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Aileen Lawrie plays a WWI bugle at the ANZAC Day ceremony in Thames. Photo: ALICE PARMINTER

First Last Post for WWI bugle in nearly 20 years

As the Last Post rang out across Thames this Anzac Day, few people may have realised it was about as authentic as it could get.

Aileen Lawrie, chief executive of Thames Coromandel District Council, was the bugle player, and the instrument she held was an heirloom dating back to the first World War.

“It’s a World War I bugle and you can tell by the design, its shape. This is a British one,” Aileen said.

The bugle is one of a pair on loan to the Thames Museum by the family of Miriam McKenzie, Thames RSA’s official bugler of more than 27 years.

“She bugled at RSA funerals, and dawn services, that sort of thing,” Miriam’s son Fritz McKenzie said.

“[The bugles] have got a bit of history.”

Miriam first began playing for the RSA in the mid-1970s with the vintage bugle. As time went on, a local policeman by the name of Arthur Burns noticed the condition of the instrument and gave her his father’s bugle as a replacement.

The Burn’s Bugle was notable in its own right, having reportedly been played at the funeral of former New Zealand prime minister Michael Joseph Savage.

Miriam played the Burn’s bugle for Thames RSA until her retirement in 2004.

Fast forward to 2023, and the bugles were freshly on display at the museum. It was a bit of serendipity when Aileen popped in for a tour.

“I’d only just brought [the bugles] in and she came along,” Fritz said.

“She wondered if we had a bugle and I’d just donated the two of them, and next minute she cranks a note out of it and away she went.”

Aileen has been a brass player all her life, starting out as the principal cornet player of the Marlborough College boy’s brass band. She played in brass bands throughout New Zealand, was in the Air Force band, and in recent years she played The Last Post at Anzac Day events in Opotiki.

This year, she was due to play at Paeroa with the Kerepehi Brass Band, of which she is a member. But when she saw the museum’s bugles she jumped on the opportunity to play one of them at the Thames service instead.

The museum volunteers were all too happy to let Aileen borrow a bugle. She settled on Miriam’s original one, pairing it with the mouthpiece from the Burn’s bugle.

“It’s really nice that [the bugles] will be out and playing on Anzac day again,” Thames Museum chairperson Carolyn McKenzie said.

Aileen said she was privileged to be able to carry on the tradition of a female bugler in Thames. The addition of an authentic instrument was the icing on the cake.

“I’m going to be nervous and I’m going to try not to shake because when you shake, your sound wobbles,” she said.

“I guess there’s quite a bit of pressure on [me] to do it justice. These events are really meaningful. It’s not lost on me.”

By ALICE PARMINTER, Public Interest Journalism funded by NZ on Air