This assembly focuses on the life and poetry of Laurence Binyon, who wrote the famous poem For The Fallen, which is read in many Remembrance Day services. It also discusses the continuing work of the Royal British Legion and how we can each show our support by wearing a poppy
Remembrance Day is Tuesday 11th November but many churches and other organisations will commemorate the day on Sunday 9th November.
Wear a poppy
It would also be useful to have access to:
- a photograph of the London Cenotaph or a Remembrance Day service
- a photograph of fields of poppie
This week many of us are wearing poppies like this one. [Show your poppy to the children] Who can tell me why we wear them? [Take suggestions]
That’s right. We wear them to show that we still think about, and pray for, the men, women and children who died in the first and second world wars, and all wars around the world – including ones that are still going on.
The poppy was chosen for a very special reason. In the first world war, a lot of fighting took place in France. For four, terrible years, people fought and died in the fields of northern France. The war finished, at 11 o’clock on the 11th of November 1918. The next spring, the fields where the fighting had taken place had grown over with millions and millions of red poppies. [Show photograph]
The poppy was chosen as a symbol for people to show that they had not forgotten the dead – of both sides.
Today I want to share with you two stories for our Remembrance Day assembly.
Laurence Binyon’s story
Laurence Binyon (1869-1943) became famous all over the world because of four lines of poetry that he wrote. Imagine that! Famous for just a few words – 36 words to be exact.
Laurence was born in Lancaster, in the north of England, in 1869. He went to university in Oxford where he began writing poetry and later got a job working at the British Museum in London: a very important job looking after very old prints and drawings. He married Cicely, a woman he worked with, and they had three daughters. During his lifetime he wrote many books, taught in several universities and even wrote some plays. But he is mostly remembered for just four lines of poetry. Would you like to hear them?
His poem is read out during Remembrance Day services all over the world. It’s called For the Fallen and remembers all those who have died in wars all over the world. When I’ve read these four lines of poetry, I think you’ll see why they are so moving. I’d like you to just think about them for a minute.
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.[Pause]
I think you can see why these words are so powerful. Let’s just look at that first line for a moment: “They shall grow not old.”
When someone dies, we remember them as they were the last time we saw them: they don’t change but are fixed in our memories. And it’s like that with the men, women and children who have died as a result of war all over the world. To their friends and families who are left behind, they will never change.
Laurence Binyon, who wrote those words, didn’t fight in a war. He was a member of the Quaker religion and he didn’t believe in fighting. But he did want to help, so he joined the Red Cross and, during the first world war, went out to a very dangerous place near the fighting and helped wounded soldiers, whether they were friends or enemies.
The work of the Royal British Legion
But Remembrance Day isn’t just about remembering the people who died during wars, it’s about remembering and honouring the sacrifice of the men and women who served in the Army, or the Navy or the Royal Air Force, in conflicts around the world.
The Royal British Legion is a charity that organises the sale of paper poppies to help ex-servicemen and women who need their support: whether they are survivors of the second world war or people like Royal Marine Ben McBean, aged 21, who lost an arm and a leg in a mine explosion in Afghanistan.
John Walker’s story
John Walker is another person the Legion is helping. John is 78. He served in the Royal Tank Regiment for 19 years in many parts of the world. He recently became homeless, and nearly lost hope. But then, John says:
“I’d say to myself, ‘hang on, I can pick myself up. I’ve been in worse situations than this.”
The Legion helped him find somewhere to live and also provided him with plates and cups and cutlery, as well as a washing machine. Times are still hard for John, but thanks to the help of the Legion, he now has a roof over his head.
“I would love to buy some new clothes,” he says. “But I know if I pay £9 for a new shirt, I’ve got to do without food that week. I hope the Legion’s campaign goes a long way.”
War is a terrible thing. Every time we hear about a war in another part of the world we think of the suffering and sacrifice of the people involved. By wearing a poppy and supporting the work of the Royal British Legion we can do a little bit to help.
We pray today for the men, women and children all over the world who have died in wars. We pray, too, for those who face the terror of war today and hope they will soon be able to live in peace.
The singer Hayley Westenra sums up the reason why Remembrance Day and the ongoing work of the Royal British Legion is important:
“Wars may change, but the need for a charity to deal with the human cost of conflict remains very much the same.”
The Queen will lead the commemoration at the Cenotaph in London on Sunday 9th November. ‘Cenotaph’ is a Greek word that means ‘empty tomb’. The Cenotaph in London was built to honour the dead of the first world war and, later, all wars.
Find out more about the work of the Royal British Legion, including a number of resources specifically for use in primary schools.
This e-bulletin issue was first published in October 2008
About the author: Jane A. C. West