Plan and deliver a commemorative activity
This section is designed to help communities plan, promote and deliver local commemorative activities and is a general outline only. For organisers who require help navigating their way through some of the many issues involved in organising large events such as public outdoor events, we recommend you refer to the NSW Premier's Department Event Starter Guide.
How will you honour our veterans?
Commemorative activities are typically planned to affirm and reinforce memories that provide a sense of heritage and identity. If you want to commemorate in some form but are unsure as to how, here are some helpful tips.
- Decide the anniversary or date you would like to commemorate. A date gives the process of remembering a focal point.
- Identify the type of commemoration you wish to hold: eg a commemorative ceremony, wreath laying, a war memorial vigil.
- Consider what is most important to your community and what is achievable. Consult with your local council, RSL sub-branch, veterans associations and community groups.
What makes a commemorative ceremony
Commemorative ceremonies have some typical features or elements including:
1. Order of proceedings
The ‘order of proceedings’ outlines the details of your event, the roles of key individuals, and the order of the program. Indicate the arrival and departure arrangements for VIPs and how the formal introductions will take place. Distribute the order of proceedings to all those who have a role in the program prior to the event. The traditional aspects of a commemorative ceremony are listed below. View a detailed explanation of these traditions here.
2. Welcome to and Acknowledgement of Country
A 'Welcome to Country’ or ‘Acknowledgement of Country’ occurs at the beginning of a formal event and can take many forms including singing, dancing, smoking ceremonies or a speech in traditional language or English. Incorporating welcoming and acknowledgement protocols into official meetings and events recognises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Australians and Traditional Custodians of land.
There should be a brief talk about why we commemorate. For the introduction you could use the Anzac Requiem originally written by Charles Bean in 1944. The Requiem highlights the achievements of all those Australians who died in war.
On the morning of 25 April 1915, Australian and New Zealand troops landed under fire on Gallipoli. It was then and in the battles which followed that the Anzac tradition was formed.
On this day, above all days, we remember all those who served our nation in times of war.
We remember with pride their courage, their compassion and their comradeship. We remember what they accomplished for Australia, and indeed for the freedom of mankind.
We honour those who died or were disabled in the tragedy of war. They adorn our nation’s history.
We remember those who fell amidst the valleys and ridges of Gallipoli, on the terraced hills of Palestine, in France and Belgium, on the sands of the North African desert, amidst the mountains and olive groves of Greece, Crete and Syria, in the skies over Europe, in Singapore, in the jungles of Malaysia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the Pacific Islands, in Korea and Vietnam, in later conflicts and in peacekeeping, in the skies and seas in many parts of the world, and on our own soil and in our sea lanes.
We remember those who suffered as prisoners of war, and those who died in captivity.
We remember staunch friends and allies, especially those who fought alongside us on that first day on Gallipoli in 1915.
Our Servicemen and women have left us a splendid heritage. May we and our successors prove worthy of their sacrifice.
Inviting a veteran or a serviceman or woman to speak about his or her experiences adds interest to the ceremony; contacting your local RSL or military unit may assist you in identifying a suitable speaker. Alternatively, a staff member, a student, or a member of the community may also give the address. Remember, the purpose of the address is to commemorate those soldiers who sacrificed their lives for Australia and to honour their memory, but you may wish to focus on the contribution of a soldier from your local region. It is important to brief the speaker so that the address is not too long; this is especially important for groups of young people.
5. Hymn / Prayer / Reading / Poem
The following hymns are traditionally used in commemorative ceremonies. You can choose one or more of these:
- "Our God, our help in ages past”
- "O valiant hearts”
- “Abide with me”
The band could play or the choir sing. A local church may be able to help you with the hymns.
In commemorative ceremonies it is usual for a speaker to recite a prayer or a reading as a request for eternal peace and in memory of those who died in war. One of the following readings is commonly used:
- The Lord’s Prayer
- Prayer of Remembrance
- Psalm 23
- John 15: 9-14
The reading of a poem helps the audience to understand the wartime experiences of service men and women. At any commemorative ceremony, one of the following poems could be used:
If you are planning a Remembrance Day ceremony, you may wish to read:
- The farmer remembers the Somme by Vance Palmer (1920)
6. Wreath laying or laying of poppies
Flowers have traditionally been laid on graves and memorials in memory of the dead. While it is best to maintain silence while the wreath is being laid or to give a brief explanation, you could also play some appropriate music or read out one of the poems suggested previously.
7. The Ode
Many ceremonies of remembrance include a recitation of the Ode. It is the fourth stanza of “For the Fallen”, a poem written by Laurence Binyon (1869—1943) in 1914. The Ode has been recited in ceremonies since 1919, including at the Cenotaph in Martin Place and at the ANZAC Memorial. These lines should be recited in a respectful manner:
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 people gathered repeat:
We will remember them.
8. The Last Post
The Last Post is a bugle call which signals the end of the day. It became incorporated into funeral and memorial services as a final farewell and symbolises that the duty of the dead is over and that they can rest in peace.
9. One minute of silence
This is the central part of the ceremony, a time when all present reflect upon, and honour, all who have fallen in war.
10. The Rouse
After the period of silence, the Rouse is sounded (for day time ceremonies). The Rouse signifies that after the period of mourning, life and duty continue. If you are conducting a dawn service, the Reveille is sounded instead of the Rouse, signifying the beginning of the day. At the end of the silence, a designated person says:
Lest we forget
The people gathered repeat:
Lest we forget
A recording of the Ode, the Last Post, A minute's silence and the Rouse are all availble to download.
11. National anthem
Advance Australia Fair is sung to conclude the ceremony.
Event planning basics
Establish a budget for your event so you can then consider ways to meet the costs. Larger activities will often need consideration of costs for a range of items such as venue, equipment, wages, catering, insurance and promotional costs. Identifying the costs to host your event will help you to determine if you need additional support by way of sponsorship for your event.
13. Scheduling your commemorative event
The decision about which date you choose to schedule your commemoration is a very important one. Make sure the day and time you choose will suit your audience to encourage greater participation and not conflict with any other major event. Once the date has been confirmed forward a formal invitation as soon as possible to secure the date in the diaries of dignitaries and special guests.
14. Inclusive ceremonies
Organisers have a legal responsibility to make sure that people with disabilities are able to attend and take part in your commemoration, just like all other members of the public. It is against the law to discriminate against people with disabilities in terms of access to public places and when providing goods and services. This includes:
- people who have a vision or hearing impairment
- people with intellectual and learning disabilities
- people with mobility and manual dexterity difficulties.
For more information on how to ensure access for everybody at your event, visit the accessibility section of the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet's website.
15. Selecting a venue
- Select a venue: If your commemoration is not being held at a war memorial, you will need to select a venue. This is one of the most important decisions you’ll make in the planning process, as it sets the tone for your entire event.
- Find a location: Consider your audience’s needs and choose a location to suit. Consider the weather, parking and public transport, and other local events.
- Research the facilities: Look for venues that have all the necessary facilities to ensure a successful event. You will need to consider room set-up too when looking at venues. For example, do you need a classroom, theatre, banquet or boardroom? The venue should have access for people with disabilities, and you may also need to consider audio-visual requirements, the need for natural light or blacked-out windows, and event furniture such as sign easels.
- See for yourself: If you’re considering a new venue, choose one with a proven track record. Conduct a site inspection of the venue before you make your decision to ensure the facility provides everything you will need and will hold the maximum number of anticipated attendees.
16. Determining your guest list
- Your target audience will be determined by the focus and type of commemoration you choose.
- Your budget will probably determine the size of your audience.
- You will also need to consider if there are local dignitaries or other VIPs who should be invited to attend and possibly play a role.
- Care should be taken to ensure all relevant persons are invited to attend. In particular, give consideration to inviting the NSW Premier, Governor, Chief of Defence, members of the the NSW Centenary of Anzac Advisory Council, and Members of Parliament in each relevant federal and state electorates as well as representatives from local government, the RSL sub-branch, ex-service organisations, veterans associations and civil society.
17. Promoting your commemorative activity
Marketing is an essential part of the planning process. You need to let the community know about your activity and you will have to compete for attention. A good marketing plan can be simple to put together. The key is to consider who you want your message to reach and the best way to present your message to them. You can then work out the most effective ways to promote your event. For example you could:
- Distribute flyers and posters around the community.
- Send invitations to interested groups in the local area.
- Announce your commemorative activity in local and community newsletters and at community group meetings.
- Seek support from your local paper to advertise and promote your commemoration.
- Submit press releases / articles to local papers, radio and television stations and other publications.
- List information about your commemorative activity on your local council’s website.
- Develop and compile information kits.
18. Making a timeline
An effective planning timeline will keep everyone on track and ensure you do not miss any important deadlines. A timeline is not just a long to-do list; it is also a schedule of key tasks and dates that are clearly defined and easy to use. Download a checklist template. Go through the list, establish the dates and assign responsibility.