What is The Last Post and why is it played on Remembrance Day?

9 November 2021, 16:27

Bugler sounds the Last Post
Bugler sounds the Last Post. Picture: Alamy

By Sophia Alexandra Hall

Usually played on a trumpet or bugle, The Last Post is a musical ‘call’ associated with military ceremonies and wartime remembrance.

The Last Post is one of the most distinctive melodies in the world.

The famous tune is usually played on a trumpet, cornet, or bugle, and is often performed in remembrance.

It is also performed at Commonwealth Military Funerals, as well as on Remembrance Day in the Commonwealth, and Anzac Day in Australia and New Zealand.

Read more: Music for Remembrance Day – listen to 14 reflective pieces of classical music

There are only three notes in the entirety of The Last Post; the tonic, the mediant, and the fifth. This is usual for military pieces, as this type of music had to be played on instruments, such as bugles, which have no valves.

Consequently, there are no valves required to play the tune, meaning the instrumentalist will use their lip position (embouchure) to change the pitch of the notes.

Bugle scale
Bugle scale. Picture: Wikimedia Commons

What are the origins of The Last Post?

Although The Last Post is now associated with remembrance, the musical call was originally a signal sounding that the final sentry post had been inspected in a military camp inspection, and the area was secure for the night.

It was also sounded at the end of battle, so that the injured on the battlefield knew it was safe to move and retreat back to their troops to get help.

During the 19th century, the music was elongated, with pauses added to this call to make it more mournful and appropriate for remembrance purposes. After the one-minute silence which follows the The Last Post in a remembrance ceremony, the Reveille is played, which is a similar three-note tune, to mark the end of the silence.

The music was later incorporated into military funerals and played as a final farewell to symbolise that the duty of the fallen soldier was over and they could rest in peace.

Read more: Singers virtually unite for charity single on Remembrance Sunday

Buglers at WWI Last Post Ceremony under Menin Gate Memorial to commemorate British First World War One soldiers, Ypres, Belgium
Buglers at WWI Last Post Ceremony under Menin Gate Memorial to commemorate British First World War One soldiers, Ypres, Belgium. Picture: Alamy

When is The Last Post performed?

The Last Post is performed every evening at 8pm in the town of Ypres, Belgium, by the buglers of the local Last Post Association.

The group of buglers play The Last Post at the Menin Gate, in a tradition which started almost 100 years ago in 1928, to remember the soldiers who fell in the First World War.

In London, the piece is also performed daily for a different reason. The over 770-year-old Ceremony of the Keys is the ancient ceremonial ritual of locking and unlocking of the gates of the Tower of London.

At 10pm every evening, after the Chief Yeoman Warder has locked the gates, a bugler plays The Last Post before the military personnel are dismissed from the ceremony.

Ceremony of the Keys: Tower of London
Ceremony of the Keys: Tower of London. Picture: Alamy