Off to Afghanistan

Published on November 11, 2011
Sgt. James Prowse will perform ‘Last Post’ during today’s Remembrance Day ceremony taking place at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan. — Photo by Gary Hebbard/The Telegram

Since joining the Royal Newfoundland Regiment in 2000, Sgt. Jim Prowse has performed the “Last Post” countless times both in Newfoundland and Labrador and abroad.

How many times?

“That’s a good question,” said the St. John’s native, who has played the trumpet since the age of nine.

Estimating he plays the piece at least 20 times each year, that would put the total number of performances at more than 200.

But when Prowse plays the “Last Post” this year on Remembrance Day, followed by “Reveille” after the obligatory moment of silence, it will be in a setting unlike any other he has ever experienced.

Prowse has been chosen this year to perform the historic trumpet call for the Remembrance Day ceremony taking place at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan, an event likely to attract hundreds of soldiers and dignitaries.

“To me, to go there at my trade of being a musician in the Canadian Forces, it’s a great honour to go there and take part in a ceremony on Nov. 11,” said Prowse, seated inside the headquarters of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment located in the Pleasantville neighbourhood of St. John’s.

“I don’t think I’ll forget that one soon. It’s also a proud moment to represent my regiment.”

Prowse is the lead trumpet player for the Royal Newfoundland Regiment Band, the only military band in the province.

“We think we can stand up against anyone in Canada in terms of our professionalism and our drill and deportment.”

Far from being a newcomer to big events, Prowse has performed the “Last Post” at Beaumont-Hamel three times and last year at Vimy Ridge in France, as well as in Belgium.

He has also been privy to the impact conflict can have in the present day and age, having performed the “Last Post” at funerals for five soliders from this province who lost their lives in Afghanistan.

The feeling he gets from playing in each scenario is unique, and he expects it will be much the same when he raises his horn in Kandahar.

“I’m not sure how I’m going to feel at the moment,” he said. “Hopefully I’ll bring it all together and focus on the job at hand. That’s how I always approach it — try and divorce myself from my surroundings, get the trumpet up, do what I’m supposed to do, and then I can carry on after that.”

Prowse was introduced to his instrument of choice by his father, Jim Prowse Sr., who led the school band for many years at Beaconsfield in St. John’s, where he taught music. The senior Prowse was also commanding officer of HMCS Cabot’s naval reserve unit after playing clarinet and saxophone in the Royal Newfoundland Regiment Band in the 1960s and ’70s.

“He offered opportunities to myself and my brother and sister any time we showed any interest, and he encouraged it,” said Prowse.

His first instrument was the piano, but eventually the trumpet took hold of Prowse’s musical inclinations. He performed in school and community bands throughout his youth.

Outside of his duties with the Royal Newfoundland Regiment Band, Prowse has been a member of Billy and the Bruisers’ brass section for the past 16 years. His trip to Afghanistan overlapped with the band’s 20th anniversary concert that took place Wednesday night in St. John’s.

Prior to departure, Prowse was anticipating his trip would be a quick one, likely lasting less than 48 hours. Current temperatures in Afghanistan have been just above 20 C.

“Which is great — it’s just like a Newfoundland summer,” he said with a laugh.

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