For the Fallen
by Laurence Binyon (1914)
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.
My grandfather, my father, my uncle, my mother all served in World War II. My grandfather also served in WW I.
My parents met and married during the war. Yes, I am a descendant of a military family.
It became real to me in the fall of 2004 when I spent two weeks with my uncle on a Canadian veteran's tour of their World War II campaign in Italy.
I traveled to the site of battles, listened to the stories the soldiers had to tell, wanted to tell, needed to tell. Sometimes they were told with tears in their eyes, but more often they talked about the adventure, the camaraderie, the silly pranks they played.
They were just young, young men in a situation where they wanted to defend their freedom, their families, their country, and they were doing it in a world far away from their own.
This trip gave me a closer connection to my uncle, and, through those moments of connection, closer to my father who died when I was only seventeen.
I stood through many memorial ceremonies at cenotaphs, listening to speeches from our Governor-General, and weeping, moved to tears by the choirs of Italian children, and so fiercely proud of being a Canadian.
That experience brought the meaning of what it was like to be in a war closer to me. The suffering, the loss, the gratefulness of those who were given their freedom, the sorrow of those who lost sons, husbands, lovers, friends.
Throughout the tour I heard the words often: We will remember. As we are a bi-lingual country we also heard this phrase in french:
It echoes in my mind.
Je me souviens.
And I leave you with this poem, for my father who enlisted when he was just 17. He did return from this war, but it forever left its mark.
"Where are you going, Young Fellow My Lad,
On this glittering morn of May?"
"I'm going to join the Colours, Dad;
They're looking for men, they say."
"But you're only a boy, Young Fellow My Lad;
You aren't obliged to go."
"I'm seventeen and a quarter, Dad,
And ever so strong, you know."
"So you're off to France, Young Fellow My Lad,
And you're looking so fit and bright."
"I'm terribly sorry to leave you, Dad,
But I feel that I'm doing right."
"God bless you and keep you, Young Fellow My Lad,
You're all of my life, you know."
"Don't worry. I'll soon be back, dear Dad,
And I'm awfully proud to go
"Why don't you write, Young Fellow My Lad?
I watch for the post each day;
And I miss you so, and I'm awfully sad,
And it's months since you went away.
And I've had the fire in the parlour lit,
And I'm keeping it burning bright
Till my boy comes home; and here I sit
Into the quiet night
"What is the matter, Young Fellow My Lad?
No letter again to-day.
Why did the postman look so sad,
And sigh as he turned away?
I hear them tell that we've gained new ground,
But a terrible price we've paid:
God grant, my boy, that you're safe and sound;
But oh I'm afraid, afraid."
"They've told me the truth, Young Fellow My Lad:
You'll never come back again:
(Oh God! the dreams and the dreams I've had,
and the hopes I've nursed in vain!)
For you passed in the night, Young Fellow My Lad,
And you proved in the cruel test
Of the screaming shell and the battle hell
That my boy was one of the best.
"So you'll live, you'll live, Young Fellow My Lad,
In the gleam of the evening star,
In the wood-note wild and the laugh of the child,
In all sweet things that are.
And you'll never die, my wonderful boy,
While life is noble and true;
For all our beauty and hope and joy
We will owe to our lads like you."
Robert William Service