I’m pretty certain that nearly all of you will know the following lines from this poem:
Laurence Binyon wrote these words, along with six other verses, in North Cornwall in 1914 after reading about the high volume of casualties suffered by the British Expeditionary Force. Despite being too old to enlist he chose not to sit idly by when the war showed no signs of being won and in 1915 volunteered as a hospital orderly in a British Hospital in France. He also spent time in a military ambulance unit.
The whole poem was published in The Times in September 1914 and since then all or part of these words have been inscribed on thousands of war memorials and cenotaphs and spoken aloud at thousands of memorial services. They are how we honour those who gave their lives so we could live in peace.
I cannot read this poem aloud.
I have often tried but when I reach this verse my voice starts to crack and by the time I have reached We will remember them I cannot speak.
Because I am remembering.
I am hearing the bombs and guns, seeing the dust and the blood and the sheer, terrifying scale of the carnage. I am thinking about the conditions in the trenches, the mustard gas, the rats and the shrill call of the whistle that signalled the charge over the top.
I am seeing row upon rows of graves in Ypres, Flanders and Somme.
This poem, to me, speaks of sacrifice and love and of what the human race is capable of in extremis. It is not a comfortable poem, yet it is comforting and I cannot read it without feeling profoundly grateful; grateful to those who died, grateful to those who still fight across the world on our behalf and grateful that Laurence Binyon found such an eloquent way of expressing just what was and is given.
For the Fallen
With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.
Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.
They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.
But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;
As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.