The sound of a lone bugler playing the Last Post brings with it a sadness, it’s a poignant piece of music we have all come to associate with loss and grief.
But it wasn’t always like this…
The Last Post was first published in the 1790’s, just one of the few dozen bugle calls sounded daily in British army camps to notify the troops of their daily duties.
Reveille to Last Post.
At that time soldiers didn’t have wrist watches, so order was given to their day in the form of a bugle call which told them when to get up, eat their meals, get on parade and go to bed.
The soldiers’ day began with Reveille and ended with the First Post. The first post indicated that the duty officer was beginning his inspection of the sentry-posts. After the inspection the Last Post sounded which simply meant that the last sentry post had been inspected and the camp was secure for the night.
A Military Goodbye
It was not until the 1850’s that another role for the call began to emerge. Before this time many military bandsmen were civilians and didn’t accompany their regiments on overseas postings, so when a soldier died abroad there was often no music to accompany him on his final journey. This gave rise to a new custom – charging the regimental bugler to sound the Last Post over the grave. It was played countless times at funerals and memorials back home, becoming a familiar sound. But, with mass enlistment and conscription, a piece of music that had once belonged solely to the military was adopted by the nation and since WW1 it has become a sacred anthem.
Over the years, the Last Post has changed in its performance; notes are held longer, the pauses extended and the expression more mournful. It now lasts 75 seconds instead of the 45 seconds it used to take to mark the end of the day.
And so, a once jaunty piece of music is now full of memory and sadness and for most people regarded as a most fitting tribute to a fallen soldier, to mark the end of duty, time for rest.
Written by Sandra Ellis. Citizen Curator at Cornwall’s Regimental Museum