Famous phrase saved for digital generation

Lest We Forget. From Wollongong to Wundowie these three words are etched into local war memorials. They will be uttered by thousands at services in the dawn light on Anzac Day.

They will be tweeted and posted thousands of times on the day, and they are posted on the Australian War Memorial's Facebook page every day of the year.

The story of how these words came to be inseparable from Anzac commemoration is a long and sometimes surprising one.

In 1897 English poet Rudyard Kipling was writing in a room in Sussex, England. Kipling was struggling with a poetry commission to commemorate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. Frustrated, he tossed a draft with the famous line into the bin.

An American friend who retrieved it, 'begged him to reconsider its merits'. The poem, entitled 'Recessional,' was published in The Times newspaper the next day.

The phrase 'lest we forget' itself is derived from the Bible, in Deuteronomy vi.12: 'Then beware lest thou forget the LORD, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt.'

From the ancient tracts of the Bible to the digital texts of Twitter and Facebook, the phrase continues its journey. It is now a hashtag: #LestWeForget.

While the rituals of Anzac Day seem unchanging, in truth, they are being transformed in our contemporary connected culture.

Today, the internet offers a chance to personalise our commemoration by choosing when, where and how we take part.

We are keen to be seen joining in, and can watch and respond in real time to how others are marking the occasion on social media.

As the 'Prophet of Empire' the 'foreboding, an ominous overtone' of Kipling's 'Recessional' foretold what followed - the Boer War and subsequently the Great War itself. Ultimately, Kipling's experience of war was personal as well as public.

His own son John was killed in the First World War. It was Kipling who, through his work with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, was responsible for the well-known remembrance inscription, 'Their Name Liveth For Evermore'.

But it is 'Lest we forget' that Australians have taken to their hearts. My research has shown that it has become the phrase most commonly used in Anzac Day tweets and Facebook posts.

Kipling could hardly have imagined some words he nearly threw away at the end of the 19th century would become the hashtag for digital commemoration in the 21st.

Tom Sear, Industry Fellow, UNSW Canberra Cyber.