Few New Zealanders are unmoved on April 25th, ANZAC day, by the haunting sound of the lone bugle playing the Last Post and what it represents. Steeped in history and tradition it is ingrained into every Kiwi’s heart and everyone of us can share a story of what it means to us and our families.
The custom dates from the 17th century or perhaps even earlier. It is believed to have originated with British Troops stationed in the Netherlands who drew on an older Dutch customer of Taptoe, from which the term Tattoo in Military Tattoo is derived. It was a bugle call to signal the end of the day, that the final sentry post had been inspected and in times of active battle, it signalled the end of the day’s fighting and for those who were wounded or separated to hear the call and follow it to find safety and rest.
Its use in Remembrance Day ceremonies in nations of the Commonwealth has developed over time to have two purposes. The first is an implied summoning of the spirits of the fallen to the cenotaph and the second, a time of silence to symbolically remind us all that the war ended but to never forget those involved. The Last Post is played at dawn and daytime services on April 25th throughout New Zealand and is the thing that binds us all together to remind us of our fallen heroes and the debt we owe to them for our freedoms.
Even last year, when the country was in the grip of a full Level 4 lockdown, kiwi ingenuity saw thousands of us all gather at dawn at our letterboxes to salute the fallen. For those lucky enough to be near Eden Park last Anzac Day, the strains of the Last Post may have indeed still been heard played through the hazy pink tones of a rising sun. Despite the lockdown and maintaining all correct social distancing measures, Andrew McDowall played a very special bugle in a silent and empty stadium as part of an organised initiative by a local Scout group who usually gathered together every Anzac Day.
The Bugle he played and has played many times over at is a family heirloom manufactured in 1941 by Indian Bugle Company Nadir Ali & Co that came into the McDowall family some decades ago. Itself a bastion of history, the family has been told many stories about it, some that can be substantiated and some that add to the mystery and prestige of such a historical item.
“The story goes that it was found on a beach as part of the retreat, but whether is was Dunkirk or not we haven’t been able to confirm or deny. But we do know that on Dunkirk during the retreat there were three regiments of the British-Indian Army, so it is entirely possible that it was dropped in the melee that ensued.” says Ron, Andrew’s father.
Nadir Ali and Co has manufactured brass band instruments since 1885 and was a regular supplier to the regiments of the British Indian Army. Its easy to imagine how many of their instruments ended up in regiments in the war and were used by those who could play them as tools to bring a little cheer to what was otherwise a very dire situation for many of the troops.
This Anzac day, with New Zealand enjoying freedoms that the rest of the world can only envy, Andrew will again play the bugle at Eden Park for the dawn service. The haunting echoes of which will hopefully be absorbed by the crowd in the stadium gathered to remember the fallen, not just from Gallipoli but from all the wars and conflicts our men and women have been involved in.
The Bugle he played and has played many times over at is a family heirloom manufactured in 1941 by Indian Bugle Company Nadir Ali & Co that came into the McDowall family some decades ago.