The missing sounds of military commemorations

If people think of the most characteristic sound of a military ceremony, they probably imagine it to be a bugle sounding the Last Post. Yet Ashburton’s earliest ANZAC, and later Armistice, day commemorations were silent in this respect.

The Last Post is the final call regulating a soldier’s day, and no doubt the most welcome – to prepare for rest. The regulatory calls were the soldiers’ wrist-watch; from the early morning Reveille, through parade calls, meal calls, to the fragmentary two-note ‘Lights Out’ a little after the Last Post.

Many New Zealand buglers of WW1 began their training in the pre-war cadet movement. Even junior cadet companies had buglers whose abilities were tested in competitions. After furthering their experience in the senior cadets and territorials, there was body of skilled players nationwide at the outbreak of war. Few, if any, New Zealand regiments departed without several buglers attached to the individual companies.

The Last Post has become detached from its original function- this was a two-step move. Even before WW1 it had become the final tribute at a military funeral, sounded across the open grave, not signalling the end of a day but the end of a life.

1. Bugle in Museum collection

How many times would it have been heard that way, from Egypt to England, during the war years? But the call might also be sounded belatedly – at the dedication of a home-town memorial. Whatever the case, the essential element of an individual tribute was retained.

In Ashburton, the Last Post was heard at military funerals of returned soldiers from 1916. It was first sounded in June at the funeral of Corporal J Pickering. In October 1918, four buglers from the Senior Cadets sounded the call at the memorial service for Captain A J Childs in St Stephen’s Church.

Further change came when commemorations began. The Last Post was sounded as a tribute for all fallen soldiers. In the public arena it became more and more familiar and ultimately one of the most characteristic sounds of ANZAC Day.

However, in Ashburton it was first heard only in the ANZAC service of 1919 as the military protocol of the local commemorations loosened, after Armistice and as the war’s end approached.

                                                                              The first Last Post

3. School CadetsFittingly, that first Last Post was sounded by DH Moore- A bugler in the Ashburton High School cadets, and then the Ashburton Guards, who was among the earliest Ashburton enlistments and sailed with the first reinforcements. Moore saw service at Gallipoli in the first weeks of the campaign, where he bore arms, as did all buglers, and was wounded and returned to Ashburton in 1915.

Back home, Moore became closely associated with the Last Post. He played the call again in 1920, and very likely at the first service at the Soldiers’ plot in the cemetery in 1921, and was in the ensemble of buglers at that year’s afternoon ceremony in the Domain.

Since then many have played the Last Post at Ashburton’s commemorations. Venues have changed, and the bugle has often been replaced by the cornet. Yet that “call of remembrance”, as the Guardian described it in 1921, still makes its impact and its tribute is unaltered.

The volley

The companion to the Last Post at the close of a service, a salute of three volleys from a firing party, was also transferred from the ceremonial of a military funeral. Again there was the widening of the personal tribute. Like the Last Post, the sound of the volleys was missing from Ashburton’s earliest commemorations and appeared as military protocol lessened.

2. war veteransA firing party was to be included in the Domain ANZAC service in 1920 but wet weather forced the service into the Arcade. While the Last Post may have benefitted from the building’s resonance, rifle shots would have overwhelmed. There was no difficulty next year. The firing party from the 2nd (S.C.) Infantry Regiment did its duty.

Eventually the Domain ANZAC service moved to an in-door venue. The volleys then became part of the commemorations at the Soldiers’ Plot and for many years firing parties came from the High and Technical Schools’ cadets.

Brian W Pritchard



  1. Bugle, which originally belonged to Ashburton Volunteers 1908, now in the collection at Ashburton Museum.
  2. A Group photo Gallipoli veterans, outside the first weatherboard RSA building. Bugler Dave Moore is at the left of the middle row.
  3. Borough school cadets, 1901, with bugler in front.









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