebratory event: it does not focus on the remembrance of those who have not returned.

Dawn Service

Timing varies according to location: dawn services can take place as early as 0430 in some places, or after 0600. The fact that the Gallipoli landings began around 0430 (after leaving the ships moored offshore at 0330) is coincidental. The timing evokes the ‘stand-to’, where troops were woken before dawn so that they would be alert and in position by first light. The experience of crowds standing quietly is now integral to the dawn service ritual.

Although DVA considers ‘dawn service’ to be a proper noun, media outlets do not. Accordingly, this guide uses lower case letters.

Some style guides advise that the term ‘dawn service’ should not be used at all, since officially the ceremony is a ‘dawn stand-to’. This is not common practice, however, and the term ‘dawn service’ is widely used and accepted by Australian media.

A typical Anzac Day dawn service includes the following elements:

  • Catafalque party
  • Ode of Remembrance
  • Last Post
  • Silence
  • Reveille
  • Laying of wreaths.

In some ceremonies the laying of wreaths now includes the laying of books which are later donated to libraries in hospitals and veterans’ facilities.

Catafalque Party

A catafalque is a raised platform that is used to support a coffin during a funeral or memorial service. During Anzac Day services it may be represented by a ‘symbolic coffin’ in the form of a shrine or remembrance stone.

Historically, a catafalque party was appointed to guard the coffin against theft or desecration. The party comprises four people – usually service personnel – positioned around the catafalque, or its symbolic representation. Usually they stand at the four corners of the catafalque, facing outwards with their heads lowered and rifles (or other weapons) reversed as a sign of respect.

The ‘mounting of the catafalque party’ often marks the start of a dawn service ritual and involves a ceremonial march up to the catafalque, where the party takes up position. If the ceremony takes place in a school, the catafalque party may be students; in small communities they may be members of the public.

The correct pronunciation is KATTuh-falk (‘kæte fælk) with emphasis on the first syllable.

Ode of Remembrance

‘The Ode’ – as it is commonly known – is taken from a poem written by the English poet Laurence Binyon. It was first published in The Times (London) on 21 September 1914 and has been recited at commemorative services (not necessarily related to Anzac Day) since 1919.

“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 audience then responds: “We will remember them.”

Binyon’s use of the word ‘condemn’ has been widely debated in Australia with some scholars claiming it is the result of a typographical error. They claim that Binyon intended to use the word ‘contemn’ (meaning to treat someone with contempt) and not condemn (meaning to strongly disapprove of). According to the AWM and DVA there is no evidence to support such claims.

Last Post

‘Last Post’ is a bugle call marking the end of the day, in a military context, and has been widely incorporated into Anzac Day services and military funerals. Note that it is ‘sounded’, not ‘played’.

It is not to be confused with The Last Post, the name of a poem by the English poet Robert Graves describing a soldier’s funeral during the Great War.

There is much debate concerning whether ‘the’ can be added as in, “The bugler sounded Last Post,” or, “The bugler sounded the Last Post”. According to the Macquarie and Oxford English Dictionaries, ‘last post’ is a noun and can, therefore, take ‘the’. Note that the word ‘last’ distinguishes ‘last post’ from ‘first post’, a bugle call signalling first inspection at the start of the day. Note also that neither dictionary treats ‘last post’ as a proper noun with initial capital letters. The preferred style of most media outlets (and the AWM), however, is to use capitals, as in ‘Last Post’. If in doubt, check with your media organisation or chief of staff.


One (or two) minute’s silence is an important part of many Anzac Day services. The idea was first suggested by the Australian journalist Edward Honey in a letter to The Times in May 1919.

Reveille and Rouse

Reveille and Rouse are two different calls. Both are proper nouns and should have a capital ‘R’.

At Anzac Day dawn services, Reveille is sounded after the one (or two) minute’s silence. It is longer than Rouse, which is used after the Last Post in other remembrance and military ceremonies.

In the past, Reveille woke soldiers at dawn and was performed on drum and fife (a high-pitched flute). At Anzac Day dawn services, it is usually performed on a bugle or solo trumpet.

It is derived from the French verb ‘reveiller’ meaning to wake up. The correct, anglicised pronunciation of the word is ruhVELLey or ruhVALLey with emphasis on the second syllable.

Gunfire Breakfast

A gunfire breakfast may be laid on by organisers/hosts of the dawn service or local RSL. It often includes coffee or tea with rum, a sausage sizzle or bacon and eggs (served after the dawn service at the AWM).

The name derives from ‘Gun Fire’, a British military term for the first cup of tea given to troops before their first task of the day.