Well known across the world, the strains of the Last Post remind us of the cost of freedom and the courage of men at war. But what exactly is the origin of this haunting music? Truth is, there are many versions –
The sound of a lone bugler playing the Last Post has become one of the most distinctive sounds in the world. Eerie and evocative, it exists beyond all the usual barriers of nation, religion, race and class, charged with the memory of generations of the fallen. But it wasn’t always like this. There were many versions:
- “Ich hatt’ einen Kameraden” (“I had a comrade”), the Germanand Austrian equivalent for military funerals
- “Il Silenzio” (“Silence”), the Italian equivalent
- “La muerte no es el final” (“Death is not the end”), the Spanish Armed Forces equivalent
- “Reveille“, the United States bugle song sounded at sunrise
- “sonnerie aux morts“, the French Armed Forces equivalent
- “Taps“, the United States Armed Forces equivalent
I came across another one just the other day:
Reportedly, it all began in 1862 during the American Civil War, when Union Army Captain Robert Ellicombe was with his men near Harrison’s Landing in
Virginia. The Confederate Army was on the other side of the narrow strip of land.
During the night, Captain Ellicombe heard the moans of a soldier who lay severely wounded on the field. Not knowing if it was a Union or Confederate soldier, the Captain decided to risk his life and bring the stricken man back for medical attention.
Crawling on his stomach through the gunfire, The Captain reached the stricken soldier and began pulling him towards his encampment.
When the Captain finally reached his own lines, he discovered it was actually a Confederate soldier, but the soldier was dead..
The Captain lit a lantern and suddenly caught his breath and went numb with shock. In the dim light, he saw the face of the soldier…
It was his own son. The boy had been studying music in the South when the war broke out.
Without telling his father, the boy enlisted in the Confederate Army.
The following morning, heartbroken, the father asked permission of his superiors to give his son a full military burial, despite his enemy status.
His request was only partially granted.
The Captain had asked if he could have a group of Army band members play a funeral dirge for his son at the funeral.
The request was turned down since the soldier was a Confederate.
But, out of respect for the father, they did say they could give him only one musician. The Captain chose a bugler.
He asked the bugler to play a series of musical notes he had found on a piece of paper in the pocket of the dead youth’s uniform.
This wish was granted.
The haunting melody, we now know as ‘The Last Post’ used at military funerals was born.
Lest we forget