Through our last issue, our regular contributor Jean Schoenmaker and I discovered we have something in common. Each of us has a family member who died at Passcehndaele within 24 hours of each other, November 10 and 11, 1917.
Both Wesley Pyne and Ernest Gaye were with the Canadian Expeditionary Force near Ypres in Flanders, Belgium during that bloody battle. Both are commemorated in the Menin Gate at Ypres, where everything stops every day as local volunteers still sound The Last Post in remembrance.
The Last Post is a bugle call that was sounded in military camps to signal that the Duty Officer had completed his evening inspection rounds. The day was over; activity in camp was to cease.
It is now used to signal the start of two minutes’ silence on Remembrance Day. The silence is broken by the bugler sounding The Rouse, the first call of a new day in camp. The sequence follows the Christian teaching of life, death, and resurrection.
The sequence also describes the circle of generations I had the privilege of closing in Lemberg, Saskatchewan on November 11, 2017.
Musical talent can run in families, so my parents’ hopes were high when I showed an interest in music as a child. There were accomplished musicians on father’s side of the family, but that trait skipped a generation with my Dad—he quit his childhood piano lessons at his first opportunity.
But my grandfather Herbert Gaye played piano, cornet and violin. His brothers Arthur, Ernest, and Percy, and his sister Edith were all musical, and it’s no surprise—their father, my great-grandfather Joseph Gaye was an accomplished musician and bandmaster.
Joseph was born to a family of labourers from the brickyards of Gravesend, on the south shore of the River Thames. Somewhere, somehow, he received an education in music—he certainly didn’t attend a privileged school. In fact, there is no surviving record of his education or even amateur performances from his youth.
In 1870, at the age of 18, he joined the army—notably as a rifleman, not as a bandsman. After training at Shornecliffe (and some time spent in cells for absenting himself without leave) he and his battalion shipped out first for Ireland, and then in 1873 to India.
The 4th Battalion fought in several battles for the British Raj, including Ali Masjid in Afghanistan. Joseph was still in India in 1882 when his 12-year term in the army was up for renewal. But rather than re-up, he took a civilian position as Bandmaster with an Indian military band. In May of that year, he married Mary Elizabeth Short, my great-grandmother.
Joseph’s new career moved him to lead a number of Indian and Nepalese military bands, including the 45th (Rattray’s Sikhs) Bengal Native Infantry and the band of the Royal Nepalese Army. Eventually he was appointed bandmaster to the Viceroy of India.
Joseph and Mary had six children while in India and Nepal, including Henry who died at the age of two. When Joseph retired from the Viceroy’s service in 1899, the family moved to England. With help from a cousin, Joseph bought two pubs in Kent.
It’s clear the family had trouble adjusting to life in England. By 1903 the couple split up amid bitter mutual accusations. Mary and young Edith moved from Westerham, Kent to Middlesbrough, Yorkshire; Joseph and the boys moved to Saskatchewan.
After “proving” their granted homestead land (with some difficulty – Joseph was probably not much of a farmer), the family sold it and moved into Lemberg. Joseph worked there as the town constable at first, eventually becoming the town clerk.
The family was not long in Lemberg before the boys were playing in the town band, under Joseph’s direction. The band improved considerably during that time, winning Western Canada honours at the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair in Brandon.
In 1915, Ernest Gaye enlisted to fight in the First World War. His brothers Percy and Herbert followed in 1916 and 1917, respectively.
Ernest was assigned to the 7th Battalion, and served with them at the Somme, Vimy, Arras, Arleux, and Hill 70. In the fall of 1917 he was granted 10 days leave and travelled to England, where he saw his mother and sister for the first time in a dozen years.
Ernest returned to Belgium around November 5, 1917. He would be killed within a week.
After the war, Percy and Herbert returned to Saskatchewan. Over the next several years, the Lemberg band would play at official events celebrating the local heroes who returned home, and remembering those who fell.
Joseph was called upon to play The Last Post in Lemberg more than once, still with the pain of Ernest’s loss in his heart.
That I became a military musician and bandmaster is more a matter of coincidence than family tradition or even genetics. My parents certainly encouraged my music, in no small part because they were aware of family history. But I cannot claim any innate talent or gift for music—none of it came particularly easily to me.
The three generations of Joseph’s progeny didn’t stay close. There were branches of the family still in Saskatchewan, Arthur had moved to Manitoba, and his children in turn moved on to British Columbia. In 2014, I heard from Mary Margaret Gaye, a cousin I had never met. She lives in the lower mainland, and was researching family history for a book.
We corresponded over the next several months, comparing stories and exchanging pictures and historical documents. She was able to put the story together in much more detail than I am sharing with you now.
As her book was nearing completion, we both came to realize that the centenary of Ernest’s death was approaching. I offered my services as a bugler to Lemberg Branch 69 of the Royal Canadian Legion for their 2017 Remembrance Day service.
The people of Lemberg were receptive, and accepted my offer. Thanks to Mary Margaret, I now had a deeper appreciation of my family’s history than I had before. I knew of Ernest as more than just a relative who died in the war. And I had a far greater understanding of Lemberg and its own place in Saskatchewan history.
Mary Margaret and her husband Doug made the trip. I met my cousin for the first time, in our mutual ancestors’ hometown, on November 10, 2017—one hundred years to the day after Ernest died in Flanders. That evening we were joined in the Lemberg Hotel bar by Percy’s daughter-in-law Eileen Gaye.
(Eileen had brought some family relics from India to give to us, including some brass pieces and two complete sets of Gurkha knives. We realized about half an hour into our conversations that sitting in the bar with these fierce weapons on the table might not be regarded as proper!)
It was cold with some snow on the morning of November 11. It was important to me, considering the occasion, that I play The Last Post and the Rouse perfectly. They are not technically difficult to play—at least not in a warm practice room with no one listening. But cold, wind, and performance pressure can challenge even the best trumpeter.
I’m pleased to report I played well. Mary Margaret and Doug laid a wreath in Ernest’s name, taking its place among those of the town’s fallen from two world wars. And afterward, we placed our poppies on Joseph’s grave in the Lemberg cemetery.
In my career, I have played The Last Post hundreds of times at funerals and memorials, commemorative parades, and of course Remembrance Day services. Like every other bugler I have known, I approach the task with profound respect, and every occasion is meaningful. It came as a surprise to me that this performance could move me even more deeply.
It’s said that we die twice: once when we pass from this earth, and again on the day when our name is spoken for the last time. I am thankful to Mary Margaret and to the town of Lemberg for keeping Ernest’s memory alive.
This Remembrance Day, may there be someone to speak the names of all those who died in service to Canada.
Lest We Forget.