RBL Poppy

Remembrance does not glorify war and the red poppy is a sign of both Remembrance and hope for a peaceful future. Wearing a poppy is is never compulsory but is greatly appreciated by those who it is intended to support. When and how you choose to wear a poppy is a reflection of your individual experiences and personal memories.

We unite across faiths, cultures and backgrounds to remember the service and sacrifice of the Armed Forces community from United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. It could mean wearing a poppy in November, before Remembrance Sunday. It could mean joining with others in your community on a commemorative anniversary. Or it could mean taking a moment on your own to pause and reflect. We will remember them.

This year marks the 80th anniversary of momentous battles and turning points of the Second World War. The D-Day landings of 6th June – the largest seaborne invasion in history – marked the beginning of the liberation of western Europe. Elsewhere on the globe exceptionally hard-fought battles were also turning the tide of the war. The Battle of Monte Cassino was the bloodiest of the Italian Campaign and in India outnumbered British and Indian forces withstood weeks of siege and brutal fighting at the Battles of Kohima and Imphal.

The Royal British Legion will mark the service and sacrifice of the armed forces in these and other battles.

The Exhortation

The Exhortation is recited at the start of every RBL meeting. It consists of the fourth stanza of the poem “For the Fallen” written by Laurence Binyon, CH (10 August 1869 – 10 March 1943) and is also known as the “Ode of Remembrance”.

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.

There is a French version, often used in Canadian Remembrance services, known as the Acte du Souvenir.

Ils ne vieilliront pas comme nous, qui leur avons survécu.
Ils ne connaîtront jamais l’outrage ni le poids des années.
Quand viendra l’heure du crépuscule et celle de l’aurore,
nous nous souviendrons d’eux.

A German trench occupied by British Soldiers near the Albert-Bapaume road at Ovillers-la-Boisselle, July 1916 during the Battle of the Somme. The men are from A Company, 11th Battalion, The Cheshire Regiment.
Soldiers of ‘A’ Company, 11th Battalion, the Cheshire Regiment, occupy a captured German trench at Ovillers-la-Boisselle on the Somme. In this photograph one man keeps sentry duty, looking over the parados and using an improvised fire step cut into the back slope of the trench, while his comrades rest.
© IWM (Q 3990)

The Kohima Epitaph

The Kohima Epitaph is often recited at the end of each RBL meeting. The verse is attributed to John Maxwell Edmonds (1875–1958) and is carved on the memorial of the 2nd British Division in Kohima cemetery.

The Battle of Kohima was the turning point of the Japanese U-Go offensive into India in 1944 during the Second World War. The battle took place in three stages from 4 April to 22 June 1944 around the town of Kohima, now the capital city of Nagaland in Northeast India. The War Cemetery in Kohima of 1,420 Allied war dead is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The epitaph has become world-famous as the Kohima Epitaph:

When you go home,
Tell them of us and say,
For your tomorrow,
We gave our today.

The Kohima memorial
The epitaph carved on the memorial in Kohima.
Image by PP Yoonus, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

For the Fallen

“For the Fallen” is a poem written by Laurence Binyon. It was first published in The Times in September 1914. It was also published in Binyon’s book “The Winnowing Fan : Poems On The Great War” by Elkin Mathews, London, 1914. Binyon composed the original poem while sitting on the cliffs between Pentire Point and The Rumps in north Cornwall. The fourth stanza is known as the ‘Ode to Remembrance’ or the ‘Exhortation’.

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

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.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

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.

Portrait of Laurence Binyon by William Strang, 1901
Drawing of Laurence Binyon by William Strang, 1901.

In Flanders Fields

“In Flanders Fields” is a war poem in the form of a rondeau, written during the First World War by Canadian physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae. He was inspired to write it on May 3, 1915, after presiding over the funeral of friend and fellow soldier Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, who died in the Second Battle of Ypres.

Inspired by the poem, American professor Moina Michael resolved at the war’s conclusion in 1918 to wear a red poppy year-round to honour the soldiers who had died in the war. She distributed silk poppies to her peers and campaigned to have them adopted as an official symbol of remembrance by the American Legion. Anna Guérin attended the 1920 convention where the Legion supported Michael’s proposal and was inspired to sell poppies in her native France to raise money for the war’s orphans. In 1921, Guérin sent poppy sellers to London ahead of Armistice Day, attracting the attention of Field Marshal Douglas Haig. A co-founder of The Royal British Legion, Haig supported and encouraged the sale.

In Flanders Fields, the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

In Flanders Fields manuscript
An autographed copy of the poem from In Flanders Fields and Other Poems. Unlike the printed copy in the same book, McCrae’s handwritten version ends the first line with “grow”.

The Last Post

The Service of Remembrance in many Commonwealth countries generally includes the sounding of the “Last Post”.

First published in the 1790s, the “Last Post” call originally signalled merely that the final sentry post had been inspected, and the camp was secure for the night. In addition to its normal garrison use, the “Last Post” call had another function at the close of a day of battle. It signalled to those who were still out and wounded or separated that the fighting was done, and to follow the sound of the call to find safety and rest.

The “Last Post” is either an A or a B♭ bugle call, primarily within British infantry and Australian infantry regiments, or a D or an E♭ cavalry trumpet call in British cavalry and Royal Regiment of Artillery (Royal Horse Artillery and Royal Artillery).

The “Last Post” as sounded at the end of inspection typically lasted for about 45 seconds; when sounded ceremonially with notes held for longer, pauses extended, and the expression mournful, typical duration could be 75 seconds or more.

This recording is performed by Sgt. Codie Lynn Williams, USMC, on a Soprano bugle in G.

Last Post for Bb trumpet
The Last Post