They shall not grow old as we who are left grow old. We have said that every Remembrance Sunday, and it chills at each reading. It must be every year, because as the echo of the Great War recedes into the past, as even the understanding of the Second War fades, a nation needs to be reminded, generation by generation.
It is not so far from them as the carefree youngster of our day might think. The dry pages of a history book conceal the truth that it is the story of youth: young men and boys like themselves, with the same hopes and dreams and silly humour, were cast into the adventure. They acquitted themselves gloriously; both those who emerged and those left on the field. Those who fell shall not grow old; but that phrase is from a longer poem, not all mournful but also praising the fallen for their dauntless spirit, which is to praise the spirit of young men:
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.
Today the world is unquiet. Britain and Western Europe have, thanks be to God, rested in peace for nearly eighty years, though the edge of the continent has latterly been convulsed by that ancient curse. It is hard to imagine what the war was, or why. We have even had comedies set in the trenches. Actually though, in the shell-holes and trenches there was still comedy, because it keeps a man sane. If you ever hear the songs the German soldiers sang, grim dirges they are looking forward to death, and compare them to Tipperary and others our boys sang in the midst of the destruction, that might give a clue to how a British sense of humour must have helped us win through. These were young men just like those of our own day, and those of our own day need to be reminded. Whatever wars we weep with when we wander to our quiet homes, if those who want to march at their anguish, they are nothing compared to the twentieth century.
Except, that a mother weeps as much or her son if he is one, or one of two million.
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.
- And then there was silence
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