At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them
We will remember them.
And then it’s down to me.
This year marked my 25th year of playing the Last Post and the Reveille at the Service of Remembrance at Waltham Abbey Church.
It is a task which is an absolute honour and privilege. But which, quite frankly, is petrifying.
As any instrumentalist knows, especially brass players, metal instruments are extremely unforgiving to cold temperatures and nerves. They are also very loud and exposed. And when the world expects silence, except for the haunting sounds of the Last Post, you REALLY want to deliver.
As I’ve grown into my ‘adulting’ years so too has my understanding of the world developed. I’ve married. I run my own business. I have two young children. My appreciation of our relative freedom is impossible to articulate. My empathy for how it must have felt for mothers to send their children off to war and never to see them again is bitterly painful. I also know that there are still mothers today, losing children the same age as mine, because of war.
During yesterday’s service, I was reminded that in today’s wars, only one in every 10 deaths is a member of the armed forces. The remaining 90% are civilians. Half of which are children.
My parenting years mean I also now have new invites to play. On Tuesday, I stood at a very cold war memorial outside of my daughter’s nursery (previously my son’s) and played the Last Post to mesmerised two to four year olds.
On Friday I played at my son’s primary school assembly. I confess I closed my eyes. There’s something just a little terrifying about 300 pairs of eyes staring at you with their mouths open.
The silence begins. I lift my trumpet to play, inhale deeply, pray briefly and then play. Utterly focused on the moment. During the silence my heart beats so hard that I’m convinced it’s audible to the teaching assistant sitting next to me. The lovely teaching assistant who cries every year as soon as she even sees my trumpet and who I know, hugged my son through emotional times last year.
The Last Post means so many things to so many people. During Sunday’s church service an elderly man cried during the silence, whilst children (including my own) learned about Remembrance Sunday through poppy collages and word searches. My two year old proudly told my dad this morning that she’d made a poppy for him in a castle (Waltham Abbey church is a pretty old and castle-like building when you’re 2).
Being a mother also means I learn things through fresh eyes. When my son asked about the Last Post yesterday we looked it up together. One of the reasons it is played is to summon the fallen to the memorial, something I hadn’t known before but in truth have always felt.
I have always wanted to play the trumpet. I’ve played since I was 9. Actually, I’ve always loved to play jazz more than classical. But there’s something deeply haunting about playing in a cold, old church and hearing the echoes of your breath bounce off the walls as dust motes float through early winter sunlight.
This week is of course, full of international uncertainty. Confusion. Hate. Demonstrations. The people want change. The people are disillusioned. The people are SHOUTING.
But it’s in the silence we come together. We gather our collective thoughts, experiences and prayers. Whether we pray to a God or to a worldly belief.
Last week I was challenged to speak out about my experiences as a ‘mixed ethnicity’ family. It’s a subject I find very hard to discuss. Not everyone wants to hear. And I often just shut it away – afraid to take it on. But I was reminded yesterday that if we REALLY yearn for peace, then we need to be prepared to speak out against all acts of bullying and discrimination. It’s no good to just see it happening to someone else and withdraw to our own safe corner. We need to act and be accountable.
As petrifying as it may be every year and as much as I feel as though I may vomit or cry (or both) through nerves before I raise my trumpet to my lips, it is my service. It is my dedication to the mothers who have lost and will lose their children. It is my prayer for those who live with painful memories. The trumpet is LOUD, outspoken and will not be silenced until it’s player stops breathing through it. It is my promise to speak out against hate.
The Last Post and the Reveille flank complete silence. A brief moment of peace and hope for the world to come.