Three hundred Australians, 100 Kiwis, 80 British soldiers, a handful of Americans, and one Spanish trooper ignored an invading army of Iraqi mosquitoes to commemorate the first Anzac Day dawn service in Camp Taji, Iraq.
“Anzac Day 2016 is of course a particularly poignant day for the members of task group Taji,” Colonel Gavin Keating, the leading Australian officer in the base, told the bleary eyed crowd.
“Because we celebrate it whilst we’re deployed as an Anzac task group on operations in a place not too far from where it all began.”
Corporal Kenneth Horton, from NSW’s Southern Highlands, played the lament, a mournful rendition of Amazing Grace.
It was not hard to image the same tune drifting through the valleys and ridges of Gallipoli 101 years ago, and even easier considering the Pipe Major’s great grandfather served and played at Gallipoli.
He also played at the World War I victory parade in Sydney.
“He went home, put his pipes under the bed, and never played them again,” Corporal Horton said.
A donated bugle sounded the the Last Post.
Private Alex Ogilvie, 19, from Gladstone in central Queensland, hadn’t played since high school when he arrived in Iraq and was handed the instrument.
Friends say he has spent hours locked in his room practising for what is one of the biggest days of this deployment.
When he’s not bugling, Private Ogilvie is protecting Australian trainers working with Iraqi soldiers who are fighting Islamic State.
His rendition – raw and moving – brought at least one young New Zealand officer to tears.
The crowd instinctively sprung from ‘at ease’ to attention at the first slow, low note.
The Last Post, and what it represents, is both geographically and emotionally close for those who have served in Afghanistan, and lost colleagues and friends.
The minute’s silence seemed to stretch well beyond the allocated time as if to make room for the 41 diggers who never made it home from nearby Afghanistan.
One special guest was an American officer, Major General Gary J Volesky.
The commander of the the US 101st airborne division, he’s in charge of all coalition forces in Iraq, including the Australians and Kiwis.
“Very honoured. Never really had the opportunity to participate in Anzac Day,” he said.
He took the opportunity of a gunfire breakfast, with Colonel Keating and Air Vice Marshall Tim Innes.
The three experienced warriors talked soldiering and drank coffee, but not with the traditional pour of rum.
The Australians blame the Kiwis for this one, small missing ingredient, on what is likely to be the most unique Anzac Day they’ll experience.