A Wairarapa historian says the claim that Tinui hosted the first ever Anzac Day service "deserves some scrutiny".

Tinui's Mt Maunsell is believed to have been the site of the world's first Anzac Day service, on Tuesday, April 25, 1916.

Military historian Neil Frances of the Wairarapa Archives said throughout New Zealand there were memorial services, and some memorials would have been held on the Sunday prior because that was Easter Sunday in 1916.

About 1500 people turned out for last year's Anzac service in Tinui.
About 1500 people turned out for last year's Anzac service in Tinui.

On April 25, 1916, schools were already taking the day off because it was Easter Tuesday.

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At 7.30am, the Reverend Basil Ashcroft officiated at the Church of the good Shepherd for a brief service, but because of the date, "he would have gone down there anyway", Mr Frances contends.

While there, Mr Ashcroft "gathered a little group" who trekked with a large wooden cross to the top of Mt Maunsell, overlooking Tinui, to erect a memorial cross that was visible from the village.

This was possibly the first public Anzac memorial cross to have been erected, and it was replaced some years later with the aluminium cross that stands there today.

"He was back in time to do a proper service in the afternoon," Mr Frances said.

This service was an Anzac memorial service, held in the Tinui Hall rather than the church because of the number of people expected.

In those days the hall was across the road from the church, rather than next to the school where it is today.

The erection of the Anzac Cross is what marks Tinui out as a significant site for the history of Anzac Day in New Zealand, Mr Frances said.

The major difference between Anzac Day 100 years ago and today, however, is that in 1916 the war was still continuing.

"This year, really, it is the centenary of the celebration of Anzac Day," Mr Frances said.

He said the first Anzac services, in 1916, were "very specifically" for those initial Gallipoli fallen, "because the war was still going on".

"It is really much later that it came to commemorate people who had died or served New Zealand in wars down the years."

Mr Frances said even during World War I, Anzac Day was recognised by New Zealand and Australian troops serving overseas.

For those not on the front lines, "I think it was celebrated as something of a sports day," Mr Frances said.

"New Zealanders and Australians certainly saw it as an event they would in some way commemorate."

In a Wairarapa collection of photographs there is evidence of some commemoration of Anzac Day at an English hospital used for the convalescence of Australian and New Zealand troops.

In the home nations, "the Australian government certainly commemorated it earlier and we sort of followed," Mr Frances said.

"I get the feeling that [the New Zealand government] was pushed by the population to do it."

The fact the war was still ongoing in 1916 was reflected in the way the government of the day encouraged some sort of Anzac Day remembrance service in the afternoon, followed in the evening by a recruitment drive calling for more Anzac soldiers to serve their country overseas.