After 28 years, The Last Post still brings chills to trumpeter playing it

The Last Post rings out during the 2008 ceremony in Cobble Hill. The tradition provides an emotional moment for the player, just as much as the assembled crowd. - Peter W. Rusland/file
The Last Post rings out during the 2008 ceremony in Cobble Hill. The tradition provides an emotional moment for the player, just as much as the assembled crowd.
— image credit: Peter W. Rusland/file

When Alfred Ledret lifts his trumpet to play the Last Post, it’s a deeply emotional moment for those listening to the haunting tune.

It’s the same for the man who plays it.

“I can play in a rock band in front of 500 bikers. But it’s really hard to do The Last Post in front of all those people. It’s so sombre and you just think of all those in the war.”

Ledret joked that a little nip of whisky helps him overcome his nerves, which he still gets even after playing the Ladysmith Remembrance Day ceremony for 28 years, give or take two.

“I’ve missed twice. Once I was doing a forestry job up at Mount Seymour watershed. I took my horn with me that time and played. And once I had the flu so bad I couldn’t make it.”

Ledret has played The Last Post for many veteran funerals, including those of his grandfather who fought in the First World War and his father who was with the Air Force in Second World War, two of Ledret’s most difficult performances of all.

Ledret learned how to play the trumpet when he was nine. He was attracted to it after watching Rin Tin Tin and American Western movies with buglers calling the charge. He received an old army bugle from an uncle who played in an army band, and who fought in the war.

“I took it back to a logging camp in Smith Inlet where we lived. It would echo around the mountains. It would drive everyone crazy.”

Ledret’s mother bought him a trumpet, which he played in school bands then eventually in bars. When he moved to Ladysmith, he was gigging in a pub where some of the veterans from Ladysmith’s branch of the Royal Canadian Legion heard him perform and asked him to play for Remembrance Day.

There are American and British Army and Navy versions of The Last Post, which is played before two minutes’ silence is observed in memory of soldiers lost in the war, and the Reveille, which is played afterwards. Ledret only knew the American versions of the songs but with the help of a tape the veterans gave him, he learned the British versions.

“We play the Army version in Canada. I also learned the British Naval Reveille after I played a veteran’s funeral. I was walking away from a grave site where I’d just played the Army versions of The Last Post and Reveille and this old naval guy asked if I knew the British naval one. He quickly hummed it. I remembered it and went home and played it.”

Ledret is impressed how the bugle was used as the instrument for communications for horse regiments.

“Bugles were used for the charge and retreat in war. They were used up into the Korean war. Soldiers didn’t have radios and cellphones.”

In place of a bugle, Ledret uses a trumpet and plays it with open valves. He said technical difficulty with each instrument is approximately the same, but the sound quality is a little better with the trumpet.

Ledret’s most memorable ceremony was his first because he was so nervous.

“I shook so much.”

During another ceremony, he missed three or four notes, which most people wouldn’t notice but the veterans did. Waiting in the line at the Legion bar after the ceremony, Ledret was chatting with the man in front of him.

“This old guy says to me, ‘I sure wish you were playing not that guy that screwed up those notes.’”

Ledret said it’s hard to hit the songs note perfect, which is why he prefers to play in inclement weather.

“It’s easier to play when it’s really raining and blowing. You never wreck the notes.”

Ledret takes pride in his long-running role. Over the years he has seen the number of veterans attending Remembrance Day ceremonies decrease but said the number of young people in attendance is high.

“I notice it’s well supported and the young people are out there. But there are so many of the soldiers that are gone. There are only a handful left.”

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