The 30,000th Last Post Ceremony

Many of you who have joined me on a battlefield tour of World War One will have stood with me at The Menin Gate for the Last Post Ceremony.  It has always been a highlight and for most a very memorable event.  But recently they had one of the most memorable evenings ever as the ceremony was performed for the 30,000th time!

Read this exclusive report by Paul Foster:

The Last Post Association (LPA) organised the most magnificent event to commemorate the 30,000th playing of the Last Post.  The evening began with a programme of speeches and music as Benoit Mottrie, Chairman of the Last Post Association, welcomed everyone before giving a short history of the association and spoke movingly of the daily act of remembrance at the Menin Gate. He also reminded us all that no-one had done more to keep it going than Guy Gruwez who had served as Chairman for forty years, during a period when few people were interested in visiting the battlefields let alone attending the Menin Gate ceremony.

When Dr Brendan Nelson (Director of the Australian War Memorial) spoke he highlighted the importance of the Last Post ceremony to the many families over the years who could never visit a grave or memorial; he also spoke of the Seabrook family who lost three sons in one action and how their mother, Fanny, wrote on many occasions to ask for information about George and Theo whose bodies were lost, unlike William who died in Remy Sidings a few hours after his brothers.

Brendan then brought together all the (then) Dominion countries, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and India, as well the home countries of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, as he reminded us of Captain Will Longstaff; who the night before the inauguration of the Menin Gate met Mrs Mary Horsburgh and asked her if he could be of any assistance.  ‘No’ she replied ‘I just want to be with my dear boys.  I can feel them all around me’ she said stood near Hellfire Corner at midnight.  That encounter, plus the emotions the next day along with Lord Plumer’s comment ‘They are not missing — they are here’ inspired him to paint Menin Gate At Midnight.

Following a number of other speeches along with music we were taken by bus to the Menin Gate, as we travelled the streets of Ypres were packed as was the market square, bands had been playing and a huge TV screen allowed everyone to follow proceedings.  Wim Opbrouck was the Master of Ceremonies for the evening he stood ready to go as HM Queen Matilde of the Belgians arrived and a few minutes later the buglers marched into position and played the ‘Call to Attention’.

Benoit addressed the gathering with words of welcome and led tributes to his colleagues both past and present.  There was then utter and complete silence under the Menin Gate as the buglers played the ‘Last Post’ for the 30,000th time.  As their notes echoed under the Menin Gate the Last Post was simultaneously played at Westminster Abbey, Hillsborough Castle and Cardiff Castle.  The Exhortation was then given by Ben Roberts-Smith VC, from Canberra.

Following the minute’s silence, a lament was played by a piper at Edinburgh Castle as the wreaths were laid, first tribute was laid by Queen Matilde, followed by the Ambassadors and other dignitaries.  At the same time the TV screens witnessed tributes being made around Belgium and in the UK, including Ypres twin town of Sittingbourne; plus live feeds showing wreaths being laid at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris; the Neue Wache in Berlin and at the Pukeahu National War Memorial in Wellington.

The famous war poem ‘In Flanders Field’ was read from Ottawa as poppy petals fell from the roof of the Menin Gate to the accompaniment of the Band of the Royal Engineers; finally, The Kohima Epitaph was delivered from the Delhi Memorial (India Gate) and following a few words of thanks to all the participants ‘Reveille’ was played.  To bring the ceremony to a close the band struck up and led a procession to the Cloth Hall, followed by the buglers to heartfelt and deafening applause as they marched under the Gate.

It will be an evening to remember for many years and I offer my congratulations and deep gratitude to Benoit and the Committee of the Last Post Association.

Paul Foster

Note:  Paul works with the Last Post Association generating the stories of individual soldiers which are read at the Menin Gate every evening and additionally was key in the recently launched Smartphone app.  Additionally, Paul is a prolific author of books commemorating the sacrifice made by so many troops during World War One.