Public enthusiasm for Anzac Day waxed and waned during the 1920s and 1930s. Another war brought much more interest. For some years, crowds flocked to Anzac Day. It was a time to express grief and to show that loved ones had not died in vain.
The outbreak of war in 1939 gave a new meaning to Anzac Day. The commemorations predictably focused on the current war. Speeches appealed for people to follow the 'spirit of Anzac'. Links between the first Anzacs and women and men serving overseas were stressed. During the six years of war, public interest in the day grew, although security concerns meant that large crowds were not encouraged to gather to mark the day.
The events of the Second World War made Anzac Day a time of commemoration of all the wars in which New Zealanders had taken part. Veterans from both world wars now paraded together. The day became inter-generational. Maori veterans were more in evidence too. In all, the day seemed to reflect the ideal of New Zealand as a united community. Attendance at the ceremonies increased; 6000 people attended the dawn service in Auckland in 1957.
Important changes occurred to Anzac Day after the war. In 1949, legislation protected the holiday from becoming 'Mondayised' (being held on the Monday closest to the actual anniversary). This meant that Anzac Day would always be held on 25 April, no matter the day of the week on which it fell.
The commemoration itself changed. The afternoon citizens' service was gradually moved to mid-morning, and the popularity of the dawn service increased. Time, too, had changed the nature of the day, from one of mourning to one of commemoration.
Hotels had long been closed on Anzac Day but Returned Services' Association (RSA) clubrooms were open. In the 1960s people complained about the apparent double standard here. Returned servicemen and women could enjoy their traditional Anzac Day drinking, but the general public was denied access to entertainment in hotels or cinemas. In 1965 the RSA recommended liberalising the afternoon of Anzac Day. From 1967 hotels and, later, shops could open after noon.
The religious aspects of the day were also at issue. For a time the RSA wanted to remove religion from the ceremonies altogether. Roman Catholics were prevented by their own rules from attending such ecumenical services, and many Catholic and Jewish returned service personnel had not attended Anzac Day ceremonies. Protestant churches protested as the day was, in their view, already too secular, but in 1965 churches finally resolved their differences.