Diggers, Maoriland soldiers, NZers or Moalanders.
At the start of World War I, New Zealanders were unlikely to want to describe themselves alongside Australians.
The natural coining of the Anzac name – down from the acronym A. & N. Z. A. C. of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corp – is believed to have been done by a staff sergeant who made a rubber stamp to frank incoming mail.
It was first adopted by Field-Marshal William Birdwood when he took command of the colonial forces in Egypt late in 1914.
But relations before the war weren’t that close and Australia was tainted by being a convict colony, says Massey University historian Glyn Harper.
The New Zealanders and Australians were put together because of administrative convenience. They came across on the same ships and it was easy to throw them together.
But the New Zealanders initially called themselves a variety of names: diggers, Maoriland soldiers, NZers, Moalanders, before the Anzac moniker took hold.
“There was a distinct feeling in New Zealand that New Zealanders would be better off not being too closely associated with Australians, that they were better Britons than anybody else,” Harper told NZ Newswire.
“That continued into Egypt, where the Australians and New Zealanders were training. They didn’t like each at the beginning because the New Zealanders saw the Australians as being loud, aggressive and always eager to drink, fight and gamble.”
And the Australians thought the New Zealanders were too serious about themselves and their role.
The antipathy is illustrated by the “Battle of the Wassir”, where an estimated 2500 New Zealand and Australian troops rioted in Cairo’s Haret Al Wassir red-light district.
Many of those involved were drunk. The houses of prostitutes were ransacked and their furniture thrown into the streets and set alight.
There was an inquiry where “both sides blamed each other with glee,” Harper says.
“Which indicated that Anzac solidarity was non-existent at that stage. It came later.”
A large combined British and French force had landed at the southern end of Turkey’s Gallipoli peninsular, and on April 25, 1915, the Australians and New Zealanders landed at the spot which was to become Anzac Cove.
They had a secondary task in the Gallipoli landings but when the fighting began the two nations were a revelation to each other, Harper says.
“The New Zealanders were almost in awe of their fighting quality as soldiers, and it’s reciprocated… there’s no getting around that it was a watershed in the relationship between Australia and New Zealand.”
The Anzac legend may have been born in Gallipoli in 1915 but the seeds were sown in the Boer War more than a decade earlier.
At the turn of the century, New Zealand sent more than 6500 men to South Africa to fight for the British in South Africa. Just 71 were killed in action or died of wounds, with another 159 dying in accidents or from disease.
Historian Chris Pugsley says that following Australian and New Zealand efforts in the Boer War, empire bosses were very conscious of their military “talent” but it wasn’t organised.
It wasn’t overt, but when WWI broke out Britain was able to call upon a ready pool of men from the colonies.
In 1914, New Zealand had a population of just over one million. A remarkable number volunteered to serve: 120,000 enlisted at home and at least 3370 served for Australian or Imperial forces.
Overall, the Allies lost 33,532 men at Gallipoli, of whom 2721 were New Zealanders and 8141 Australians.
It was a brutal introduction to the new “industrial” war machine for the newly coined Anzacs, which had little effect on the course of the war.
However, Pugsley says it was much bigger for New Zealand.
“It was a discovery of ourselves as a nation simply by comparing ourselves with the Australians, who we found while we had things in common with we were different.”