Thursday 6th November

Lest we forget - poppies

Lest we forget

Last night I went to the Arts Centre in Swindon to see a local Am-Dram group, The Western Players, perform R.C Sherriff’s play – Journey’s End.

Written in 1928, this play is set in the trenches near Saint-Quentin, Aisne, in 1918 towards the end of the First World War. It gives the audience a glimpse into the experiences of the officers of a British Army infantry company in World War I. The entire story plays out in the officers’ dugout over four days from 18 March 1918 to 21 March 1918, during the run-up to the real-life events of Operation Michael.

It’s a difficult play to both perform and to watch, dealing as it does with such emotive subject matter. It follows one character’s efforts to get sent to the hospital and thus away from the danger and another young officer’s idealism slowly shifting to realisation that the war is not quite such a jolly adventure after all. Meanwhile the company’s commanding officer, and chief protagonist of the play, Capt. Stanhope, has survived three years of the conflict deals and deals with its horrors by steadily working his way through the company’s whisky supply.  Shot through with humour one feels sympathy for, and empathy with, all the characters having as we do that most marvellous thing – the benefit of hindsight.

I once saw a professional production of this play at the Wyvern theatre which left not a dry eye in the house at its close. The Western Players, in my humble opinion, gave very creditable portrayals and performances. The scenery and effects were both effective and affecting.  Very well done to them. It’s running until Saturday so go and see it if you can. Local amateur dramatics are a marvellous thing and deserve our support.

Now to change tack slightly but still on the theme of remembrance I have,  in my hat as AA Editorial Services, create a post for my business FB page: about the phrase ‘Lest we forget’.

With the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month fast approaching and with the poppy to be seen on every street corner and on many a lapel I thought it was timely to have a little exploration of the phrase so much used in our remembrance events: ‘Lest we forget’. Incidentally, I’ve seen it used on social media as ‘less we forget’ – an interesting eggcorn* .

However, while I’m not sure if he was the first to coin the phrase certainly Rudyard Kipling used it in his 1897 poem ‘Recessional’. Here’s the first stanza:

“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!”

So what exactly does the phrase – and the word ‘lest’ mean? Well, ‘Lest’ is an archaic (old-fashioned word) that means ‘so that we don’t’ or ‘so that you don’t’. It’s a warning, it’s introducing a danger to be avoided: “Work hard lest you fail your examination.” In other words – if you don’t study hard you will fail your exam.

Seemingly the words origins are Middle English, from Old English (thȳ) lǣs the, (whereby) less that, so that not. In usage then we get:

So as to prevent any possibility that: ‘He fled the country lest he be captured and imprisoned.’

  • After verbs or phrases that express fear, worry, anxiety etc: ‘ He was alarmed lest she should find out.’

So when we say ‘lest we forget’ in regards to the war dead – of all wars now – not only WW1 – we are reminding/warning, even commanding ourselves not to forget.

If you want to read the rest of Kipling’s poem you can find it here:

*Eggcorns are idiosyncratic substitutions of a word or phrase for a word or words that sound similar in the speaker’s dialect.


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