Troops mark Anzac Day at Camp Taji

They fly up the Persian Gulf, past uncertain friends and semi-hostile nations seen out either window of the RAAF Hercules C130, through Iraq’s barren seas of sand to a base just north of Baghdad, where the history of ANZAC rings loud.


Some 300 Australians and 100 New Zealanders have come together for their biggest shared mission since Gallipoli, 101 years ago, joined by a will to do their part ridding the world of the Islamic State.

Among those on this mission to train Iraqis to better skill themselves in fighting the enemy known as Daesh are Australians with direct connections back to ANZAC Cove and the Western Front.

There is Leigh Trevan, 29, from Brisbane, whose great-grandfather Harold Trevan was awarded the Military Cross and Frances Croix de Guerre for his actions in 1917.

A machine gunner, Second Lieutenant Trevan displayed “conspicuous bravery and coolness” by leaving his stricken gun pit, fixing a bayonet and charging solo.

His citation notes he “accounted for a large number of Germans” while being shot twice.

“No, he was not the reason I signed up,” says Ms Trevan, whose grandfather also served in WWII.

“It was never spoken of in my family. All I know is my grandfather had nightmares.

“I joined for the challenge, physically and mentally.”

In the blistering heat of central Iraq, in the fortified Camp Taji compound where IEDs go off outside the walls, and ballistic vests and loaded weapons are mandatory beyond the accommodation area, Ms Trevan and the other Australians are getting that challenge.

Corporal Kenneth Horton’s Scottish great-grandfather James Taylor served in the Boer War and then came to live in Australia, where he went on to fight in Gallipoli.

Between battling the Turkish army, Second Lieutenant Taylor played the bagpipes, and was called upon to pipe too many laments for Australians who fell at Gallipoli.

Corporal Horton, 35, from Mittagong in NSW, tasked to play the pipes at the ANZAC Dawn Service in Camp Taji, says his great-grandfather put his pipes under his bed and “never played them again after the war”.

His father played the pipes with 7RAR, and his uncle plays too, treasuring and putting new life into the old ivory and wooden pipes that stayed under the bed for years.

“It’s the way we tell our history and culture,” says Corporal Horton.

The Iraqi and Afghanistan missions are currently Australia’s most war-like, though this time, following a tradition that goes back to Lawrence of Arabia, the mission is not a combat role.

They seek to help the indigenous Iraqi army to better battle and survive the threat of Daesh, who fight with a kind of formless savagery their great-grandfathers would probably find hard to imagine.