Lest we forget (phrase)

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The phrase "Lest we forget" is commonly used in war remembrance services and commemorative occasions in English speaking countries, in particular Remembrance Day and ANZAC Day.[1] Before the term was used in reference to soldiers and war, it was first used in an 1897 Christian poem written by Rudyard Kipling called "Recessional". The phrase occurs 8 times; and is repeated at the end of the first 4 stanzas in order to add particular emphasis regarding the dangers of failing to remember.

'God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle line,
Beneath whose awful hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!'

The concept of 'being careful not to forget' was already present in the Bible (Deuteronomy 4:7-9):

7"For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the Lord our God is in all things that we call upon him for? 8And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?
9Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy son's sons …."[2]

This Biblical quote is probably a direct source for the term in the 1897 poem.[according to whom?] This is consistent with the main theme of the "Recessional" poem – that if a nation forgets the true source of its success (the "Lord God of Hosts" and His "ancient sacrifice" of "a humble and contrite heart") – its military or material possessions will be insufficient in times of war.[citation needed]

The poem "Recessional" also appears as a common hymn at war remembrance services; and the phrase "Lest We Forget" can hence be sung.[3]

The phrase later passed into common usage after World War I across the British Commonwealth, especially becoming linked with Remembrance Day observations; it became a plea not to forget past sacrifices, and was often found as the only wording on war memorials,[4] or used as an epitaph.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "ANZAC Day Commemoration Committee". Retrieved 24 April 2016. 
  2. ^ The Bible (King James Version) - book of Deuteronomy, chapter 4, verses 7 to 9. 
  3. ^ "Hymns for ANZAC Day". Retrieved 24 April 2016. 
  4. ^ For example, the War memorial clock in the post office at Bangalow, New South Wales, the Memorial Clock Tower at Goomeri, Queensland, and the memorial clock tower at Pinnaroo, South Australia all have the twelve letters of "Lest We Forget" on the clock face, with L-E-S-T-W-E at 10, 11, 12, 1, 2, and 3 o'clock, in forward sequence, starting with the "F", and the letters F-O-R-G-E-T, in reverse sequence, at 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, and 4 o'clock—meaning that the top half of the clock immediately displays "Lest we", and the bottom half "Forget", to all viewers.