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The Exhortation - its origins

The Exhortation  .......  its origins

I've today been asked where the words for The Exhortation came from and while I did know that it was an extract from a poem written by Robert Laurence Binyon called "For the Fallen", I had assumed it was penned only after the end of World War One.  In fact, it was written in mid-September 1914, just a few weeks after the outbreak of The War. Early in The War, the British Expeditionary Force had suffered heavy casualties in its first encounter with the German Imperial Army at the Battle of Mons on 23rd August, its rearguard action during the retreat from Mons in late August and the Battle of Cateau on 26th August.  The BEF also joined with the French Army in frustrating the German advance at the First Battle of the Marne between 5th and 9th September 2014, and heavy casualties were suffered here too.

The poem was first published in The Times newspaper on 21st September 1914, the full version being as below.

 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 mortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

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 daytime;
They sleep beyond England's foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a wellspring that is hiddem 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.

In 1939 Binyon said that the four lines of the fourth verse came to him first.  Those words are now the well-known Exhortation for ceremonies of Remembrance to commemorative the fallen of all conflicts.

Mike Smith
Royal British Legion Village Branch (BR2004)
8 November 2013