I saw Peter Jackson’s “They Shall Not Grow Old” last night in Washington at Gallery Place:
Peter Jackson directs this homage to the British troops of the First World War with never-before-seen-footage of soldiers as they faced the fear and uncertainty of frontline battle in Belgium. Digitally remastered and now in color, the footage has been studied by lip reading experts whose transcripts were recorded and used as audio for the film. Overlayed by a narrative of those who partook in the war from interviews made in the 1960s and 1970s, this historic revisiting marks one hundred years since the end of the Great War.
A few years ago a friend suggested that the easiest way to think about the World Wars of the last century is to think of them as a single, multi-generational civil war between Europe’s great powers and their colonial proxies. And that in thinking this way, it might be easier to think of the continuing conflicts and dramas of European continent of the present, and Anglo/Western nations more broadly, as continuing to work through the devastating long-term effects of that destabilizing civil war. I thought of that when watching They Shall Not Grow Old last night.
Incidentally, the title of Peter Jackson’s documentary is taken from Laurence Binyon’s 1914 “For the Fallen:”
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.