"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."
The above Ode of Remembrance has been recited to commemorate wartime service and sacrifice since 1921. It is the fourth stanza of the poem For the Fallen by Laurence Binyon. The poem was first published in the British newspaper The Times in September 1914.
They are words many of us know by heart, as we hear them spoken at Anzac Day services yearly. The words are also spoken daily at the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing in Ypres, Belgium, every evening at 8pm, after the first part of the Last Post. It is mostly read by a British serviceman. They remind us that, without the sacrifice of our Anzacs, and those who have fought in wars since, we would not be where we are now.
We absolutely should make the effort to commemorate their service and sacrifice, but to do so properly, perhaps we need to pay equal attention to the words he didn't use as much as those he did.
"Age shall not weary them" is a beautifully poetic way to say "they died" but the reality is, there is no beauty in war or death. As a later stanza in Binyon's poem notes;
"They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home"
In other words - they went to war, and never returned.
Binyon had a way with words and wrote a poem of beauty amidst the desolation and horror of war. We use his words to remind ourselves of that sacrifice, and rightly so, but to truly honour and remember that sacrifice, we must also remember the reality of war, and just what that sacrifice entailed.
The story of war is not beautiful, nor is it one to be glorified, given the Hollywood treatment and turned into a two-dimensional tale of good versus evil, where good always wins.
Binyon is right, we must remember them. We must never forget we are only where we are now, because of the sacrifice made by our Anzacs and those who have fought in other wars since. But in doing so, in remembering them, we must do so with truth and honour. That is, we must not allow ourselves to glorify war, to celebrate what was the death of so many.
Let us instead remember the individuals who have given their lives that we might live, and let us mourn their loss. We should also remember the reality of war, and mourn the world we live in that cannot seem to bring an end to this type of suffering through the obscenity and pointlessness of war.
Let Binyon's words be the thing of beauty we allow to shine through on Anzac Day, and their sentiment be the light that guides us forward, but let's not allow their beauty to hide the true ugliness of war.
To truly honour those who have died, we must remember the reality of their wars, not the fictionalised and airbrushed retellings that exist in the world of movies and books.