Time may be starting to catch up with Neville Cowles, but that will not stop him playing an important role in Anzac Day services in the Waitaki district.
The 76-year-old has been playing the Last Post and Reveille on Anzac Day at various services around the district for more than five decades.
He said he was thrust into the role in 1962 as a 21-year-old, about two weeks before Anzac Day, when he was a member of the Oamaru Garrison Band.
“I think it came about because we got a new conductor, who was actually of German descent. The bloke who had done it before me, time had caught up with him and he was about 70 then. He had to give up and I had to take over.
“The new conductor appointed me and they made me the official trumpeter at the RSA.”
Mr Cowles recalled being nervous before his Anzac Day debut.
“I had to put a lot of practice into it because I didn’t know I was going to be doing it.
It is not uncommon for him to play his cornet several times on Anzac Day.
On one day in about 1964, he played the Last Post 10 times and Reveille nine times.
Mr Cowles, who will this year play at Oamaru’s 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, has fond memories of his years in the role.
He recalled playing the Last Post while standing on a table at the former RSA building in Itchen St one year, and having a near-miss while he and a friend travelled to Hampden one Anzac Day morning.
“He had a really big, heavy Jaguar car. Just before you get to Maheno, the road used to be a bit upsy-downsy. He put his foot down and we saw on the brow of the next hill a car coming straight towards us.
“I thought we’d have a head-on [crash] that day. We had to pass it but the car went faster than I thought it might, so we were all right in the end.”
He also recalled a priest one year turning up to speak at an Oamaru service in his pyjamas after he slept in and arrived in a taxi with minutes to spare.
Mr Cowles can’t say when he will hang up his cornet for good, saying that was “up to God”.
He hoped a younger member of the Oamaru Garrison Band would one day take over but said Oamaru did not have many young cornet players.
He believed more people than ever were attending Anzac Day services, a trend he hoped would continue.
“I think it’s quite important. It seems to be to the general public.”
Mr Cowles was recognised in this year’s New Year’s Honours with a Queen’s Service Medal for services to music.
He held several roles with the Oamaru Garrison Band including chairman, band sergeant and brass tutor.
Every Sunday for the past 10 years he has played solo cornet with the Oamaru Salvation Army Band.
He represented New Zealand in Japan, where he played with the City of Dunedin Brass Band in 1984.
He played in the Chingay Processional at the Singapore Independence Celebrations in 1994 with the Timaru Municipal Band, played in the orchestra for 29 Oamaru Operatic Society shows between 1966 and 2015, played in the Oamaru Savage Club orchestra for 50 years, and was a trumpet soloist at the Oamaru Music Group’s classical concerts from 1967 to 2010.
Mr Cowles said it was “really nice” to receive the Queen’s Service Medal.
He will be presented with his medal by Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy at a ceremony in Auckland on April 27.