Before ‘The Last Post’

Trumpeter recounts experience on French battlefield

Steve Bartlett
Published on August 4, 2014
Sgt. Jim Prowse of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment plays The Last Post during a ceremony at Beaumont Hamel. — Telegram file photo

With the caribou statue over his shoulder, Jim Prowse stares out over No Man’s Land and the Beaumont-Hamel battlefield

He imagines what it was like there on July 1, 1916, when the Newfoundland Regiment was nearly decimated by German snipers.

More than 700 were killed, missing or wounded.

“The slaughter that happened that day and, to contrast that, how peaceful Beaumont-Hamel is today,” Prowse recalls feeling. “(It’s) a total contrast from all-out war.”

After trying to grasp Beaumont-Hamel and the sheer magnitude of thousands of British and German soldiers facing off, he raises his trumpet and plays “The Last Post and Reveille.”

“It’s always a focal point of these ceremonies and it grabs people’s attention,” he says. “It’s a ‘raise the hairs on the back of your neck’ kind of thing, so it’s important.”

A trumpeter with the Royal Newfoundland Regiment band, Warrant Officer Prowse has had the powerful experience of playing at Beaumont Hamel on five different occasions.

The St. John’s resident will likely have another moving experience tonight, when he plays “The Last Post and Reveille” towards the end of a First World War ecumenical commemoration at the Basilica.

The service starts at 8:30 p.m. (people are asked to be seated by 8:15). It will be purposely underway at 9:25 p.m., the exact time on Aug. 4, 1914, that a secret telegram was delivered to Governor Walter Davidson at Government House stating Great Britain had declared war on Germany.

Tonight’s commemoration will mark the outbreak of WWI and kickstart four years of events, as significant points of the war are remembered.

Prowse, a reservist, expects he and other members of the Regiment band will be playing a lot between now and 2018.

How will YOU be remembering WWI and the sacrifices made?

If you given it any thought, you should.

It’s important to honour those who fought for freedom and to remind ourselves of the horrors of war.

We owe it to those who went into battle and only through remembering can we prevent, or at least lessen the severity of, war.

How am I marking WWI?

By co-writing a book on Leonard Stick, the first person to enlist with the Newfoundland Regiment in August 1914. (If you think that was a shameless plug, please know there is little or no money in writing books.)

I’m also helping plan our continuing coverage of WWI and the anniversaries of significant events.

And I’ll be attending as many ceremonies as possible.

How would Prowse like people to remember the Great War?

“I would hope that people educate themselves, read a lot more about it and attend some ceremonies and remember the great sacrifice that was made by that generation,” he says.

“I really hope people take more time to read about it and pass it on the new generation, so they don’t forget.”

I agree. Lest we forget.