The “Last Post” is either a bugle call within British Infantry regiments or a cavalry trumpet call in British Cavalry and Royal Regiment of Artillery (Royal Horse Artillery and Royal Artillery) used at Commonwealth military funerals and ceremonies commemorating those who have been killed in war.
The two regimental traditions have separate music for the call. While the infantry bugle version is better known, the cavalry trumpet version is used by the state trumpeters of the Household Cavalry.
The “Last Post” call (2nd Post) is used in British Army camps to signal the end of day when the duty officer returns from the tour of the camp and quarters. The “First Post” call marks the start of the inspection. The names are derived from the practice of inspecting all the sentry posts around such a camp at the end of the day, and playing a call at each of them.
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 done, and to follow the sound of the call to find safety and rest.
Its use in 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 Rouse is blown becomes, in effect, a ritualized night vigil.
This custom dates from at least the 17th century, and originated with British troops stationed in The Netherlands, where it drew on an older Dutch custom called taptoe from which comes the term Tattoo (as in Military tattoo) and also the term Taps.
The taptoe was also used to signal the end of the day, but has more prosaic origin. Taptoe originated signalling the moment that beer taps had to be shut, hence that the day had ended. It comes from the Dutch phrase Doe den tap toe, meaning “Close the tap”.
However, the Dutch bugle call Taptoesignaal, now used for remembrance events, is not the same tune as “The Last Post”. Neither “Last Post” nor Taptoesignaal is to be confused with the U.S. call “Taps”, which has a similar function but different tune and origin.
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 has been used by the United States Army since 1862.