Last Post on Cornet

The cornet presented to the 31st Battalion at Enoggera Army Barracks in Brisbane, Queensland, in August 1915, on the occasion of the Battalion’s inclusion as part of the  8th Brigade has been sounding the Last Post and the Rouse at the re-burial of soldiers killed at the Battle of Fromelles whose remains were recovered from the burial pits at Pheasant Wood.

The cornet, made in about 1911 by Boosey & Co, of London, was presented to the 31st Battalion by Mr A J Cotton of “Hidden Vale”, a sizeable property at Grandchester.

The cornet is a close relative of the trumpet and is typically pitched in B-flat. Larger brass bands usually include an e-flat soprano cornet. The cornet is the smallest instrument used in the brass band. When played, the cornet is held straight out from the lips with the valves vertical or slightly inclined to the player’s right. The right hand is used to manipulate the valves and the left hand supports the instrument.

The cornet is engraved with “Solbron (Registered) Class A Trademark BOOSEY Light Valve Boosey & Co, Makers, London, 90735, Guaranteed British Made Throughout. Presented to 31st Battalion A.I.F. by Mr. A. J. Cotton, “Hidden Vale”, Grandchester, August, 1915”.

Shortly after the presentation of the cornet, 31st Bn had a Ragtime Band that may have included the cornet, as evidenced by the following photo held in the Australian War Memorial Collection.  While it is not possible to detect the engraving in the photo and the mouthpiece was longer in 1915, the cornet looks to be otherwise identical to the 96 year old cornet that was presented to the 31st Bn.

Portrait of A Company, 31st Battalion, Ragtime Band October 1915 AWM DAX0831

The names of the 31st Bn soldiers who played the cornet are not known, however it is known that the 31st Bn, as part of the 8th Brigade, 5th Australian Division was one of the attacking battalions in the Battle of Fromelles on 19 July, 1916, the battalion’s first major battle.

Presumably the cornet remained with the 31st Bn for some or all of its time during The Great War before returning to Australia. The battalion’s other Great War Battle Honours include Somme 1916, Bapaume (March 1917), Bullecourt (May 1917), Menin Road (September 1917), Polygon Wood (October 1917), Poelcappelle (October 1917), 1st Passchendaele (October 1917), Ancre (April 1918), Amiens (August 1918), Albert (August 1918), Mont St. Quentin (September 1918), Hindenburg Line (September – October 1918), and St. Quentin Canal (September – October 1918).

What happened to the cornet after that is a bit of a mystery until FFFAIF member and long-time researcher into historical aspects of the 31st Battalion in World War I, Peter Nelson, saw an engraved brass cornet appear in eBay on-line auctions in mid 2009.

Peter had also found a photograph in his grandfather’s photo collection showing  three soldiers, two of whom are holding bugles.  They are thought to be from the 31st Battalion based on Peter’s grandfather’s war service and supported by the shape and shades of their colour patches.  The photo was possibly taken in later in the war – perhaps in 1917 or 1918 based on comparisons of uniforms and buttons. Peter would appreciate any information identifying the soldiers or location.

The cornet needed some repairs after 96 years, so in early September 2009 Peter decided to have the cornet brought back to working order and placed it with a restorer, Legato, in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne. This firm was set-up in the 1930s and specialises in brass and woodwind instruments. They have parts for musical instruments dating back to the 1890s and had a true understanding of the significance of the history of this instrument. They have also provided bugles to Army Messes over the years and know a bit about military bands.

The task was to find and replace two valves, repair the small tear to the back of the tube, get the sliding parts moving again, and remove a couple of dents, but leave enough to keep the ‘feeling’ of the journey that this instrument has been through, and lightly highlight significant parts of the cornet.

It was Peter’s hope to have the instrument played at the dedication of the cemetery at Fromelles on July 19 this year, as quite a few of the missing are 31st men — and the cornet would have been with the battalion at this first terrible action.  Peter commented to the 31st Infantry Battalion Association’s News Bulletin The Whispering Boomerang “This seems a wonderful opportunity to restore some of the cornet’s former glory, at a ceremony which is sure to resonate with poignant memories of the brave Australian soldiers — some of whom served in the 31st — who will be re-buried with honours at Fromelles in a final, full recognition of their sacrifice.”

Peter’s hopes have been exceeded in that the cornet will be played at the Fromelles Cemetery Dedication on 19 July 2010 and Peter will be at Fromelles with the FFFAIF Western Front Tour and hopes to be able to see the Dedication Service. In addition, special dispensation was obtained to allow the Last Post to be sounded on the cornet at the military funerals accompanying the re-burials of all of the soldiers killed at the Battle of Fromelles whose remains were recovered from the burial pits at Pheasant Wood.

The Last Post is sounded on the cornet of the 31st Battalion AIF

The Cornet has been played in Fromelles for each day of re-burials, where it has performed either the Last Post or the Rouse.  The Cornet also sounded The Rouse at the Last Post Ceremony at Menin Gate on Thursday 11 February.

BBC News carried an interview with MUSC Jeffrey Poole, who sounded the Last Post on the cornet during the ceremony.  Click on the following link to see the informative BBC News interview from Saturday, 30 January 2010: ‘Special significance’ of cornet played at Fromelles.

FFFAIF would like to thank the 31st Infantry Battalion Association’s News Bulletin The Whispering Boomerang and its editor Colin Jackson as well as Peter Nelson for permission to use extracts from the December 2009 issue of The Whispering Boomerang.

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