Answering my own questions since 2001

They Shall Not Grow Old

I’ve just returned from my annual visit to South Memorial Park, at 41st and Prince Albert St., where they have a Remembrance Day ceremony. It was pretty much the same as last year, so I’ll repeat what I said then:

I was pleased by the number of people who showed. There were many young people, and an ever dwindling number of veterans. The bagpipes sang, the flags cracked in the wind, and old men stood proud.

I thought, today, as I frequently do, about my great uncle Ross, who died in World War II. He was a radio operator on a Lancaster bomber in the Royal Canadian Air Force. His plane was shot down over the Frissian Islands while on a bombing run. Though I never knew him, I’ve always admired the courage he must have had to go to war. That’s his grave, where he rests among three or four hundred Commonwealth soldiers in Kiel, Germany.

Lest we forget, here’s a poem of remembrance:

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 not grow 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.

16 Responses to “They Shall Not Grow Old”

  1. Andrea

    They shall not grow 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.

    This poem is often quoted. I heard it on CBC this morning. In years past, I’ve run into a lot of people who think these lines actually glorify war, as if the author meant that these soldiers were fortunate to never grow old or have bad experiences. I am always astonished by the number of people I meet who think this poem, poppies or Remembrance Day in general are some covert attempt to persuade us that war is a wonderful thing. In my experience, cost veterans and people who lived through wars treat November 11th as a solemn occasion and a call for people to avoid war.

  2. sxKitten

    I attended the ceremony in West Van yesterday (my parents’ band plays, so we made the trek in from Aldergrove). I, too, was impressed by the number of families attending, and by the efforts parents made to keep their children from disturbing the people around them. Less impressive were the clusters of folks (adults who should have known better, I might add) who treated the occasion as an opportunity to visit with their friends, talking through the entire service – including the minute of silence.

    It was difficult to explain to my 8-year-old why she had to be quiet when a 50-something foursome next to us were having a lengthy conversation about favourite restaurants. Were I a braver soul, I should have suggested they retire to the Starbucks down the street.

  3. Janice Carter

    Who wrote the poem: “They shall not grow old, as we who remain grow old. Age shall not weary them or the years condemn”???

  4. Anthony

    Re Laurence Binyon’s poem ‘For the Fallen’, fourth stanza, first line. Which is correct, either ‘They shall not grow old…’ or ‘They shall grow not old…’? Please advise me by email to ant65@dodo.com.au.

  5. Anthony

    It seems that the correct opening line, (as penned by its author Laurence Binyon) to the fourth stanza of the poem ‘For the Fallen’, referred to as the ‘Ode of Remembrance’ is ‘They shall grow not old…’ and NOT what is often and commonly used and thus abused ‘They shall not grow old’. The ‘grow’ precedes the ‘not’

  6. Phil

    I included the forth stanza on my father’s gravestone. The poem is an excellent tribute to all those we remember today.

  7. bobby kennedy

    even long years after origanilly written,
    the 4 lines of remberance,personal thinking are still the best lines to rember new or old lost ones
    :(

  8. Fiona baylis

    Im doing this assesment for SOSE and Im using the fourth stanza as my opening for my speech. I just think that it is a good verse for remembering the anzacs that fought for us in the war.

  9. Thom

    In the fourth stanza of “For The Fallen” – the one best known by many who attend ceremonies of remembrance around the world you have reproduced the words with a couple of errors;

    Firstly, as another respondent has pointed out, the first line of the stanza should read:
    “They shall grow not old ..”
    not
    “They shall not grow old …”

    Secondly in the second line you have repeated the all too common error of substituting “condemn” for the original word “contemn”. Perhaps because so few people know the word ‘contemn’ it has over time , in the minds of many, been replaced with much more well known ‘condemn’ but it changes the meaning of the line significantly.

    However, your initiative is commendable

  10. akitaTAIWAN

    Perhaps Poppy Day wasn’t meant to glorify war but bring honor to those who died and suffered. But it seems like the RC Legion is generally run by pro-military officer types who always want to up budgets for greater armies. Not once have I heard anyone at a Remembrance Day service speak on the waste and futility of the Great War. In that war they did not fall in “the cause of the free”, but “for God, King and Country” in a imperialistic war that planted the seeds of the Second World War.

    And if they’re so much against war why don’t the Poppy people cite Trumbo:

    “To fight that war they would need men and if men saw the future they wouldn’t fight. So they were masking the future they were keeping the future a soft quiet deadly secret. They knew that if all the little people all the little guys saw the future they would begin to ask questions. They would ask questions and they would find answers and they would say to the guys who wanted them to fight they would say you lying thieving sons-of-bitches we won’t fight we won’t be dead we will live we are the world we are the future and we will not let you butcher us no matter what you say no matter what speeches you make no matter what slogans you write,”

    Trumbo Johnny Got His Gun

    Meanwhile I salute those who wear poppies, both red and white!

    Matt Reply:

    I would imagine it’s obvious why the RC Legion is “generally run by pro-military officer types” – because having been soldiers themselves they want to be involved in supporting them. And just because people want a higher budget, doesn’t mean it’s for “greater armies” – here in Britain we could do with a much bigger Defence budget because our soldiers are forced to live in sub-standard to squalid housing conditions and aren’t paid nearly as much as they deserve.

    I wonder if those people who wear white poppies would dare explain their choice to a man who served in the first world war.

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  12. Ernst Becker

    Laurence Binyon clutched the heart with his words — “We Will Remember Them”. Please allow me to pass on a poem written by the late Major Micahel Davis O’Donnell. Major O’Donnel was KIA on 3/24/1970 near Dak To, The Republic That Once Was Vietnam. His remains were recovered and he was interned at Arlington National Cemetery. Washington D.C.

    Ernst Becker
    RVN 66/67
    USMC

    If you are able, save them a place inside of you and save one back backward glance when you are leaving for places they can no longer go.

    Be not ashamed to say that you loved them, though you may or may not have always. Take what they have left and what they have taught you with their dying and keep it with your own.

    And in time when men decide to call war insane, take one moment to embrace those gentle heroes you left behind.

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