As we approach the end of Armistice Day, it is, perhaps, appropriate to remember the tune most associated with military memorials, The Last Post.
The BBC produce some superb radio documentaries. They have surpassed themselves with “The Last Post” presented by Alwyn W Turner. It tells the story of the tune and describes its extraordinarily wide use, often at national and international occasions and including at the funerals of Sir Winston Churchill and IRA man Bobby Sands. He also mentions the American equivalent, “Taps”, which was played at the funeral of John F Kennedy.
The BBC News website carries a little bit of the story:
The sound of a lone bugler playing the Last Post has become one of the most distinctive sounds in the world. Eerie and evocative, it exists beyond all the usual barriers of nation, religion, race and class, charged with the memory of generations of the fallen. But it wasn’t always like this.
The Last Post was first published in the 1790s, just one of the two dozen or so bugle calls sounded daily in British Army camps.
“At that time soldiers didn’t have wristwatches, so they had to be regulated in camp,” says Colin Dean, archivist at the Museum of Army Music in Kneller Hall. “They had to have a trumpet call or a bugle call to tell them when to get up, when to have their meals, when to fetch the post, when to get on parade, when to go to bed and all other things throughout the day.”
The soldier’s day started with the call of Reveille, and came to a close with the First Post. This indicated that the duty officer was commencing his inspection of the sentry-posts on the perimeter of the camp. The inspection would take about 30 minutes, and at the end there would be sounded the Last Post, the name referring simply to the fact that the final sentry-post had been inspected. For decades this was the sole use of the call, a signal that the camp was now secure for the night, closed till morning.
You can listen to the full documentary, The Last Post, on BBC Radio iPlayer here. It is much recommended.
Please click below to hear the tune played beautifully by Corporal Matthew Creek of the Royal Military College Band at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.