They Shall Grow Not Old

They Shall Grow Not Old

Serpentine Swimmers have reason to reflect on Remembrance Day, which was first observed on 11 November 1919. It was originally called “Armistice Day” to commemorate the armistice agreement that ended the First World War on Monday, November 11, 1918, at 11 a.m.—on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

Several former Serpentine swimmers lost their lives in battle. One name perpetually linked with the Club is that of G. Llewellyn Davies, whose character was part of the inspiration for arguably the club’s most famous race, the "Christmas Day handicap for the Peter Pan Trophy".

At the age of 21 years old, George Llewelyn Davies  (HM, 1911) 2nd Lt, King’s Royal Rifle Corps, was killed in Flanders 15th March 1915. 

The Serpentine connection to this story starts with JM Barrie who wrote Peter Pan. He was inspired by the Davies family including George and his brothers. (Note, they only used the double barrelled ‘Llewellyn Davies’ on formal occasions.)

The boys’ grandfather was George du Maurier, the famous Victorian cartoonist and writer. 

George was born in London in 1893, the eldest of five brothers, and they made the acquaintance of Barrie, as a result of many meetings in Kensington Gardens. 

Barrie spent a lot of time with the family and the boys’ characters played a key role in his inspired creation of Peter Pan. 

The children were orphaned by the deaths of their father in 1907 and their mother in 1910, and Barrie supported the family. George left Eton for Cambridge in 1911. He signed up immediately the war began, and joined the King’s Royal Rifle Corps. 

He joined the front near Ypres, a location where at least one million soldiers lost their lives. 

The Western Front winter of 1914 / 15 had been harsh. The war of movement which had ebbed and flowed in the autumn of 1914, had become entrenched.  Micro-battles developed around each section of the line as each side struggled for marginal gains.  

On 14 March 1915, the Germans attacked the British lines at St Eloi, just outside Ypres, to drive them out of possession of a small slag heap, a remnant of the nearby brickworks – which had provided a perfect vantage point.  

In the early hours of the next morning the Rifle Brigade went in at bayonet point to try to restore their position. The action cost 800 lives. George had stopped for a briefing with his Colonel. Mid conversation, a German sniper shot 21 year old George through the temple.  

In 1929, Barrie donated all his royalties from Peter Pan to Great Ormond Street Hospital, for life.

Remembrance Day is dedicated to people who died as a result of war, particularly from World War I onwards. Two minutes of silence is dedicated to the deceased on Remembrance Day.

For the Fallen

By Laurence Binyon

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children, 

England mourns for her dead across the sea. 

Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit, 

Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal 

Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres, 

There is music in the midst of desolation 

And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young, 

Straight of limb, true of eye, 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 contemn. 

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.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound, 

Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight, 

To the innermost heart of their own land they are known 

As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust, 

Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain; 

As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness, 

To the end, to the end, they remain. 

[Thanks to Nick Adams and Eton College for the photo.] 

[John Tierney]

George Llewellyn Davies