Did you hear the one about the bugler who got stage fright and bombed the last post? That was me 30 years ago when I first started playing the Bugle for the R.S.A. There is nothing worse than the bugler stuffing up the last post, everyone is standing so quiet in anticipation at such an important and sombre occasion. From the bugler’s point of view when you get to the tricky part and you start blowing raspberries down the mouthpiece it’s bloody hard to stop them and it is even harder to hide any stuff up’s on a quiet cold frosty morning!
I played in the local brass band as a kid growing up. About 2 weeks out from Anzac Day at the age of 15 the lead solo cornet player in our band who was 80 at the time got crook. He had been playing the last post for 60 years and asked me to take over the reins. He gave me a crash course on the traditional military cavalry call that signifies the end of the day’s activities or as we civilians are more familiar, a call that is sounded for military funerals or commemorative ceremonies. Now it’s not an easy piece to play as it is all done without fingering, so the lips and the lungs need to be super fit, as my 80-year-old mentor said at the time, kissing and making love is a great form of training. Being a tall skinny 15-year-old there was no bloody hope of me getting any of that sort of training in over the next two weeks! I just had to rely on the fact that I was super fit from playing rugby and working as a rousie in the wool sheds during the school holidays.
The day before Anzac Day my mentor told me to have a live practice at the local primary school in front of the children to flush out any nerves. That was when I got stage fright, it was a disaster and I made a complete cock of myself! However, it was a great life lesson. My mentor took me aside and had a wee word with me afterwards which flicked a switch for the rest of my life. He said, “What the @#! are you nervous about, no bastard is pointing a gun at you, we went to war so you could live free and full of confidence so harden the @#! up and get on with it!” I thought it was pretty sound advice which I took on board in spades!
The following day I nailed the last post in front of the Burnham military regiment and a great many officials and locals at my first Anzac Day parade playing the bugle. Needless to say I have played the last post a great many times since and I have to say I have not always nailed it but shit it is an awesome feeling when you do.
I have handed over my bugle to young Fred who we named after my Grandfather who fought in the 23rd Battalion in North Africa and Italy. Like most Kiwis and Aussies, we all have or had a relative that was connected to the wars in some way and they have all had a story or two that they have passed down to us. One story that I remember hearing about my Grandfather which always sticks in my mind was about his time as a signalman and radio operator. He joined the war early on. While in training at Cairo volunteers were asked to train in radio and communications. My Grandfather put his hand up thinking that with a bit of luck the war would be over before they had finished their special training. Obviously, this wasn’t to be. Little did Fred senior know, he would be carrying a heavy radio set into battle on many occasions and of course carrying the radio was as good as carrying a bull’s eye on your back, standard orders on both sides in battle was to take out the radio operator before anyone else! Let’s just say Fred was incredibly lucky, after ditching three radio sets with bullet holes through them and a bullet through the arm I imagine he became wary about volunteering for anything else after that. He survived the war and married his childhood sweetheart when he returned which is lucky for me, I guess!
We celebrate Anzac Day each year to remember the sacrifices our forebearers made for us so we could live free and full of confidence. I know the phrase “Harden up and get on with it”, is not that politically correct anymore but one does wonder what our ancestors would be thinking when we growl about such trivial things in our modern world. It might not be the right phrase to say some times but it worked for me and oh how hard I have to control myself to not let the phrase roll off my tongue at an inappropriate time!