Last Post Anzac Day is upon us once more - the hot cross buns disappear from supermarket shelves and card tables are unfolded on street corners to sell commemorative pins and poppies. Medals are polished, suits pressed, and Anzac biscuit recipes dug out in anticipation of parades, services, and remembrance times across the nation. Anzac Day is steeped in rituals and reflection, and many of them would be vastly different without the presence of music and solemn performance.

There are several significant pieces of music associated with commemorative services, but few are as haunting and poignant as the playing of The Last Post. For the greater public, this piece of music is most bound to Anzac Day, however its origins are entrenched in military tradition. The piece itself is played on a bugle – a brass trumpet-like instrument that has no valves or keys and is used predominantly for military signalling. The tones can be varied by the vibration of the lips against the mouthpiece, and different groups of tones – or ‘bugle calls’ - are used for different purposes. 

The Last Post is the third in a trilogy of bugle calls made to a unit that mark the key points of the day’s activities. The First Post lets the unit know the duty officer is on the move, checking various things on their rounds such as what positions are manned, who needs to be sent off duty and so on. When these rounds are completed, another bugle call is made and finally, the Last Post lets the whole unit know the end of the day’s rounds are complete, and the activities of the day are finished. This last bugle call has been co-opted over time and used in funerals, memorials, and commemorations. It not only marked the final farewell, but also symbolised that duty had come to an end – that the dead were now at the end of their service and could rest in peace. This is the foundation for the inclusion of The Last Post in various commemorations such as Anzac Day and Remembrance Day. 

There are several factors that determine how the bugler is chosen to play The Last Post on Anzac Day. Many ADF personnel or veterans are also members of military bands and, depending on their instrument of origin, may have picked up the bugle as various performances and events demanded it. As a member of a military band, there are several ceremonial pieces that are essential to learn, as well as traditional pieces that would have been passed down by more experienced buglers or mentors. Geographical location and experience would also factor into the selection, along with the bugler’s understanding and reverence for the commemoration itself. The Last Post is played towards the end of the Anzac Day ceremony and is followed by a minute or two of silence.      

There is a very moving Last Post ceremony held every day at 4.30pm at the Australian War Memorial that includes the Australian National Anthem, a piper playing a Lament, and the laying of floral tributes. The story is told of someone from the Roll of Honour and the Last Post is played in conclusion. The ceremony is streamed live every day and it and previous ceremonies can be viewed on a dedicated AWM Last Post YouTube channel

For those wanting to organise their own Anzac Day commemorative event, the Australian Government’s Department of Veterans’ Affairs has a handy Anzac Day Kitbag that includes all the resources you’ll need to host an Anzac Day ceremony in your community.  

If you are a veteran, know a veteran or are the family member of a veteran who is going through difficulties, you can contact the Australian Government’s Department of Veterans’ Affairs for assistance or contact us at Carry On and we can point you in the right direction.