Call to remember
We associate the mournful bugle call of The Last Post with death and remembrance. But just how did a short piece of music dating from the 1700s come to have such resonance?
According to writer and cultural historian Alwyn Turner in a documentary broadcast on Armistice Day, we need to look back to the 1850s to begin to answer this question. This was when a call that had previously been used to indicate a camp was secured for the night began to be played at military funerals. Rather than marking the end of the day, the The Last Post began to be used to mark the end of a soldier’s life.
Over the years, musicians slowed the call down, so that the original 45-second piece lasted 30 seconds longer, but without anyy additional notes. The call also began to be played at memorial services including for non-military personnel.
Its association with the Great War, is in part down to grim repetition. Funerals were conducted at dawn and dusk on the Western Front, and young buglers, played the piece again and again. The negative connotations of this made some wary. On Armistice Day 1919, it was played at the end of an unofficial parade by wounded soldiers, including the blind and men on crutches. Lord Curzon, who organised official events on the day, didn’t approve: “Armistice Day is not a day of national grief.” The public didn’t agree, which is why we now hear the call every year.
Drawing on interviews and readings, and telling the full story of The Last Post for the first time, Turner also charts how it came to symbolise the end of the empire, yet also found a role in newly independent nations – it was played at the funerals of both Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.
The Last Postt is played as a serviceman is laid to rest