Dusk ceremony touches the heart

By Lindy Laird

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Frank Lundberg (left) playing the Last Post at the Pukeahu National War Memorial in Wellington.
Frank Lundberg (left) playing the Last Post at the Pukeahu National War Memorial in Wellington.

Playing the Last Post gets to Frank Lundberg every time but seldom among the countless times he's performed one of the world's most evocative tunes has it meant as much to him as it did last week.

The Whangarei man was the bugler - although he played a cornet - at the 5pm lowering of the flags at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, in front of the Pukeahu National War Memorial in Wellington. The dusk ritual sees the Last Post played nightly to commemorate the going down of the sun on every day of World War I, the Great War which lasted from 1914 until 1918.

"I nailed it," said Mr Lundberg, a former New Zealand Army Band member, now in the NZ Army Veterans' Band and, for 25 years, the musical director of the Whangarei District Brass Band.

He admits to being slightly nervous, and very emotional, before stepping into position in front of the memorial where the nightly ritual is held.

"I said to my wife, 'I don't know if I can do this'," he said.

Only minutes before he had gone into the Hall of Memories at the national cenotaph in Buckle St and seen names from his late father's Royal NZ Army artillery (7th Anti-tank) regiment listed among the thousands. Although he had been in the 7th, his father, who did return, played in the 5th Brigade Band. His son would follow in his army and musical footsteps.

"That's how I got into the brass music, through him," said Mr Lundberg, who joined the army in 1971 and saw two overseas tours in a 10-year career.

He described the Last Post ritual as "calling down the spirits of everyone who had died on that day. It was a very moving experience, a great honour to be standing there doing that".

Last year, to commemorate Anzac Day and the centenary of WWI, Mr Lundberg organised the nightly Last Post ceremony at the Whangarei Cenotaph after it was moved from Rose St to Laurie Hall Park.

In 2010 he was with the NZ Army Veterans' Band when they played at commemorations at Passchendaele and he has also played his part in Australian Anzac Day commemorations.

Now, playing solo at the Pukeahu National War Memorial Park is "right up there", he said. Even just visiting the site, with its centrepiece 51-metre-high bell tower, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Hall of Memories with four Rolls of Honour bearing the names and ranks of 28,654 New Zealanders, was an experience, he said.

He signed up for the gig when he was planning a trip to Wellington but people don't have to play the Last Post to take part, Mr Lundberg said.

Anyone can volunteer to play a part in the evening ceremony by reciting The Ode of Remembrance in either Maori or English.

It can be arranged by contacting the Environment and Heritage Committee.

- Northern Advocate

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