Last Post by Robert Graves
The bugler sent a call of high romance—
Lights out! Lights out!” to the deserted square.
On the thin brazen notes he threw a prayer:
God, if it’s this for me next time in France,
O spare the phantom bugle as I lie
Dead in the gas and smoke and roar of guns,
Dead in a row with other broken ones,
Lying so stiff and still under the sky—
Jolly young Fusiliers, too good to die…”
The music ceased, and the red sunset flare
Was blood about his head as he stood there.
A few years ago, when I was still working with an army cadet corps, we took them on a trip to Fort Henry in Kingston. We had a few young men as our guides, and they dressed in the historical kit of the early 19th century garrison. One of them played the bugle, and a cadet, not really knowing what he was asking, asked if the guide could play Last Post for us. This child didn’t know that it wasn’t just another military song, like, the measures of the Maple Leaf Forever or Scotland the Brave that we could just pull out anytime. It’s not a frivolous tune to play, and the ceremony wrapped around that song is sacred.
You’d expect to hear it at Remembrance Day, Armistice Day, Pearl Harbour Day, and D-Day ceremonies. And then, there’s the Menin Gate. At Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium, there is a daily Last Post ceremony. They host a sundown ceremony daily – EVERY DAY – to remember Canadian soldiers who defended the Ypres Salient during the first world war. The Menin Gate is engraved with the names of soldiers who could not be found to be buried in one of the dozens of commonwealth cemeteries in the area around Ypres in Belgium and France.
I was in Ypres for the Last Post ceremony in April a few years ago. Teenagers in our group laid a wreath on behalf of the students and cadets of our region. It was an honour to be able to do this, and very moving to watch. But every day, in the lovely bloom of spring (as when I went), or the chill and blizzard of winter, or the oppressive heat of summer, the residents and guests gather. Every day. Every day there is a remembrance ceremony at the Menin Gate. There is Last Post, and laying of wreaths, and community members from Ypres and area who attend faithfully, as they have every day for 100 years*. That’s over 31,500 times. *During WW2, this area was occupied by German forces, and the Last Post Ceremony was held at Brookwood Cemetery in London. Still counts.
This year, may we be as dedicated to the memory of our fallen as our friends at the Menin Gate have been, and continue to be. May remembrance be more enduring than a fortnight in November.