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The "Last Post" is either a B♭ bugle call within British Infantry regiments or an E♭ cavalry trumpet call in British Cavalry and Royal Regiment of Artillery (Royal Horse Artillery and Royal Artillery) used at Commonwealth military funerals and ceremonies commemorating those who have been killed in war.
The two regimental traditions have separate music for the call (see Trumpet & Bugle Calls for the British Army 1966). While the B♭ infantry bugle version is better known, the E♭ cavalry trumpet version is used by the state trumpeters of the Household Cavalry.
The "Last Post" call (2nd Post) is used in British Army camps to signal the end of day when the duty officer returns from the tour of the camp and quarters. The "First Post" call marks the start of the inspection. The names are derived from the practice of inspecting all the sentry posts around such a camp at the end of the day, and playing a call at each of them.
In addition to its normal garrison use, the Last Post call had another function at the close of a day of battle. It signalled to those who were still out and wounded or separated that the fighting was done, and to follow the sound of the call to find safety and rest. Its use in Remembrance Day ceremonies in Commonwealth nations has two generally unexpressed purposes: The first is an implied summoning of the spirits of the Fallen to the cenotaph, the second is to symbolically end the day, so that the period of silence before the Rouse is blown becomes in effect a ritualized night vigil.
This custom dates from at least the 17th century, and originated with British troops stationed in The Netherlands, where it drew on an older Dutch custom, called taptoe, from which comes the term Tattoo as in Military tattoo, and also the term Taps. The taptoe was also used to signal the end of the day, but has more prosaic origin. Taptoe originated signalling the moment that beer taps had to be shut, hence that the day had ended. It comes from the Dutch phrase Doe den tap toe, meaning "Close the tap": however the Dutch bugle call Taptoesignaal, now used for remembrance events, is not the same tune as the Last Post. Neither Last Post nor Taptoesignaal is to be confused with the U.S. call "Taps", which has a similar function but different tune and origin.
The "Last Post" was used by British forces in North America in colonial times, but its function was taken over in the United States by "Taps", which has been used by the United States Army since 1862.
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, symbolising the fact that the duty of the dead soldier is over and that he can rest in peace.
"Last Post" is used in public ceremonials commemorating the war dead, particularly on Remembrance Day in the Commonwealth of Nations. In Australia and New Zealand it is also played on Anzac Day usually before the two-minute silence, which concludes with "The Rouse".
When the post is played during services such as Anzac Day it is required of all current serving military members to salute for the duration of the call. During services organised by the Royal British Legion the recommendation is that no salute is given by either officers or troops as during the "Last Post" and Silence the recommendation is that all troops will have removed head dress (as in church service prayer), have heads bowed, weapons inverted, with flags and standards lowered.
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 Ieper (Ypres) in Belgium known as the Menin Gate, commemorating the British Empire dead at the Battle of Ypres during the First World War. The only exception to this was during the four years of the German occupation of Ypres from 20 May 1940 to 6 September 1944, when the ceremony moved to Brookwood Cemetery in England. On the evening that Polish forces liberated Ypres, the ceremony was resumed at the Menin Gate, in spite of the heavy fighting still going on in other parts of the town. These buglers or trumpeters are quite often mistaken as being from the local fire brigade; however, they are present every day representing the Last Post Committee. They are indeed members of the fire brigade, and can sometimes be seen wearing the uniforms, but it is not the Fire Brigade that organizes "Last Post". The Last Post Committee have both silver B♭ bugles and E♭ cavalry trumpets with either British Army tradition being respected at services at the gate.
The Last Post ceremony has now been held more than 29,000 times; its 30,000th occurrence is scheduled for 9 July 2015.
The "Last Post" was incorporated into the finale of Robert Steadman's In Memoriam, a choral work on the subject of remembrance. It is also incorporated into Karl Jenkins's orchestral mass The Armed Man and Peter Sculthorpe's chamber orchestra work, Small Town from the Fifth Continent. A slightly altered version forms part of the slow movement of the Pastoral Symphony of Ralph Vaughan Williams and the ending of Mike Sammes' choral setting of Laurence Binyon's poem For the Fallen.
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