How Did the Last Post Become Associated with Remembrance Day?
On the 11th day of the 11th month, at the 11th hour, a bugle player solemnly plays the tune of the Last Post on a windy morning at the cenotaph of the unknown soldier. Canadians in schools, workplaces, and their homes observe a moment of silence to commemorate those who paid with their lives while serving their country. Many places around the world also have similar ceremonies taking place. So how did the Last Post become closely associated with Remembrance Day? To find out, we need to take a peek at British military history.
In the 1700s the British military used the bugle to communicate with its troops on and off the battlefield. Different tunes were used to signal to troops regular events like mealtimes, wake-up time, and the start of religious services. The Last Post was the name of the bugle call that signalled to troops that the last soldier in charge of standing guard had been inspected and that the garrison or encampment was deemed safe for the night. On the battlefield, the Last Post was used to mark the end of fighting for the day and as a beacon to communicate to troops and those that were separated from the group to follow the sound to find safety.
The first documented occurrence of the Last Post being played at a military funeral was in 1853 for a soldier who died in Quebec. The Last Post symbolized that the soldier had finished his final inspection and could now rest. Playing the Last Post over a soldier’s grave became increasingly accepted as a part of military funerals but it still wasn’t familiar to civilians until the Boer War in the early 1900s. In the past, the British would build a statue to commemorate the victor. However, the Boer War was the event that would see over 600 war memorials constructed listing the names of soldiers who died in service to their country. As war memorials were unveiled in English cities and small towns, the mournful notes of the Last Post would be played. Civilians throughout England would come to associate the Last Post with remembering and honouring the soldiers who have died in the line of duty.
It was World War I (July 28, 1914 - November 11, 1918), that introduced the Last Post to the larger population. Over 1 million soldiers died fighting for the United Kingdom. Canada, a very young country at the time, sent over 650 000 to help with the war effort and lost nearly 65 000 to the war. With so many dead, the Last Post could be heard at memorials and gravesites across Europe and at memorial sites built in the hometowns of the soldiers across the world.
Today, the United Kingdom and many Commonwealth nations commemorate the fallen soldiers on Remembrance Day by playing the Last Post followed by a moment of silence. While the poppy is a visual reminder of the sacrifices that strangers have made for our country, the Last Post is an auditory reminder of the ultimate price paid for our freedoms.