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The Corps Motto

by Major F K Forrester, M.B.E.

Our Corps Motto is
Two Thousand Years Old !

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  The Corps Motto by Major F K Forrester, M.B.E.

Translated literally, Labor onmia vincit means "Work (Labor) conquers (vincit) everything (omnia)." It is taken from a Latin poem written by the Roman poet Virgil about 29 B.C., during the time of Augustus Caesar (the successor of Julius Caesar). The poem was the first of a series of four, called the "Georgics", which were written as propaganda for Augustus's "Back to the Land" campaign designed to encourage Romans to take up farming.
(The word "Georgic" is Greek in origin, and means "A book about work on the land." "Land-worker" or "Farmer".)
It includes a description of the growth of agriculture from primitive beginnings, and in this there occur the lines :-

Labor omnia vincit
(vicit is the past tense "conquered" of vincit "conquers)
Improbus, et duris urguens in rebus egestas

This might be freely translated as "Every difficulty was overcome by hard work, egged on by grim necessity."

The phrase Labour omnia vincit has been taken from this poem and used as a motto by many people since then (just as somebody might take, say "The play's the thing !" from Shakespeare's Hamlet for a motto). It is now the motto of the City of Bradford; of Ashton-under-Lyme; of Ilkeston in Derbyshire; and of Cheltenham College. Pollokshaws (where by coincidence, our No 2 Training Centre was situated during the War), near Glasgow, has simply Labor vincit for a motto in English - "Labour overcomes all things." Some towns have substituted Industria (Industry) for Labor. Thus Morley in Yorkshire has Industria omnia vincit, and Bury has the same words the other way round Vincit omnia industria. Accrington is apparently not satisfied that Industry can do the job alone, and accordingly has "Industry and Prodence conquer."

Similar sentiments are contained in the "Nothing without Labour" of Haslingden, in Lancashire, and in several Latin tags which mean much the same thing - Nihil sine labore of Govan in Lanarkshire, Sine labore nihil fioret of Brierly Hill, and Absque labore nihil of Darwen in Lancashire and of Stalbridge in Cheshire.

Nor is the use of the motto confined to Great Britain. Labor omnia vincit is the motto of the American Federation of Labour, and of the State of Oklahoma, while Manchester, in New Hampshire, USA, has Labor vincit. I have also come across Omnia vincit labor on the title page of a guide book to the City of Florence ("Florence- a new illustrated guide" by Francesco Lumachi, published by the Societa Editrice Fiorentina.") As I have not met it anywhere else in connection with Florence, however, I think it must be the motto of the author of the publishers, rather than of the city itself.

Labor omnia vincit, or some similar phrase, is the motto of at least six British Barons (Adams, Calverley, Lucas, St Leonards, Terrington, Overdale) and five Baronets (Burbridge, Marr, Richmond, Rowlan and Waterlow). Amongst other notable English families, Labor omnia superat is the motto of the Turners of Willington Hall in Derbyshire; Labor probus omnia vincit of the Wengers of Trentham Priory, Stoke on Trent; Labor vincit omnia of the Hasells of Dalemain in Cumberland; and Nihil sine labore of the Cators of Woodbastwick, Norwich, and of the D'Abreu family of Handsworth, Birmingham.

The nearest I have been able to find amongst the Scottish Clans is the E Labore dulcedo ("From work comes pleasure") of the Macinness or Clan Aonglais. The McKie family of Bargaly, Glencaird, Auchencairn, and Ernespie, have simply Labora ("Work"). If anyone knows of any other uses of the motto, I shall be glad to learn of them.

It was suggested that our motto "cannot be bettered or improved upon." So far as Latin mottos are concerned, I agree. The only possible competitor I have come across is Labora sicut bonus miles ! ("Work like a good soldier !", which is the motto of the Miles family, formerly of Kings Weston, Gloucestershire. (This incidentally, is an interesting example of a punning motto - the pun in this case being on the name Miles and "miles," the Latin word for "soldier.") Personally, however, I feel we should be able to find a more appropriate motto for the Corps than one taken from a peom about agriculture, written by a foreigner in a dead language two thousand years ago. I would like to see us have a motto in our own language - a slogan hammered out by Pioneers themselves in the forge of War. There was one that went the rounds amongst us in the Central Mediterranean during the War which seems to me very suitable. It was "No Labour - No Battle !" But perhaps some of you know of others equally appropriate.

P.S. Work was not the only thing which Virgil regarded as all conquering. Elsewhere in his poem he said Omnia vincit Amor et not cedamus Amori ! - Love conquers all things; let us give way to love !" After painstaking (and on occasions somewhat painful) research, carried on over a number of years, I have come to the sad conclusion that this does not seem to be the motto of the W.R.N.S., the W.R.A.C., the W.R.A.F., the U.S. Army Nursing Corps, E.N.S.A., the Chorus of the Windmill Theate, the Folies-Bergere, the Spanish League of Lady Bullfighters or the National Union of Barmaids. My researches continue as opportunities present themselves....

(Article from The Royal Pioneer, Issue No 40, September 1954)


Labor Omnia Vincit