SHARE
Stirring . . . Mr Cowles is playing the Last Post from within his lockdown bubble this year. PHOTO: REBECCA RYAN

Oamaru Anzac stalwart Neville Cowles is still practising the cornet despite tomorrow’s commemorations going “virtual”.

The 79-year-old has had to stand down from his renowned role of playing the Last Post and Reveille at local Anzac services due to the Covid-19 lockdown. However, he hopes to be back next year as an octogenarian.

He also plans to play the moving music on his veranda in unison with live-streamed services early tomorrow morning.

The lockdown restrictions had “all come upon us very quickly – we’ve been shocked into reality”, Mr Cowles told the Oamaru Mail.

But the lifelong musician continued to polish his cornet skills throughout his enforced stay in his Oamaru home.

“I had a blow today. You have to keep it up or your technique slips.”

Mr Cowles began learning the piano as a child, at his mother’s wish.

“I never really wanted to. I learned for four or five years.

“I was more keen to get out and play with the other youngsters.”

When he went to Waitaki Boys’ High School, he played brass instruments in its band that boasted more than 60 members.

Oamaru Garrison Band conductor Tom Ovens visited the school to see if any of the boys wanted to join the town band. A number of them, including Mr Cowles, took up the offer.

They had to be committed to attending practices regularly, he said.

Mr Cowles played the cornet, trumpet, flugelhorn, and bugle.

He became the designated player of the Last Post and Reveille back in 1962, when he was 21. Just a fortnight before Anzac Day, the band’s new conductor asked him to step up and he was made the official trumpeter at the RSA.

One year, he thinks it was 1964, his tour of the district’s Anzac services entailed playing the Last Post 10 times and Reveille nine times.

Most years he has played at the Oamaru dawn service, the morning service at the RSA Garden of Memories, the soldiers’ plot at the Oamaru cemetery, the Turakina monument at Lookout Point, and Totara’s early service.

Mr Cowles’ dedication was recognised with a Queen’s Service Medal for services to music in the 2017 New Year Honours. Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy presented it to him at a ceremony at Government House in April that year.

The official citation said his dedication to music was “peerless”. He had played the cornet, trumpet, and military bugle in both the Oamaru Garrison Band and Timaru Municipal Band for 57 years at that stage, and had played the Last Post and Reveille for 54 years at RSA Anzac Day ceremonies or funerals across North Otago and South Canterbury.

He was also chairman, band sergeant, and brass tutor for the Garrison Band; represented New Zealand in Japan with the City of Dunedin Brass Band in 1984; played in the Chingay Processional at the Singapore Independence Celebrations in 1994 with the Timaru Municipal Band; played in the Oamaru Savage Club orchestra for 50 years; played in the orchestra for 29 Oamaru Operatic Society shows from 1966 to 2015; was the trumpet soloist in the Oamaru Music Group’s classical concerts from 1966 to 2010; and played solo cornet with the Oamaru Salvation Army Band every Sunday for 10 years.

Mr Cowles appreciated the growing attendance at Anzac Day services and young people’s awareness of sacrifices made by their forebears.

“Various members of my family were in both wars and my great-uncles were in the Boer War.”

His father served in the World War 2 desert battles in North Africa.

Mr Cowles said the deprivations of the lockdown were the first such experience for today’s generations, and emphasised why New Zealanders had gone overseas to fight.

“We learn the value of our freedoms.”