Samuel Potter was in the Coldstream Guards from the age of fourteen, and was passionate about drums, fifes, and bugles. He dreamed of starting a musical instrument company, but as a British Army officer he was barred from doing so. Cleverly, on the day his son Henry was born in 1810, Samuel established Henry Potter & Co. Ltd., specialising in military instruments. This is where my story begins.
I am a proud bugle who was created with love at Henry Potter & Co., 30 Charing Cross London in 1888. With foresight, the company name was etched onto the front of my body so that nobody would ever forget where I came from. The stamp also marked me as a military bugle for the British War Department, but I was naïve enough to think I would live a peaceful life and not see the horrors of war.
Made of brass, and expertly crafted by one of the dedicated staff of the company, I was made to last. In 1951 a film was made in Henry Potter & Co.’s West Street London store, where bugles were still being made the way they were when I was created, back in 1888.
My peaceful existence ended when England declared war on Germany on the 4th of August 1914. Claude Sneesby, born in Lidcombe in 1895, was one of the thousands of brave Australians who answered the call to support England, and enlisted on the 27th of November 1914. At that time, Claude was a trumpeter in a Lidcombe band, which made him perfect for the job of a Bugler in the 13th Battalion, and my new owner. I was only seven years older than Claude, so we were more like brothers and were inseparable from the day we met.
On the 22nd of December 1914, Claude and I boarded HMAT Ulysses in Melbourne, as she set sail for the war on the other side of the world.
When we arrived in Egypt, Claude was trained for landing day, and I was with him all the way. We were lucky to dodge bullets that hissed past us as we disembarked from the boats at Gallipoli. Others were not so lucky and for them, the solemn sounds of the Last Post laid them to rest. I was built for war, but Claude was not. He was only nineteen.
Claude fought with me by his side until the 11th of November 1919, when guns and bugles were silenced by the announcement that war was over. We were going home. Instead of the Last Post over a dead soldier’s body, we would play on Anzac Day ceremonies in honour of those left behind, and for Claude’s future grandchildren, who we hoped would never know war as we had. Claude’s granddaughters remember with pride how Claude and I played for them in the 1950s, in a time of peace.
Claude and I played one last song together before a heart attack called him home to his Maker in 1976. When his belongings were dispersed, I was proudly given to Claude’s first grandson, who had often marched with him on Anzac Day in Sydney. I knew I was in safe hands, but when Claude’s grandson died in 2016, I wondered what would become of me.
For a few years I remained seemingly forgotten on a shelf, until family members met to discuss my future. They contacted the War Memorial in Canberra, and were told I would probably be stored until needed for display, but the family didn’t want me stored away in a cold, dark storage facility, alone and forgotten. They respected my age and military history, but more so the love Claude and I had shared. They decided that Claude’s great-grandson would eventually become the family custodian of me.
Perhaps this story of my life and journey with Claude will ensure that future generations realise what Claude and I went through in the Great War of 1914. Claude was only nineteen when he enlisted, but he served fearlessly. He left Australia as a teenager but returned as a Veteran, who saw and experienced things no teenager should ever see and do.
I might be one-hundred and thirty-three years old, but I’m still as good as the day I was created. My body may be dented, but I’m proud of every blow that was delivered on the war zone, and I can still raise the notes needed to signal a new day, or the end of duty for a veteran, as easily as I could in 1914. Henry Potter & Co. made sure I would last the distance. There is still music in me, but I’ve earned the right to sit proudly on a shelf in Claude’s great-grandson’s home. I’d like to think future generations of Claude’s family will treasure me, in honour of their ancestor who went to war when he was only nineteen.
Read more of my blogs at: Maureen Durney; Grandfather Berg: Mountain View;
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