The Last Post: what is its history and why is it played during Remembrance Day?

Played on the bugle, the Last Post is a poignant tune performed at remembrance services across the world. Jeremy Pound explores its history and significance

The Last Post: what are its origins and when is it played?
Published: September 14, 2021 at 2:01 pm

What is the Last Post?

The Last Post is a short fanfare, traditionally played on a bugle. It usually lasts around a minute and begins with a distinctive interval of a rising perfect fifth (from C to G) which is repeated after a pause.

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What is the origin of the Last Post?

The Last Post has nothing to do with the delivery of letters and parcels. It is, in fact, the bugle call that, from around the 1790s, was traditionally used by the British army to mark the end of the day in a military camp. It would sound when the duty officer did his rounds, ensuring that sentry posts were manned and that soldiers were going to bed, and was one of several such calls that sounded during the day, beginning with the Reveille in the morning. During conflict, it would also be used to mark the end of fighting.

When is the Last Post traditionally played today?

The Last Post has become associated with war remembrance and military funerals. This dates back to the mid-19th century, when it was played at the graves of soldiers who had died in conflict abroad – the idea being that the call of the end of the day also signifies the end of life. Today, it forms a part of ceremonies on Remembrance Sunday, not just at the Cenotaph in London but also right across the UK and Commonwealth.

What is a bugle?

A bugle is a simple brass instrument. Its pitch is altered entirely by the shape of the mouth (embouchure) and its scale consists of just five notes – Middle C, then rising to G, C, E and G. Trumpets and cornets, which are sometimes used to play the Last Post, can vary their pitch further by the use of valves.

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Top image by Getty Images

Authors

Jeremy PoundDeputy Editor, BBC Music Magazine

Jeremy Pound is currently BBC Music Magazine’s Deputy Editor, a role he has held since 2004. Before that, he was the features editor of Classic CD magazine, and has written for a colourful array of publications ranging from Music Teacher to History Revealed, Total Football and Environment Action; in 2018, he edited and co-wrote The King’s Singers: Gold 50th anniversary book.

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