compiled by Judy Landau
(Past President & Life Member)
Everyone knows about the Last Post and Reveille, right? You may be surprised to learn that these two bugle calls hardly even scratch the surface of the numerous calls that were sounded, and usually it is not Reveille (unless the bugler is Navy) that is sounded after Last Post at ceremonies, but Rouse. There is plenty of misinformation circulating on the internet on this topic, so let’s try to set the record straight.
Bugle calls are brief tunes that originated as military signals on ships or on the battle field. It was the primary way of communication to give the Commander’s orders, as the bugle could be heard over the noise of the battlefield. Mounted infantry knew what to do when the Cease Fire was sounded, or Gallop, Trot, Go Forward and so on. The list below is about half of some British Commonwealth and American bugle calls that were used in camp and quarters:
- Adjutant’s Call: indicates that the adjutant is about to form the guard, battalion, or regiment.
- Alarm: For troops to turn out under Arms.
- Assembly: Signals troops to assemble at a designated place.
- Attention: Sounded as a warning that troops are about to be called to attention.
- Boots and Saddles: Sounded for mounted troops to mount and take their place in line.
- Call to Quarters: Signals all personnel not authorised to be absent, to return to their quarters for the night.
- Charge: Signal to execute a charge; gallop forward into harm’s way with deadly intent.
- Church Call: Signals religious services are about to begin. The call may also be used to announce the formation of a funeral escort from a selected military unit.
- Drill Call: Sounds as a warning to turn out for drill.
- Fall In: Call to assembly.
- Fatigue Call: Signals all designated personnel to report for fatigue duty.
- Fire Call: Signals that there is a fire on the post or in the vicinity. The call is also used for fire drill.
- First Call: Sounds as a warning that personnel will prepare to assemble for a formation. This call is also used in horse racing, where it is known as Call to the Post. In that context, it indicates that jockeys need to have their mounts in position to be loaded into the starting gate.
- First Sergeant’s Call: Signals that the First Sergeant is about to form the company.
- Guard Mount: Sounds as a warning that the guard is about to be assembled for guard mount.
- Last Post: Bugle call used at Commonwealth of Nations military funerals and ceremonies commemorating those who have been killed in a war.
- Mail Call: Signals personnel to assemble for the distribution of mail.
- Mess Call: Signals mealtime.
- Officers’ Call: Signals all officers to assemble at a designated place.
- Officers’ Dress for Dinner: Signals Officers to dress and prepare for dinner.
- Pay Call: Signals troops will be paid.
- Recall: Signals duties or drills to cease.
- Retreat: Call in action for troops to retreat. Signals the end of the official day. This bugle call is very close to sunset used in the UK and the Commonwealth realms.
- Reveille: Signals the troops to awaken for morning roll call.
- Rouse: Call for soldiers to begin duties.
- School Call: Signals school is about to begin.
- Stable Call: Signals troops to feed and water horses.
- Stand To Your Horses: Mount.
- Swimming Call: Signals the start of the swimming period.
- Taps: Signals that unauthorised lights are to be extinguished. This is the last call of the day. The call is also sounded at the completion of a US military funeral ceremony.
- Tattoo: Signals that all light in squad rooms be extinguished and that all loud talking and other disturbances be discontinued within 15 minutes.
- To Arms: Signals all troops to fall under arms at designated places without delay.
- Warning for Parade: Usually sounded 15 minutes before the parade to warn people to make final preparations before falling-in.
The American Taps
Brigadier General Daniel Butterfield of the Army of the Potomac, which was the major Union army in the Eastern Theatre, commissioned Army bugler, Oliver Norton, to compose a memorable sequence that would signal "lights out" to the entire camp. Norton based it on an older bugle call entitled the Scottish Tattoo. He first sounded the call one evening in July of 1862 and the armies on both sides heard the tune and began playing it.
An artillery officer was so moved by Taps, he ordered it to be played at one of his soldier’s funeral. In 1891, Taps became a great American tradition and was sounded at the end of the day and at the conclusion of American military burials. It is still played at sunset in American military installations around the world.
While the origin of Taps is well documented, a number of myths of how the tune came to be still persist. One tells the story of a Union officer who, after a battle, discovered that the body of a fallen Confederate was actually his own son - a musician in peacetime. When denied permission to bury the boy with full honours, the Union officer held a small impromptu private ceremony. He asked a company bugler to perform a call using the musical notes scribbled on a scrap of paper in his dead son’s pocket - presumably a melody the boy was working on. The tune was Taps. While it’s certainly a moving story, it is not true.
The Last Post
Long before the American buglers were sounding Taps, the British army had come up with its own ceremonial tune. The Last Post is used throughout the Commonwealth at Anzac Day and Remembrance Day ceremonies and military funerals. The Last Post also began as a bugle call marking the end of a day.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, the call was sounded out, phrase by phrase, at dusk while the camp’s duty officer toured the surrounding sentry post. For each stop along the inspection route, more of the tune was sounded to announce his progress. As the officer finished his nightly rounds, the final notes were sounded signalling to the entire company that it was time to sleep. Interestingly, both the Last Post and Taps share a common lineage. Each was derived from a Dutch call from the 1600s called doe den tap toe (“turn off the tap”).
During the 17th and 18th centuries, many English troops were stationed in The Netherlands, so it is possible they adopted a variation of the tap toe. Historians believe tap toe influenced both the Last Post and its forerunner: the Scottish Tattoo. This term also came from the early 17th century Dutch, the signal sounded by drummers or trumpeters to instruct innkeepers near military garrisons to stop serving beer and for soldiers to return to their barracks for the night. Drummers from the garrison were sent out into the towns at 2130 hrs each evening to inform the soldiers that it was time to return to barracks for the night. The drummers continued to play until the curfew at 2200 hrs. Tattoo, earlier taptoo, is an alteration of tap toe which has the same meaning.
Over the years, the Tattoo became more of a show and often included the playing of the First Post at 2130 hrs and the Last Post at 2200 hrs. Bands and displays were included and shows were often conducted by floodlight or searchlight. Tattoos were commonplace in the late 19th century with most military and garrison towns putting on some kind of show or entertainment during the summer months. Between the First World War and the Second World War, elaborate Tattoos were held in many towns, with the largest in Aldershot, England.
Neither the Last Post nor tap toe signal, is to be confused with the US bugle call Taps, which has a similar function but different tune.
In addition to its normal garrison use, The Last Post call had another function at the close of a day of battle. It signalled to those who were still out and wounded or separated that the fighting was finished, and to follow the sound of the call to find safety and rest. Its use in Anzac and Remembrance Day ceremonies in Commonwealth Nations has two generally unexpressed purposes: the first is an implied summoning of the spirits of the Fallen to the cenotaph, the second is to symbolically end the day, so that the period of silence before the Reveille (sounded on the actual commemoration day) or Rouse (if sounded on a different day) is sounded becomes, in effect, a ritualised night vigil.
The Last Post was used by British forces in North America in colonial times, but its function was taken over in the United States by Taps, which as mentioned has been used by the United States Army since 1862.
Despite often being referred to by the name Reveille, the Rouse is actually a separate tune from Reveille. In camp, the Rouse was traditionally played following Reveille, which was a bugle call sounded in the morning to wake soldiers up. The Rouse would be sounded to call soldiers to begin duties.
During the 19th century, The Last Post was also carried to the various countries of the British Empire. In all these countries it has been incorporated into military funerals, where it is played as a final farewell, symbolising the fact that the duty of the dead soldier is over and that he can rest in peace.
The Last Post is used in public ceremonies commemorating the war dead, particularly on Remembrance Day in the Commonwealth. In Australia and New Zealand, it is also sounded on Anzac Day usually before the one minute silence, which concludes with the Reveille.
When the Last Post is sounded during services such as Anzac Day, it is required of all current serving military members to salute for the duration of the call. During services organised by the Royal British Legion, the recommendation is that no salute is given by either officers or troops during the Last Post and Silence. The recommendation is that all troops will have removed head dress, as in church service prayer, have heads bowed, weapons inverted, with flags and standards lowered.
After the one minute’s silence, flags are raised from half-mast to the masthead as the Reveille is sounded. Today, Rouse is associated with the Last Post at all military funerals, and at services of dedication and remembrance.
Last Post has been sounded every night at the Menin Gate in Ypres to commemorate the British & Allied soldiers including Australians, who fought and died there during the First World War. The tradition began in the 1920s but was interrupted for four years during the Nazi occupation of Belgium in World War Two. As soon as the area surrounding the Menin Gate was cleared of German defenders in the fall of 1944, the town’s folk immediately resumed the evening ritual - even though much of the surrounding area was still in enemy hands.
The Reveille is a bright, cheerful call to rouse soldiers from their slumber, ready for duty; it has sometmies been used to conclude funeral services and remembrance services. It symbolises an awakening in a better world for the dead, and also rouses the living back to duty, now their respects have been paid to the memory of their comrades. The Rouse is a shorter bugle call that was also used to call soldiers to their duties; being short, the Rouse is the call most commonly used in conjunction with the Last Post at remembrance services. The exception is the Dawn Service, when the Reveille is sounded. The Rouse is often mistakenly referred to as Reveille.