‘They Shall Not Grow Old’ is the title of an extremely moving documentary by New Zealand film director, Peter Jackson. They Shall Not Grow Old tells the story of British Soldiers enlisting to fight in Europe, many lying about their age to go save the world. It was commissioned by IWM and 14-18 NOW to commemorate the centenary of Armsitice Day in association with the BBC, They Shall Not Grow Old is not a document of the world at war, but a glimpse into the lives of British soldiers who went to fight in Europe. There are no historians, narrators or political commentators to guide us; the voices we hear are those of veterans, many gathered by the BBC during the making of its 1964 documentary series The Great War. The colourisation process brings the men to life and a ground-breaking technique using lip-readers and actors enables us to hear their voices for the first time in a hundred years.
The documentary was shown on BBC and also in cinemas aroudn the country. I saw it at the Dukes Theatre in Lancaster; the black and white images slowly came to life as these men spoke eloquently and passionately about the war. The sound of shelling reverberated around us as we experienced a gnat’s breath of the carnage these young men faced. When the cease-fire was called, the silence hit us all as we watched scenes of devastation and total exhaustion. Watch the trailer here
“They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old”
These words, often quoted in Remembrance Day services were written by a poet born in Lancaster in the first year of the war to end all wars. Laurence Binyon was a well-established poet at this time; in 1913 he was one of the names being considered for Poet Laureate. He was deeply shocked by reports of casualties of the British Expeditionary Force casualties in the opening phase of the war on the Western Front. In 1914 he wrote a poem called ‘For the Fallen’ and it is in the third stanza that we read this memorable phrase.
For the Fallen
They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eyes, 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
Major Alexander Fitch
My Great Grandfather, Major Alexander Fitch, served in the Boer War, WW1 and WW2 in the Royal Army Medical Corps. He was incredibly proud of his war record and kept in touch with many from his military service. During the Boer War he was in the Seige of Ladysmith in South Africa and wrote a detailed account of that horrendous time. He took photographs wherever he was stationed so we have a wonderful family archive of his time in Africa, Hong Kong, Malta, Egypt and many other places around the world. I’ve inherited his love of travel and interest in people’s culture and history. My son Alex is named after him. Grandpa Fitch did grow old; he died aged 84 years. We do not forget …