The Last Post is one of a number of bugle calls in military tradition which mark the phases of the day. Where ‘Reveille' signaled the start of a soldier's day, the ‘Last Post' signaled its end.
It is believed originally to have been part of a more elaborate routine, known in the British Army as ‘tattoo', that had its origins in the 17th century. During the evening, a duty officer had to do the rounds of his unit's position, checking that the sentry posts were manned, rounding up the off-duty soldiers and packing them off to their beds or billets. He would be accompanied by one or more musicians. The ‘first post' was sounded when the duty officer started his rounds and, as the party proceeded from post to post, a drum was played. The drum beats told off-duty soldiers it was time to rest. If the soldiers were staying in a town, the beats told them it was time to quit the pubs.
‘Tattoo' is derived from ‘doe den tap toe', Dutch for ‘turn off the taps' - a call which is said to have followed the drum beats in Dutch pubs while English armies were campaigning through Holland and Flanders in the 1690s.
From this routine, the American practice of ‘taps' or ‘drum taps' also originated. Another bugle call was sounded when the party completed their rounds and reached the ‘last post', signalising that the night sentries were alert at their posts and gave one last warning to any soldiers still at large that it was time to retire for the evening.
‘Last Post' was incorporated into funeral and memorial services as a final farewell, and symbolises that the duty of the dead is over and that they can rest in peace.