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Laurence Binyon

(1869-1943) - A mystery solved

Laurence Binyon’s emotive words reverberate around the world every Remembrance Day. Laurence was no stranger to Polzeath when, on his 1914 visit, he was inspired to compose the poem for which he is best known – ‘For the Fallen’. He may have stayed at a farm called Porteath, causing the confusion that led to Portreath’s counter claim.

Credit: Wadebridge Museum

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Laurence Binyon’s emotive words reverberate around the world every Remembrance Day.  He was no stranger to Polzeath when, on his 1914 visit sitting on the cliffs between Pentire Point and The Rumps, he was inspired to compose the poem for which he is best known: ‘For the Fallen’, a moving tribute to those who gave their lives  in the First World War.  In particular, the fourth verse graces countless war memorials and has become the epitaph for all those who have died in combat, regardless of nation:

    ‘They shall not grow 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’.

Speaking in 1939, Binyon explained how the poem came to be written: ‘I was set down, out of doors, on a cliff in Polzeath, Cornwall.  The stanza “They shall grow not old” was written first and dictated the rhythmical movement of the whole poem’.  It is known that he stayed, with his wife Cicely and three young daughters, in the Polzeath area – possibly at Porteath Farm which took paying guests at that time.  The similarity in name may well be the cause of Portreath’s counter claim as the place of his inspiration. A commemorative granite plaque positioned by Polzeath Area Residents’ Association was unveiled by Binyon’s grandson, Edmund Gray, on 14th September 2003 and stands as a tribute to the poet, his words, and all those whose lives have been sacrificed in war.  

Speaking at the ceremony, Edmund Gray said that although the poem was written soon after the outbreak of war on the 4th August, it reacted beyond the mood of the moment.  Its famous fourth verse matched the emotions at the end of the war and, indeed, our feelings for the dead of every war since. At 45 years of age Binyon was too old for active service, but volunteered as a hospital and ambulance orderly on the western front and thus witnessed the horrific casualties. He also enlisted in the Inns of Court Company of the County of London Volunteer Regiment, carrying out guard duties in London at night and weekends.

To appreciate the scene of his inspiration and to enjoy the most scenic of walks, from the B3314 take the road to New Polzeath.  Passing Porteath Bee Centre on the right, take the next right fork and at crossroads turn right to Pentireglaze and Pentire Farm.  You can park in the farmyard and take a straight or circular route, about 3 miles, over easy to moderate terrain.  

Credit: Wadebridge Museum