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), and is used at Commonwealth military funerals, and ceremonies commemorating those who have been killed in war. Its duration varies typically from a little over one minute to nearly three minutes. For ceremonial use, the Last Post is often followed by "The Rouse", or less usually the longer "Reveille".
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 "First Post" call signals the start of the duty officer's inspection of a British Army camp's sentry posts, sounding a call at each one. The "Last Post" call originally signalled merely that the final sentry post had been inspected, and the camp was secure for the night. 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 ritualised night vigil. The Last Post as played at the end of inspection typically lasted for about 45 seconds; when played ceremonially with notes held for longer, pauses extended, and the expression mournful, typical duration could be 75 seconds or more.
This custom dates from the 17th century or earlier. It 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. The taptoe was also used to signal the end of the day, but originated from a signal 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". The Dutch bugle call Taptoesignaal, now used for remembrance events, is not the same tune as the Last Post.
The "Last Post" was used by British forces in North America in colonial times, but was replaced by the different "Taps" by the United States Army, first used in 1862 and officially recognized in 1874.
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 they 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, it is expected that no salute is given during the "Last Post" and Silence, as all personnel will have removed head dress as in church service prayer, have heads bowed, weapons inverted, and 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 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, sometimes seen in fire brigade uniform, are members of the fire brigade representing the Last Post Association, who organizes the events. The Last Post Association uses both silver B♭ bugles and E♭ cavalry trumpets, with either British Army tradition being respected during services at the gate.
The Last Post ceremony has now been held more than 30,000 times. On 9 July 2015, a ceremony titled A tribute to the tribute took place to commemorate the 30,000th ceremony.
The origins of the words for the Last Post are lost to history , but are recorded as follows:
"Come home! Come home!
The last post is sounding for you to hear.
All good soldiers know very well there is nothing to fear while they do what is right, and forget all the worries they have met in their duties through the year.
A soldier cannot always be great, but he can be a gentleman and he can be a right good pal to his comrades in his squad.
So all you soldiers listen to this—Deal fair by all and you’ll never be amiss.
Be Brave! Be Just!
Be honest and True Men!"
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 in the movement entitled Small Town, in Peter Sculthorpe's 1963 chamber orchestra work 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.
"The Last Post" is the title of a theatre play by David Owen Smith and Peter Came performed during Armistice Week at Lincoln Drill Hall, Lincoln in November 2014. The play concerns the Beechey family of Lincoln, UK. Amy Beechey had eight sons who all enlisted to fight during the First World War; only three of them survived. The bugle call is played during the final moments of the play. The play was directed by Janie Smith and performed by people of Lincoln.