25 April 2016

ANZAC Day: our Ode of Remembrance

I learned off by heart the Ode of Remembrance in primary school in the early 1950s and can still remember the words now. But I had no idea who the poet was, so I am citing the ABC News in this post

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.

This is one stanza of the Ode of Remembrance which is recited at Anzac Day dawn services across Australia and New Zealand and engraved on war memorials and cenotaphs in both nations.

Ode of Remembrance
Dawn service
Anzac Day
25th April 2016

The Ode, though, was not the work of a local but comes from a poem by Englishman Laurence Binyon (1869–1943). Born in Lancashire to a Quaker family, young Laurence started working for the Department of Printed Books of the British Museum and their Department of Prints and Drawings, while writing his own work at night.

Binyon himself did not belong to the same generation as other well-known war poets such as Wilfred Owen and Rupert Brooke. When the Great War broke out in 1914, 45 year old Binyon was too old to enlist, so he volunteered as an ambulance driver and hospital orderly in France instead. 

Less than seven weeks after the outbreak of war, Binyon became very emotional about the already high number of casualties of the British Expedit­ion­ary Force - long lists of the dead and wounded were appearing in British newspapers.  Binyon said he wrote the poem For the Fallen after the surviving British and French soldiers retreated from Mons, during the Battle of the Marne, in September 1914. A so-called victory for the French and Allies against the Germans, the battle had actually cost tens of thousands of Allied lives. And promises of a speedy end to war were fading fast.

Binyon wrote the poem as he was visiting the cliffs on the north Cornwall coast, at Polzeath or at Portreath; at each of which places there is a plaque commemorating the event. He started with the stanza 'They shall grow not old' and this dictated the rhythmical movement of the whole poem.

The piece was published in London by The Times newspaper in September, when public feeling was also affected by the recent Battle of Marne. After the poem appeared in The Times in London on the 21st September 1914, it quickly acquired popular currency in the Antipodes and was reprinted by many Australian newspapers, sometimes in shorter versions, throughout the war.

The phrase 'Lest We Forget', which is usually uttered after the Ode, is not by Binyon but was penned by his fellow poet and contemporary Rudyard Kipling.

When Binyon died in 1943, his name was commemorated on a stone plaque in Poet’s Corner at Westminster Abbey, alongside 15 fellow poets of the Great War.

Today is Anzac Day, the most solemn day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand. In every dawn ceremony in every city and country town, Binyon’s poem/secular prayer will be read.


the foto fanatic said...

Lest We Forget

I've grown sadder each Anzac Day thinking of those lost and those who came home ill or injured, not only as a result of service in WWI, but also all the conflicts since.

It seems that human beings are tragically flawed when in comes to war and therefore destined to relive it every generation.

Hels said...

foto fanatic

all conflicts since *nod*. I think I am mesmerised by the Great War, partially because it was (wrongly) thought of as the "war to end all wars". But also because Australia and New Zealand were brand new sovereign nations and our 18 year old lads were full of optimism and patriotism for king and empire. They honestly believed they would Do Their Bit and be home by Christmas.

In later wars, we should have been less tragically naive and more intelligent in our support of king and commonwealth. We could have sent masses of food, transport, arms, medical staff and every other thing to Britain and France, without wiping out a generation of young men.

Anzac Day is heartbreaking.

Joseph said...

At the Anzac Day football match today (Essendon Vs Collingwood) they took 10 minutes before the first bounce to march in the soldiers, recite "They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old" and play the Last Post. Then 91,000 people screamed their heads off.

Hels said...


I am ambivalent. On one hand, the Anzac Day match is the biggest of the home and away season, at least in terms of audience size and participation. Plus the weather is still gorgeous in late April. But I wonder if a football ground, full of testosterone and beer, is the right place for a solemn ceremony of remembrance. It must be. The match is sold out, every year!

Andrew said...

This year at Perth's dawn service was the first time I really listened to the ode. It is so appropriate. Thanks for the background.

Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, Every country has its Memorial Day, but it is increasingly clear that the World Wars were ended with massive joint efforts, and it is important to acknowledge and commemorate each country's and individual's contributions.

Hels said...


me too. Even if we learned a poem off by heart in childhood, it doesn't mean we really understood what it had to say.

Additionally I had seen Laurence Binyon's name on the stone plaque in Westminster Abbey's Poet’s Corner with my own eyes, and I still didn't think to ask who he was.

Hels said...


that is so true. Today The Independent described how Prince Harry laid a wreath during a dawn service at Wellington Arch to mark the start of Anzac Day commemorations in the UK. Prince Harry also laid a wreath at the memorial at Hyde Park Corner, followed by the New Zealand and Australian high commissioners and other dignitaries.

Thousands of people, mainly expats and visiting New Zealanders and Australians, waited in the dark before the start of proceedings, 100 years after Anzac Day was first marked in London in 1916. It was Britain's way of acknowledging and commemorating other countries contributions to the war effort, as you said.

Hels said...

Perkinsy at Stumbling Through the Past mentioned "WW1: Love and Sorrow" at the Melbourne Museum. The stories of World War I soldiers and their families remain profoundly affecting. Over 100,000 Victorians enlisted; survivors returned forever changed but many never came home at all. We still feel the war's aftermath today, a century after it began. This exhibition includes over 300 objects and photographs, each of which tells a story of love and sorrow.

Note the exhibition dates: August 2014 – November 2018, exactly 100 years after the start and end of WW1. For those who know they will miss this very moving exhibition, a detailed review has been written by Michael McKernan. http://recollections.nma.gov.au/issues/volume_10_number_1/exhibition_reviews/wwi_love_and_sorrow

Louise Wilson said...

Your post and the comments from your readers brought a tear to my eye. Strangely, I shed no tears yesterday at the Dawn Service in Melbourne when the ambience just wasn't right, for some reason, and blimp's engine added a very intrusive note. Some people know how to recite that Ode and the poem 'In Flanders Fields', and some don't. Some buglers know how to play the Last Post, and some don't. You and your followers, Hels, know how to put words together. Thank you.

Hels said...


I wonder if a family, whose father uncles and grandfathers went to war, might respond differently. My grandfather, who I knew and adored, migrated later to Australia as a wounded ex-WW1 soldier. My father, who was not wounded in WW2, became very anti-war when he was demobbed. At least they both survived.

When my spouse's birth date went into the Vietnam conscription barrel in 1967, he was _very_ fortunate not to be called up. We could not have survived a third generation of men being sent to die/be wounded in remote and unknown fields.

Hels said...

oops I meant "respond differently from a family who had never been touched by war".

Jim said...

I just found some information about the history of the cannons in Brighton- Le Sands connected with HMS Wolverine so added it to my post and provided links for more info.

Hels said...


thank you. I find I learn more from blogging than I do from journal articles.