Mark Knopfler Plays a Poignant, Overdriven Version of “The Last Post,” Remembering the Many Lives Lost in World War I

World War I sym­bol­ism gets lost on Amer­i­cans. Our his­tor­i­cal mem­o­ries are short and selec­tive, and the War has “large­ly van­ished from view,” as his­to­ri­an Geof­frey Wawro writes at Time mag­a­zine. But in Europe, of course, where some armies suf­fered ten times the casu­al­ties as U.S. troops, and where mil­lions of civil­ian died and towns were bombed into obliv­ion, the mem­o­ry of the Great War is very much alive.

In Ypres, Bel­gium, the War has been memo­ri­al­ized every day since 1928 (with the excep­tion of four years of Ger­man occu­pa­tion dur­ing WWII) by the Last Post Asso­ci­a­tion, a devot­ed com­pa­ny of buglers who play the mil­i­tary song at the Menin Gate memo­r­i­al every evening to com­mem­o­rate the British dead at the Bat­tle of Ypres. As of this writ­ing, they’ve held their 31,748th cer­e­mo­ny.

In Britain itself, and around the world, the tune has a long his­to­ry as a sym­bol, like the pop­py, of Remem­brance Day. Just like Taps in the U.S., the Last Post is “a bugle call,” writes the Last Post Asso­ci­a­tion, “played in the British Army (and in the armies of many oth­er lands) to mark the end of the day’s labours and the onset of the night’s rest…. It has come to rep­re­sent a final farewell to the fall­en at the end of their earth­ly labours and at the onset of their eter­nal rest.”

Robert Graves summed up the song’s asso­ci­a­tion with death in his 1918 poem, “The Last Post”:

The bugler sent a call of high romance—
“Lights out! Lights out!” to the desert­ed square.
On the thin brazen notes he threw a prayer,
“God, if it’s this for me next time in France…
O spare the phan­tom bugle as I lie
Dead in the gas and smoke and roar of guns,
Dead in a row with the oth­er bro­ken ones
Lying so stiff and still under the sky,
Jol­ly young Fusiliers too good to die.”

I imag­ine Mark Knopfler, a lover of poet­ry, might be famil­iar with Graves’ verse. In his own ren­di­tion of the Last Post, above, Knopfler com­mem­o­rates 17,000 Northum­ber­land Fusiliers killed in the War, who came from his home region and suf­fered more casu­al­ties than any oth­er reg­i­ment. Record­ed on Remem­brance Day, Novem­ber 8, 2018, the 100th anniver­sary of the War’s end, Knopfler’s ver­sion is both restrained and fierce­ly over­driv­en, recall­ing Hendrix’s “Star-Span­gled Ban­ner” in some of its flashier moments of vibra­to. Rather than one of his usu­al icon­ic gui­tars, he plays a cus­tom instru­ment that howls like a keen­ing bugle.

The record­ing was part of a project in which musi­cians around the world played the cer­e­mo­ni­al call on a vari­ety of instru­ments. For com­par­i­son with Knopfler’s cre­ative inter­pre­ta­tion, see a straight­for­ward ren­di­tion played above by a mem­ber of the Aus­tralian Roy­al Mil­i­tary Col­lege Band. The bugle call reminds us of the war dead we may have for­got­ten, and the mil­lions killed by star­va­tion and influen­za after the armistice. And per­haps it also reminds us of the impor­tance of col­lec­tive mourn­ing for the dead in our own extra­or­di­nary his­tor­i­cal moment.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Gui­tar Sto­ries: Mark Knopfler on the Six Gui­tars That Shaped His Career

Mark Knopfler Gives a Short Mas­ter­class on His Favorite Gui­tars & Gui­tar Sounds

The Great War: Video Series Will Doc­u­ment How WWI Unfold­ed, Week-by-Week, for the Next 4 Years

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Kim says:

    Thank you for keep­ing these sac­ri­fices remem­bered. My heart breaks because some of these hate­ful atroc­i­ties con­tin­ue today. Peace, love and ten­der­ness.

  • Michael Morrison says:


    With­out The Amer­i­cans It Is Lost

    Carl Sand­burg (1878–1967). Corn­huskers. 1918.

    PILE the bod­ies high at Auster­litz and Water­loo.
    Shov­el them under and let me work—
    I am the grass; I cov­er all.

    And pile them high at Get­tys­burg
    And pile them high at Ypres and Ver­dun.
    Shov­el them under and let me work.
    Two years, ten years, and pas­sen­gers ask the con­duc­tor:
    What place is this?
    Where are we now?

    I am the grass.
    Let me work. sand­burg

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