'Last Post' bugler ends 60-year stint

Russell Atkinson with his trusty bugle, following his last performance of the Last Post and...
Russell Atkinson with his trusty bugle, following his last performance of the Last Post and reveille. PHOTO: GERARD O’BRIEN
As the last note sounded on the Last Post and reveille at the Oturehua Anzac Service on Thursday morning, Russell Atkinson decided to call it a day and hang up his bugle for good.

The former Maniototo Area School principal and music teacher has been playing the cornet, trumpet and bugle since he was 11, and has clocked up an estimated 120 performances of the bugle calls over the past 60 years, at Anzac services, RSA funerals and even on a movie soundtrack.

Mr Atkinson (75) said his first performance was as a pupil at Waitaki Boys' High School for the school's Anzac Day service in 1959.

During the early 1980s, he had became so well known for his renditions that he was asked to play on the soundtrack for the New Zealand-made film Bad Blood - the true story of the 1941 manhunt for West Coast farmer Stanley Graham, who went bush after a shooting spree.

"I made a lot of money playing the Last Post that day."

During his long career in the education sector, he had moved around a lot of schools in the South Island, and in each place, he had taken responsibility and pride in playing the call at each year's Anzac services.

"In so many places, they have two or more services. That's why I'm up to 120 or so."

For the past 37 years, he has been playing the calls in the Maniototo area, and said it could sometimes be quite challenging.

"It's not normally a difficult thing to play, but it is at 6.30am on a frosty Ranfurly morning. It can be very, very cold."

Following his last performance in Oturehua on Thursday, he felt "a certain amount of regret".

"Sometimes it can get quite emotional for people.

"In my first year of teaching, I was playing in the Waitaki Valley and a lady came up afterwards and said, `the playing of the Last Post never made me cry, until today'.

"You do milk it. You put a bit of vibrato in it and let that last note just fade off into the hills.

"I've been lucky that 90% of the time, it's outdoors in wonderful settings like a little burial ground at Naseby, in amongst the trees - something special.

"I'll miss helping to create that atmosphere."

Mr Atkinson said it was time to stop because he had major heart surgery last year and it had "really knocked" him.

"Playing a brass instrument is hard on your heart and lungs, and it's becoming more difficult to do.

"The other reason for stopping is, I've always said that I would play until the last old dig died in the Maniototo, and that was four or five years ago.

"So, it's time."

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