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Laurence Binyon

Robert Laurence Binyon, CH (10 August 1869 – 10 March 1943) was an English poet, dramatist and art scholar. Born in Lancaster, England, his parents were Frederick Binyon, a clergyman, and Mary Dockray. He studied at St Paul’s School, London and at Trinity College, Oxford, where he won the Newdigate Prize for poetry in 1891. He worked for the British Museum from 1893 until his retirement in 1933. In 1904 he married the historian Cicely Margaret Powell, with whom he had three daughters, including the artist Nicolete Gray.

Although too old to enlist in the First World War, he went to the Western Front in 1916 to work for the Red Cross as a medical orderly with an Ambulance Unit. He wrote about his experiences in For Dauntless France (1918).
For the Fallen
He is best known for the poem For the Fallen, written while sitting on The Rumps, Polseath Polzeath, Cornwall, and first published in The Times in September, 1914. The seven-verse poem honoured the World War I British war dead of that time and in particular the British Expeditionary Force, which had by then already had high casualty rates on the developing Western Front. The poem was published when the Battle of the Marne was foremost in people’s minds.

The fourth verse from that poem has gained an existence of its own and is known today as the Ode of Remembrance – one that applies to all war dead:

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 Ode” is still regularly recited on occasions such as Remembrance Day and Remembrance Sunday in the United Kingdom and Canada and ANZAC day in Australia and New Zealand, and adorns numerous war memorials including The Cenotaph in Whitehall. It is customarily read by an old soldier. In Australia’s Returned and Services Leagues, it is read out nightly at 6 p.m.
His three daughters (Helen, Margaret and Nicolete) became artists. Helen Binyon (1904–1979) studied with Paul Nash and Eric Ravilious, illustrating many books for the Oxford University Press, and was also a marionettist. She later taught puppetry and published Puppetry Today (1966) and Professional Puppetry in England (1973). Margaret Binyon wrote children’s books, which were illustrated by Helen. Nicolete, as Nicolete Gray, was a distinguished calligrapher and art scholar.




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John Winter