Orig­i­nally it told sol­diers camp was se­cure for the night

National Post (National Edition) - - REMEMBRANCE DAY - Bruce Deach­man Post­media News

The tune has only five notes, yet most peo­ple will rec­og­nize it by the time they hear the sec­ond — a G half-note that fol­lows the open­ing C quar­ter-note — an open fifth.

As writ­ten, the mu­sic is in quick time, but it’s usu­ally played much more slowly and solemnly. And that sec­ond note, the G, tied to an­other, shorter G that fol­lows it, should last three times as long as the open­ing C. Ex­cept it doesn’t. Most mu­si­cians hold it even longer, to al­low the mourn­ful­ness and re­mem­brance to fill and colour the note.

When RCMP pipe band bu­gler Charles Arm­strong per­forms it, the G is 10 times as long as the C.

It makes this prom­ise: We will not for­get.

“It’s a very pow­er­ful tune,” says Arm­strong, who has per­formed the Last Post scores of times at cer­e­monies in Canada, Hol­land, Hong Kong and the U.S.

The song, he says, takes lis­ten­ers back in time, “to peo­ple who have gone be­fore you, to Re­mem­brance Days you’ve taken part in. You can feel the cold No­vem­ber breezes blow­ing. It all hits you when you hear the first two notes. That’s all most peo­ple need to hear, and then you start that jour­ney through your mind.”

The Last Post started not in the ceme­ter­ies and ceno­taphs of the war dead, but in Bri­tish mil­i­tary camps and bat­tle­grounds where, be­gin­ning in the 1790s, the tune was just one of many calls that guided sol­diers, who had no means of telling time, through their days.

Typ­i­cally played on a B-flat bu­gle, the camp calls in­di­cated when to wake up, when to eat, when to as­sem­ble in for­ma­tion, when church ser­vices be­gan, when mail or pay was dis­trib­uted, and other ac­tiv­i­ties. On the field of bat­tle, they in­structed sol­diers when to go for­ward, left, right or re­treat, when to com­mence fire and when to cease, when to trot, gal­lop and when to lie down.

His­tor­i­cally played at 10 p.m. from May to the end of Septem­ber, and at 9 p.m. dur­ing the rest of the year, the Last Post told sol­diers the day was done and the camp was se­cure for the night. For sol­diers out­side camp, es­pe­cially those on the field of bat­tle, it sig­nalled the end of fight­ing, and those who were wounded or sep­a­rated from their units were to fol­low its notes to re­turn to safety.

It was typ­i­cally the sec­ond-last call of the day: Lights Out, a call com­prised of the Last Post’s two open­ing notes, played twice, was the day’s fi­nal call.

To­day, the Last Post is as­so­ci­ated al­most ex­clu­sively with mil­i­tary fu­ner­als and Re­mem­brance Day cer­e­monies. It’s an emo­tional oc­ca­sion for both lis­ten­ers and bu­glers.

“If I think about it too much,” he adds, “I can’t play.”

In 2015, he says, when he per­formed the Last Post in a mil­i­tary ceme­tery in Hol­land, he spent some time walk­ing among the head­stones be­fore­hand.

“And at one point I said ‘I can’t do this. I can’t read any more names. They’re all 18 or 19 years old’.”

That shift from a daily call to a for­lorn cry for the dead started in the mid-1800s when Bri­tish mil­i­tary band mem­bers, at the time civil­ians, did not ac­com­pany reg­i­ments over­seas. As a re­sult, when a sol­dier died, the task of play­ing mu­sic at his fu­neral was as­signed to the reg­i­men­tal bu­gler. The Last Post was the ob­vi­ous choice to ac­com­pany the fallen home.

The first known oc­ca­sion of it be­ing played at a sol­dier’s fu­neral was in 1853, in Que­bec, at the burial of a mem­ber of the 71st Reg­i­ment (High­land) Light In­fantry.

Rev. W.B. Clark wrote in a let­ter home to Scot­land: “When the cof­fin was de­posited in the grave, the Last Post was played be­tween ev­ery vol­ley that was fired over it. There is some­thing touch­ing and ap­pro­pri­ate in this. The Last Post is the call that is played at night af­ter all the sol­diers are sup­posed to be in their rooms. And when the sol­dier is placed in his long home, what mu­sic so ap­pro­pri­ate as the Last Post.”

It wasn’t un­til the First World War, dur­ing which more than 1.1 mil­lion Bri­tish Im­pe­rial Forces per­son­nel were killed — in­clud­ing al­most 65,000 Cana­di­ans — that the Last Post seeped into pop­u­lar civil­ian cul­ture by virtue of its sheer ubiq­uity.

When Arm­strong plays at a cer­e­mony, he makes a point of not look­ing at those in at­ten­dance, lest their re­ac­tions af­fect his per­for­mance. “The older peo­ple, ones who have been through the wars, can come close to chok­ing up, and if you’re play­ing for a fam­ily where some­one has just died, the ten­sion is raw.

“It’s a tie to our his­tory. It’s a tie to all those who have gone be­fore. And bit by bit, the things that tie us to our past, the things that tie us to our his­tory, are start­ing to van­ish.

“So I treat each time that I get the chance to play the Last Post as a very spe­cial oc­ca­sion, and I’m just so proud to have the chance to play it, be­cause it’s part of where we came from.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.