‘The Last Post’ Origins Lost?

Last PostFOUR   MONTHS AGO, I  POSTED  BOUT  THE ‘nuisance’  of WhatApp forwards  (Forwarded As Received, Feb. 24) being  sent by people without even  verification. So when a friend forwarded a message about the ‘Last Post‘ played by buglers at military funerals, I ‘Googled’  to find out more.

The serious-minded lady associated with social work is specially interested in holding events to pay tributes to martyrs and promote welfare of and respect to the uniformed men who lay down lives for their country.

Her post said the ‘Last Post ‘ played by military bands at funerals of armed forces men  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 toward his encampment.Final salute

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.He  had asked if  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 and asked him to play the  musical notes he had found on a piece of paper in the pocket of his son’s uniform. This wish was granted. 

The haunting melody, now known as ‘The Last Post’ used at military funerals was, according to her ‘forward’ born. The words are:

Day is done.
Gone the sun..
From the lakes
From the hills.
From the sky.
All is well.
Safely rest.
God is nigh.

Fading light.
Dims the sight.
And a star.
Gems the sky.
Gleaming bright.
From afar..
Drawing nigh.
Falls the night..

Thanks and praise. 
For our days. 
Neath the sun 
Neath the stars. 
Neath the sky 
As we go. 
This we know. 
God is nigh

Her post said he (meaning the friend whose message she forwarded) came to know the wording of the song only recently and was moved by it  The music was a fit tribute to those who lost lives or were injured  while serving their country.  “Also remember those who have served and returned; And for those presently serving in the Armed Forces,” she added..

The information was not known to me before and it really moved me. I wanted to learn more and add to it and make a post that would really inspire many. I was in a for a surprise.

In 0.58 seconds I received about 2,29,00,000 search results. Not one of them confirmed  my friend’s post. The few I opened told a different story. The Wikipedia  entry said “Last Post” is a poem written by Carol Ann Duffy, not the young Confederate soldier.

“It was commissioned by the BBC to mark the d eaths of Henry Allingham and Harry Patch, two of the last three surviving British veterans from the First World War, and was first broadcast on the BBC Radio 4  programme Today on 30 July 2009, when Allingham’s  funeral was held.

Carol Ann Duffy,the first woman to be appointed as UK’s Poet Laureate in May 2009, She was asked by the BBC Radio 4  programme Today to write a poem to mark the deaths of Henry Allingham and Harry Patch. The poem was read on Today  by Carol Duffy  on 30 July 2009, for the funeral of Allingham, who was with the Royal Naval Air Service before becoming a founder member of the Royal Air Force.

He had died on 18 July 2009 at the age of 113. Patch, the last surviving man to have fought in the trenches in the war, died on 25 July 2009 at the age of 111. Wikipedia took care to say its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations, At another point it said” This section needs additional citations for verification.”

But it does not mention, even with such qualifications, about it being of American origin.

The same Wikipedia says at another  place: “During the 19th century, the ‘Last Post’ was also carried to the various countries of the British Empire. In all these countries, it has been incorporated into military funerals, where it is played as a final farewell, denoting the end the duty of the dead soldier  and that they can rest in peace.

It also says: “The Last Post was first published in the 1790s, just one of the two dozen or so bugle calls sounded daily in British Army camps.

‘Last Post’ is used in public ceremonials commemorating the war dead, particularly on Remembrance Day in the Commonwealth of Nations. It is also played on Anzac Day of  the Australia New Zealand Army Corps which fought against the Ottoman Empire.

Since 1928, the “Last Post” has been played every evening at 8 p.m. by buglers of the local Last Post Association at the war memorial at Ypres in Belgium known as the Menin Gate, commemorating the British soldiers killed in the Battle of Ypres during the  World War I

The BBC  has also put out another theory.  It was written by Arthur Lane, a bugler in the British Army when he was captured by Japanese forces during the fall of Singapore in 1942. He spent the remainder of World War II in PoW camps.

He is quoted as saying: “I’d have to go and set the fires at the crematorium. The lads would build them during the day, put the bodies on, and then somebody had to be delegated to set fire to the funeral pyres, and see that they were properly burnt, so I had to do that.”

He had to play the ‘Last Post’ there.  For the rest of his long life, he was haunted by nightmares. And he never played the Last Post again.

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:

Many sources confirm that ‘Taps’ is used as the US bugle tune at military funerals

The Last Post was first published in the 1790s, just one of the two dozen or so bugle .calls sounded daily in British Army camps. In the early days when soldiers had no wrist watches, bugles were sounded in army camps and barracks to indicate the to time to wake up, go for lunch, go for exercises and to  mark the end of the day, each a distinct tune. The last was the ‘Last Post’.

One last thought I had was about the Indian equivalent   of the Last Post. Do we have one?    The Indian Army magazine ‘Salute to the Indian Soldier’ says it is a 17th Century   British Army, while whoever sent the post forwarded by my friend lifted it fully from IDR (Indian Defence Review) blog of August 13, 2014,  We  seem to be  still slavishly using the British tune. If so, will the new government think of creating a new one?

Pradeep’s Jara  Ankhonme Bharlo Paani”  sung by Lata Mangeshkar, which moved Nehru to tears, comes to the mind, but Indian tradition considers a valiant, brave death  – the ultimate glory not something to shed tears at. And will it suit the bugle?

Will any reader think – and reply?


































Published by

B. Someswar Rao

60 years of journalism, from the age of 16, and two books later, life has so much more to offer, there is no looking back. Not yet. Unstoppable after 70 is a simple expression of my thoughts, my triumphs, my failures and everything that makes this journey incredible. My books: - A TOWN CALLED PENURY- the changing culture of Indian journalism - JOURNALISM - Ethics, Codes, Laws Working on: - 'THE OUTHOUSE ON THE FIRST FLOOR - Coming of (Old)Age in India'

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