Shortly after end of the First World War, The Menin Gate was built as a memorial to all those Allied soldiers who fell in the First World War, but who have no known grave. Tens of thousands of men had marched through what was effectively a gap in the town’s ramparts to the battlegrounds, some never to return. Given the amount of damage to the Belgian infrastructure during the war, the decision to build this memorial was a brave act, but not without controversy at the time.
The ‘Last Post’ and ‘Reveille’ had been sounded by a bugler at the inauguration of the building in 1927 – ten years after the Battle of Passchendaele (Third Battle of Ypres). The chief of police in Ypres wanted the memorial to be a place of living remembrance where the lives of the fallen would be saluted each day. The Last Post Association was formed in 1928.
Early on in that year, a committee was set up to bring about the police chief’s vision. It seemed logical to incorporate the ‘Last Post’ and ‘Reveille’ and the chief of the local fire brigade promised that they would provide the buglers for the ceremony (something they still do to this day).
So, the idea for the original, continuing service was born. As a result of a number of meetings, a format was agreed and the ceremony of the Last Post and Reveille at the Menin Gate was started, on a regular basis, in the autumn of that year.
During the last war, and the occupation of Ypres in 1940, the Nazi authorities banned the service and tried to confiscate the bugles. Unfortunately, they had already been buried somewhere and couldn’t be found!
Mr. Edgar Ashley Cook, MBE, a successful Woking businessman (and a WWI veteran) heard about this and was upset by the stoppage. Together with a group of friends, he formed an organisation to replicate the Ypres service and the Surrey Last Post Association was born.
The first service was held in Brookwood Cemetery in January 1941. Captain GFW Wilson, DSO, RN was the first President. Despite the difficulties of those dark days and other commitments, the service was held as regularly as possible for the next four years.
On the very day when Ypres was liberated by Polish troops in September 1944, the bugles were dug up, dusted off and once again echoed under the Menin arches. So, the need for the ceremony at Brookwood was over – but not the desire to keep those memories alive here. The services continued and continue.
Mr. Cook, MBE, died in 1953. In 1960 Capt. Wilson retired as President and Lt. Col McKay was appointed as his successor. Sometime during this period, official support was discontinued and the name changed from the Surrey Last Post to the Brookwood Last Post Association.
In 1970, the first pilgrimage to Ypres was organised and continued on a regular basis. In 1978, Lt. Col McKay was made a Freeman of the city of Ypres. He continued to attend the service every year until 1984 and he died in 1986. He is buried in the cemetery adjacent to where we hold the monthly meetings.
Over the years, the ceremony has continued though the membership has changed as those who are left grow old. In 2010, we had a visit from the Last Post Association in Ypres who sent a delegation of Standard Bearers and a joint parade was held. On that occasion, we were honoured by the presence of Her Worshipful the Mayor, Cllr Tina Liddington and the Chief Executive Officer of Woking, Mr. Ray Morgan.
More recently, the Association suffered a double tragedy in 2014 with the deaths of the Chairman, Jim Barry, and the President and Inspecting Officer, Lt. Col Brian Gould within three weeks of each other. They were both cremated and their ashes scattered near each other at the Cross of Sacrifice, looking down at the RAF Pavilion. It was a near mortal blow to the Association and we often struggled to gather enough people together for our monthly services. We are rebuilding but it is a slow process.
Members of the Brookwood Last Post attended the 30,000th edition of the Last Post at the Menin Gate on 9th July 2015.
On 6th November 2016, the 75th anniversary ceremony was held with around 200 people attending. Her Worshipful the Mayor, Cllr Anne Murray, Leader of the Council, John Kingsbury and the Chief Executive Officer of Woking Borough Council, Ray Morgan were in attendance. Also attending were a significant contingent of Woking District Scouts as well as the District Commissioner, Liz Pocknell, and the County Commissioner, Joe Rogerson.
We meet on the first Sunday of the month at 15.00 hours in front of the RAF Memorial. We hold a short service, and a parade of Standards to honour the fallen in the two World Wars and the many engagements since.
We would be delighted if you could spare an hour or so once a month to join us.