I’ve always been moved by Remembrance Day but, until I read a TMP essay called ’A Character’ (written in 1927), I’d no idea who wrote the solemn tribute which echoes annually through Remembrance ceremonies worldwide; a verse from ‘’For the Fallen” by Laurence Binyon.
The essay concerns the development of character rather than ‘a character’ in the sense of an eccentric (the SES criticisms at the end of the essay are divided as to which it should be!). It begins with a conversation between the author and a small boy called Alec, then a later conversation between the two when Alec is a student at Oxford, and finally a sympathetic exchange between the two while Alec is home on leave from fighting in WW1, during which Alec commiserates with his friend about being too old to be accepted to fight. Then comes an account of Alec’s death at the Front, followed by the famous verse – the typing heavily corrected in Grandfather’s none too neat handwriting. (I did wonder how often the essays did the rounds – surely CCF’s notes wouldn’t have been seen?!) One of the critics wonders if the lines are correct, and Grandfather responds with a note that he was not sure, as he was “unable to find them anywhere”.
How different it is now – just a few keystrokes at the computer and the Internet yields its treasures! It seems my Grandfather had more in common with Laurence Binyon than poetry. He, too, was deemed too old to go and fight in WW1 but even so, they both shared the extraordinary drive to get to the Front to fight for their country. Finally, after much ‘wangling’ Grandfather got his wish and was sent to Thiepval Wood in 1916 at the age of 46. According to Wikipedia, Laurence Binyon, who was two years older than CCF, volunteered at a British hospital for French soldiers in 1915 and 1916.
Laurence had written his poem “For the Fallen” in 1914 in response to the high casualty rates on the developing Western Front. It was first published in its entirety (seven verses) in The Times in September 1914, which may well have been where CCF read it, seven years before writing the essay ’A Character’ in tribute to his young friend, Captain Alec McDougal Gordon.