Communities Secretary Eric Pickles today (25 January 2014) announced the launch of the Last Post, a mass participation music project for 300 communities in each year of the Centenary from 2014 to 2018. On a visit to the battlefields of Belgium and France he paid his own respects to the British and Commonwealth soldiers who died in the First World War.
For a fortnight either side of Remembrance Sunday, 300 communities across the country will research their own local First World War heritage and hold musical recitals in schools, libraries, places of worship and community centres, where they will share stories, local memories and testimony.
Volunteers at each event will play the Last Post on new arrangements of the traditional bugle and trumpet call. ‘Last Post songbooks’ will also offer traditional music from the era including the widely known trench songs such as ‘Pack Up Your Troubles’, ‘Keep the home fires burning’ and ‘Take me back to dear old Blighty.’
2014 will mark 100 years since the start of the First World War. To honour and remember the lives of those who served in and were affected by the war, the government is leading a national centenary programme of ceremonial events, cultural activity and education.
Speaking earlier this week when attending the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate, which commemorates the British and Commonwealth dead at the Battle of Ypres, Eric Pickles said:
Each evening crowds gather under the Menin Gate to hear the final salute to the fallen, played by the buglers of the Last Post Association.
The poignancy of the Last Post is something that everyone in Britain recognises as a way of remembering those who lost their lives in war in service to this country fighting for liberty.
This is a fitting time to bring that music back home, closer to the heart of communities and use it to remember the remarkable role so many local people played in the First World War.
A number of communities are planning Last Post musical events next month:
- In Bristol, The Merchants’ Academy, have started to undertake research through their History Club, looking at local Bristol figures and their role in the First World War. Students will be undertaking research to see if they can find the last letter sent home by soldiers from Bristol (their ‘last post’). They are then going to hold an event including a musical performance of the Last Post, a theatrical performance of the researched postal messages and a historical presentation inviting parents, the local community including a local nursing home to come in.
- In Knowsley a primary school is working with a local residential home to share memories – those uncovered and researched by the young people about the impact of the war on the local area and stories remembered by the older people in the care home. There will be a sharing event at the end of February where the Last Post and music from the era will be played.
- In Northumberland, the County Council, Northumberland Arts Development and Northumberland Library Service are working with Cramlington Library to hold a number of sharing sessions for participants from the community to bring objects and stories to share in preparation for a final ‘performance’ which will be held at the library on 27 February. They will also playing the Last Post and other music from the era at this library event.
- In Portsmouth, the Portsmouth Festival Choir are working towards a community event for singers young and old to commemorate the First World War through music and poetry of the period. As well as new arrangements of famous First World War songs, the piece will include innovative choral versions of the Last Post and other bugle calls which will be performed over the coming months.
Eric Pickles visited a number of sites in Flanders, Belgium, including the Tyne Cot Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery, the Calvaire (Essex) Military Cemetery, the Essex Farm Cemetery, where Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae wrote the poem ‘ In Flanders Fields’. In France he visited Pozières British Cemetery and Memorial and Fricourt British Cemetery.
- The Last Post will take place across the Centenary with a series of Last Post fortnights which will be linked to a specific theme. This year’s theme is ‘Outbreak of war’. At each event volunteers will play the Last Post on a range of instruments from piano to bagpipes, guitar to the steel drums. For more information on the Last Post please see www.superact.org.uk
- 2014 will mark 100 years since the start of the First World War. To honour and remember the lives of those who served in and were affected by the war the government is leading a national centenary programme of ceremonial events, cultural activity and education. For more information on how the government is building a fitting commemoration of this significant milestone in world history, please see First World War Centenary
A number of Last Post musical events are taking place this February. In addition to the projects in Knowsley, Portsmouth and Bristol and Northumberland, projects are also taking place in Haringey and Bradford.