The Anzacs And Two-Up: The Reason We Play At Pubs On ANZAC Day

25/04/2016 7:17 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:52 PM AEST
Australian War Memorial

And at the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them.

Celebrated on the 25th of April each year, Anzac Day is a time to remember and pay respects to those who fell or served in the First World War. We do so with dawn services, The Ode, and of course, playing two-up.

But have you ever given much though as to why we play this iconic coin game on only one day of the year?

"What's interesting about two-up is we see it being played at pubs and clubs all around Australia, and it has very much become part of the cultural legacy of Anzac Day. I suppose it departs a little bit from why Anzac Day exists. We're here to commemorate the sacrifices and service of over 102,00 Australian men and women who have died on active service since the Boer War," Aaron Pegram, a Senior Historian for the Australian War Memorial told The Huffington Post Australia.

"There's an interesting history behind playing two-up and that really stems from the years before the First World War. The origins of two-up actually go back to the 18th century when the poor Irish and English communities in England were playing a game called ‘pitching pennies’ or ‘pitch and toss’.

australian war memorial

Cairo, Egypt. A group of soldiers play a game of two-up at a two-up school in a hotel yard.

"The game involved making bets on throwing coins against walls and whichever landed close enough to you, you made various bets on. It was also played on the Australian goldfields in the 1850s as well, so there's a legacy there and a very early iteration of tow-up played in Australia beforehand," Pegram said.

Pegram believes that two-up as we know it evolved and came into prominence during World War One, though was not necessarily associated with Gallipoli.

"The game actually played among troops and very popular for two reasons. Firstly, ask any soldier and they will probably tell you that war is 99 percent boredom and that 1 absolute, absolute fear. Soldiers actually had a lot of time to mill around and wait for their orders to come about, so they had a lot of ‘leisure’ time.

"The second reason is because Australian troops in the First World War were among the highest paid in the British Empire. In fact, they were the highest paid troops in the First World War irrespective of nationality. So they had a lot of disposable income to spend on gambling -- that's to say if they hadn't already spent it in the bars and brothels in Egypt," Pegram said.

As a result, no matter where Australian troops serve -- whether or not they're on Gallipoli, or mainly in the area away from the fighting -- for example in Egypt, Palestine, or where the most Australian forces were committed to, which was France and Belgium, Australian’s were behind the lines, gathering together, tossing coins up and making bets.

"There's so much photographic evidence of that taking place, and it has become a bit of a cultural fascination as a result of the First World War," Pegram said.

australian war memorial

Gaza, Palestine. Troops play a game of two-up at night.

"By the time of the Second World War the troops were conscious heirs of the Anzac tradition, so they carried through those games that were played by their fathers in the First World War. Predominantly it evolved into an army game that was played with infantry battalions, no matter where they were serving.

"By the 1920s and 1930s we had veterans of the First World War getting together to commemorate their dead, but also to talk of times past, and needless to say the tradition forged during the war made a comeback during these catch-ups," Pegram said.

So on Monday when you 'head 'em up', think back to our troops and be thankful.

Lest we forget.

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