Not only did Sgt. Jim Prowse play the “Last Post” before hundreds of Canadian troops and dignitaries to mark the final Remembrance Day in Kandahar — he also entertained.
The St. John’s native joined Canadian country sensation George Canyon and folksinger Dave Gunning for a well-received rendition of Johnny Cash’s classic tune “Ring of Fire,” providing the mariachi-style trumpet melody.
“That was unplanned and unexpected, but a lot of fun,” said Prowse, a member of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.
Both performances were part of a two-day stay in Kandahar that Prowse said he will never forget.
“I was very pleased to be part of it, and very proud of the ceremony.”
The trip began with a stop in Ottawa on Nov. 8. He took part in a reception that day with others destined for Afghanistan, including Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay, family members of people killed during Canada’s combat mission overseas, military personnel and entertainers.
The following day, Prowse boarded an Airbus CC-150 Polaris for a nine-hour flight to Zagreb, Croatia, then took a second nine-hour plane ride to his final destination at Kandahar Airfield. They arrived at 9:30 p.m. on Nov. 10.
A bus took Prowse’s group to the living quarters, where members received a safety debriefing. Prowse was handed a pistol, though he said it was never loaded, as the threat level was considered low during his stay.
“I was wearing a soft hat and no body armour,” he said.
His arrival came as the Canadians were packing up in preparation for the end of their combat mission in Kandahar. Canadian Forces members are now taking part in a NATO training mission in another part of the country.
The morning of the Remembrance Day ceremony, Prowse went to visit the Kandahar Airfield Memorial, which includes the names and faces of all Canadians who lost their lives during the combat mission.
Kandahar ceremony marked by immediacy of event
“I got a chance to take a good look at the monument erected there,” he said. “I was most interested in the Newfoundlanders. … (T)hat was one of the more important things for me to see and do.”
Some of those faces included people Prowse attended the funerals of to perform the “Last Post.”
“It’s a different feeling. Everything looks the same — same photographs, names and dates — but you could be standing there, and as you look up there’s a helicopter flying overhead or two jet aircraft taking off. It kind of brings it back to reality.”
When the moment came for Prowse to perform his ceremonial duty and lift his horn, all went well.
- Read more special articles :
- - Time doesn't heal
- - 'It was hell, simply hell'
- - Collection of Remembrance Day stories
- - Collection of Remembrance Day archive stories 2
“It wasn’t lost on me how far away I was from home and what part of the world I was standing in … but the thought process is still the same. I’m thinking, ‘OK, I want to get out here. I’ve got to step forward when my time comes, and I want to do the job to the best of my ability and just make it seamless.’”
If anything, he said, what made his experience unique playing at the Kandahar Remembrance Day ceremony was the immediacy of the event. In Newfoundland and Labrador, he said, people tend to associate the event more with First and Second World War efforts.
“I played (Cpl. Brian) Pinksen’s funeral in Sop’s Arm last September, and here I was barely a year later standing by that monument over there.”
Pinksen died in a U.S. military hospital in Germany after he was severely wounded by an improvised explosive device in Kandahar.
After the ceremony
Following the ceremony, he said many lingered to look at the Kandahar Airfield Memorial and have their pictures taken next to it. The memorial has since been disassembled and sent to Canada.
It was that night he performed “Ring of Fire” alongside Canyon and Gunning as part of an entertainment event that also featured comedian Jason Blanchard and an appearance by the Canadian Football League’s Grey Cup.
“We had a little jam on the aircraft on the way over,” said Prowse, who previously learned to play the song for a Johnny Cash tribute event in St. John’s. “One of the gentlemen leading the mission there said, ‘You have got to perform that for the troops tomorrow night.’”
The following day included a complete tour of Kandahar Airfield.
“It’s a beehive of activity,” he said of the airfield, where almost 13,000 personnel from countries all around the world are based.
They left after supper for the return journey to Canada.
“I’d put it on equal ground with being at Vimy Ridge and Beaumont Hamel,” said Prowse, when asked how he would compare his Kandahar experience with other duties he has fulfilled. The two First World War battlegrounds in France feature monuments to Canadian and Newfoundland troops, respectively.
“I was very delighted to be asked to go and pleased to be able to represent my regiment. It was a fantastic experience.”