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News - All - 10 Nov 2016

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10 Nov 2016
56 Years of Last Post


After more than half a century of trumpeting the Last Post for hundreds of people every Remembrance Day, Jim Fraser still gets butterflies.


“Oh yeah I get nervous, even now,” said Fraser. “You’re out there and all those people are waiting to hear you.”


The silence is heavy right before he plays the first note.


“There’s a feeling something major is happening,” said Fraser. “For veterans there’s a great tradition of having the Last Post played, so this is my way of contributing.”


The 73-year-old Waterloo native has served as bugler for the Royal Canadian Legion branches in Kitchener and Waterloo since he was 16 years old. That means every Nov. 11 for 56 years, Fraser has stood in front of either city’s cenotaph, raised his trumpet, pursed his lips and played the haunting and evocative British bugle call.


Pte. Steve Mann, Sergeant at Arms for the Royal Canadian Branch 530 and a newly enrolled member of the Canadian Forces combat engineer regiment, was searching for a bugler for Remembrance Day in Waterloo when he bumped into Fraser at the grocery store. After playing for a number of years in Kitchener, Fraser was available to take on the Waterloo ceremony.


“He is a very good bugler and he does it for the right reasons — for the veterans and the fallen,” said Mann. “His heart is in the right place.”


Traditionally in British army camps, the Last Post was played to signal lights out. During the First World War, it was commonly played at funerals for fallen soldiers and has since become a symbol of the end, of death.


“The Last Post means the end of the day. It puts you at rest,” said Mann, who will be thinking about friends in the British Forces who were killed fighting in Iraq. “We can take that time to stop and think of our friends and family who have passed while in service.”


At the Remembrance Day ceremony in Waterloo on Friday, following a gun salute, Fraser will play the Last Post to mark the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Then he and the rest of the crowd will bow their heads for a moment of silence.


Piper Adam Anandale will play the Lament and Fraser will finish with Reveille. While the Last Post is the final call of the day, Reveille is the first. It has become a symbol of remembrance.


“Reveille reminds us to start a new day, but carry on with traditions,” said Mann. “If we don’t keep these traditions, we’ll forget and repeat our mistakes.”


For Fraser, playing these bugle calls reminds him of the importance of serving his country and community, as his grandfather and father did before him.


Fraser’s grandfather served as a soldier in the First World War. Even in his 80s, he’d find pieces of shrapnel lodged in his torso and face, left over from fighting the Germans decades ago.


Fraser’s father tried to enlist for the Second World War, but was turned away because of his training as a tool and die maker, an essential job on the home front. He stayed in the region and made parts for Canadian military aircraft throughout the 1940s.


“I grew up thinking I should do something to serve my country, too,” Fraser said, who became a police officer at the age of 18. “I was always drawn to music.”


At eight years old, Fraser decided he wanted to play the trumpet so he walked over to Waterloo Music on Regina Street, which provided free lessons and instrument rentals.


“I picked up a battered, old cornet and, along with seven or eight other boys, was taught by a taskmaster of a teacher,” Fraser said. “If I didn’t put my fingers on the valves correctly, he’d rap me with his baton.”


Fraser played his way through air cadets, scouts, high school and the 48th Field Engineering Squadron bands. When he was 16, he played the Last Post for Remembrance Day on the steps of Kitchener’s old City Hall. The local legion then approached Fraser and asked him to be their official bugler.


Fraser took on the title, but stuck with the trumpet, although he can play close to all brass instruments including the bugle and french horn. The trumpet, he said, has a rounder, further-reaching sound than the bugle, which he prefers.


The notes of both bugle calls are controlled through the lips, not valves, so frigid Remembrance Days are what Fraser dreads.


“In the cold it’s hard to keep my mouth piece warm and my lips supple,” Fraser said. “I remember one time it was so cold I blew right through my trumpet without making a sound.”


That’s when he takes a breath and starts again.


Beyond the cenotaphs once a year, Fraser has played the Last Post at veteran gravesites, funerals and cremations.


In 1971 he was the bugler for the opening dedication of the German War Graves at Woodland Cemetery, where 187 prisoners from the Second World War were buried.


Jim Fraser is the Treasurer of the K-W Poppy Fund.



SAMANTHA BEATTIE (Chronicle)/jm
 

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