Commemorative traditions

Commemorative traditions

Wearing rosemary

Rosemary grows wild on the Gallipoli peninsula. Valued since ancient times for its believed ability to improve memory - a sprig of rosemary is worn every Anzac Day as a symbol of remembrance.

Wearing a poppy

Also known as the Flanders poppy, the red poppy was first described as a flower of remembrance by Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian who served in France as a medical officer during the First World War.

According to folklore, the poppies sprang from the devastation of war in France and Belgium and were red from the blood of fallen soldiers.

Increasingly, red poppies are widely used by Australians as a sign of remembrance, and are placed on war graves or next to names of soldiers engraved on memorials. Wearing a poppy (on the left breast or lapel) is more common in Australia on and around Remembrance Day, 11 November.

Dawn service

During battle, the half-light of dawn was one of the most favoured times for an attack. Soldiers in defensive positions were woken in the dark before dawn, so by the time first light crept across the battlefield they were awake, alert, and manning their weapons; this is still known as the ‘stand-to’.

After the First World War, returned soldiers sought the comradeship they had felt in those quiet, peaceful moments before dawn. A dawn vigil, recalling the wartime front line practice of the dawn ‘stand-to’, became the basis of a form of commemoration in several places after the war.

Ken Inglis, in his book Sacred places: war memorials in the Australian landscape (1998), tells how “the idea of commemorating that dawn of 1915 came to a group of returned men in Sydney” in 1927. Five men, returning from an Anzac Day function in the early hours of the morning “happened to see an elderly woman placing a sheaf of flowers on the as yet incomplete Cenotaph. The men bowed their heads alongside her, and their Association resolved to arrange a dawn service at the Cenotaph.”

Catafalque party

A catafalque is a raised structure supporting a stand that usually holds a coffin to allow mourners to file past and pay their last respects. A watch or catafalque party was traditionally mounted around the coffin to ensure the safety of the body while it lay in state.

The catafalque party consists of four members of an armed guard who stand, their heads bowed and their arms (weapon) reversed, facing outward approximately one metre from the coffin or catafalque as a symbolic form of respect for those who have fallen.

Wreath laying

Flowers have traditionally been laid on graves or memorials to commemorate the dead.

The suggested procedure for laying a wreath is to:

  • Approach the memorial with the wreath in your right hand
  • Halt, pause and then lay the wreath
  • Straighten up, step back a pace, pause
  • For service personnel, salute and then pause once more
  • Move away.

The Ode

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.

(Audience responds) We will remember them.

The Ode is the famous fourth stanza from For the Fallen, a poem by the English poet and writer Laurence Binyon and was published in London’s The Times newspaper. The verse became the Ode of Remembrance and has been used in association with commemoration services in Australia since 1921.

The Last Post

The Last Post is one of a number of bugle calls in military tradition that mark the phases of the day.

In military tradition, the Last Post is the bugle call that signifies the end of the day’s activities. It is also sounded at military funerals to indicate that the soldier has gone to his final rest and at commemorative services to serve as a tribute to the dead.

The significance of silence

Silence for one or two minutes is included in commemorative ceremonies as a sign of respect and a time for reflection.

The idea for the two-minute silence is said to have originated with Edward George Honey, a Melbourne journalist and First World War veteran who was living in London in 1919. He wrote a letter to the London Evening News in which he appealed for five minutes silence, to honour the sacrifice of those who had died during the war.

In October 1919 Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, a South African, suggested a period of silence on Armistice Day (now commonly known as Remembrance Day) in all the countries of the Empire.

On 6 November 1919, the King sent a special message to the people of the Commonwealth:

I believe that my people in every part of the Empire fervently wish to perpetuate the memory of that Great Deliverance, and of those who laid down their lives to achieve it.

The King requested that “a complete suspension of all our normal activities” be observed for two minutes at “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” so that “in perfect stillness the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the Glorious Dead”.

Two minutes’ silence was first observed in Australia on the first anniversary of the Armistice and continues to be observed on Remembrance Day, 11 November. Over the years, the one or two-minute silence has also been incorporated into Anzac Day and other commemorative ceremonies.

The Rouse

After the minute’s silence following the Last Post, the Rouse is sounded. The Rouse is traditionally the lively trumpet of bugle call to signal soldiers that it is time to rise and prepare for a new day.

The Rouse is played at commemorative services (other than dawn services). As the Rouse sounds, flags should be slowly raised to the masthead.

The Reveille is the more extended call played to awaken soldier and is sounded instead of the shorter Rouse at dawn services, symbolising the awakening of the dead in the next world and calling the living to return to duty.


A recording of the Ode, the Last Post, A minute's silence and the Rouse are all availble to download.

Play and download the recording 


You will often hear bagpipes playing at commemorative services. On these occasions with the limited range of sound, the piper is said to create the appropriate mood. Music is written especially for bagpipes with its song repertoire including, the ‘Flowers of the forest’ lament and more recently, the ‘Remembrance Day Lament’ composed at the request of the late Major General Gordon Maitland for the Armistice of the Great War in 2018. Through Commonwealth solidarity in modern military history, bagpipes have become synonymous with reverence and honour. The sound now carries historical weight.


Sources: Anzac Day Media Style Guide, Sharon Mascall-Dare, Monash University;, Anzac Day Commemoration Committee (Queensland);, Australian War Memorial;, Department of Veteran’s Affairs;, Australian Army.