An Ode to the Fallen

by M-Gillies

The Last Post signals the end of the day when the duty officer returns from the tour of the camp and quarters.

For years, the military has used these calls to signal directions for duty and formations and movements − well before the advent of electronic communications, the military relied on the sound of bugle calls to relay the messages and routines of the day. From early morning to late at night, the sound of the bugle could be heard across Army Forts, regulating the soldiers’ day − but for all the bugle calls that have been used, none are as well-known as the haunting melody of the bugle call known as Last Post.

Long before American buglers sounded the melody of Taps, the British Military had their own ceremonial tune − a song used throughout the British Commonwealth, which has since found its place during Remembrance Day ceremonies and military funerals. It’s a song that has been associated with the signalling of the soldiers’ day’s end and a farewell in remembrance − it is The Last Post and for roughly five centuries has been the standard bugle call in the military.

Dating as far back as the sixteenth century, when in 1544 British buglers would sound their call for posting guards in the Tower of London. However, similar to the lineage of Taps, the Last Post found its origins rooted in the derivatives of a Dutch call from the 1600s known as Taptoe − a melody that would be played to announce to regiment that the beer taps were being closed for the night, marking the end of the day.

It was through this Dutch melody that the British, who had been stationed in Holland and Flanders during this period, would soon adopt the tune of marking the end of the day. Much like the Dutch custom, which signalled the end of the day and to shut off beer barrel taps (Dutch doe den tap toe – Turn the tap off), the British Army adopted the concept.

Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, in the evening, a duty officer was charged with the task of making the rounds of his unit’s position. It was during this task that the officer would proceed from post to post drumming a beat. Each stop along the inspection route would be announced with more of the tune being played until the final notes were sounded as the officer finished his nightly rounds, signalling to the entire company that it was now time to bed down.

As Taps originated during the American Civil War and soon became recognized as symbolic tune to the remembrance of fallen soldiers, the Last Post has also become known an emotionally evocative piece incorporated into military funerals for Commonwealth Nations such as Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, where it is played as a final farewell, symbolizing the duty of the dead soldier is now at an end and that they can rest in peace.

While the tune is commonly performed during military funerals and Remembrance Day ceremonies, it has also been an important fixture at the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium.

The Last Post has been played at the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium every evening at 10p.m. since 1928.

It was during World War I, Ypres occupied a strategic position which would have allowed the Germans to sweep across the remainder of Belgium as part of their Schlieffen Plan to avoid a two-front war. To keep the western tip of Belgium out of German hands, the beleaguered Belgian Army had destroyed the dykes on the Yser River to the north of the city. With British and Commonwealth soldiers often passing through Menin Gate to defend the country, many soldiers’ lives were lost during the three year siege (1914-1918), which further included the Battle of Passchendaele.

With over 300,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers being killed in the Ypres Salient, 90,000 of whom have no known graves, Menin Gate soon became known as a recognized war memorial dubbed the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing.

Following its opening in 1927, the citizens of Ypres wanted to express their gratitude toward those who had given their lives for Belgium’s freedom, and began a daily tradition of having buglers sound the Last Post every evening at 2000 (10pm) under the memorial. Since that day, the tradition has been carried on with the exception of a four year interruption during the Nazi occupation of Belgium in WWII. However, when the surrounding area of Menin Gate was cleared of German defenders in the fall of 1944, the town’s folk immediately resumed the evening ritual, in spite of much of the town still being held in enemy hands.


Similarly to Taps, the last call also has lyrics associated with its call, which read:

Come home! Come home! The last post is sounding for you to hear
All good soldiers know very well there is nothing to fear
While they do what is right, and forget all the worries
They have met in their duties through the year.

A soldier cannot always be great, but he can be a gentleman
and he can be a right good pal to his comrades in his squad.
So all you soldiers listen to this -
Deal fair by al and you’ll never be amiss.

Be Brave! Be Just! Be Honest and True Men.

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