In Flanders Fields

Poppies on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa, ON. Remembrance Day
One of the most poignant poems written during the First World War is “In Flanders Fields”, by Colonel John McCrae. The poem has come to symbolize the tragedy of that great conflict, and is the unofficial poem of Remembrance Day in most Commonwealth countries.
John McCrae was born in Guelph, Ontario, on November 30 1872. He earned a bachelor of Arts from the University of Toronto, where he also served part-time in the militia. He then went on to study medicine where he joined a fraternity and began publishing poems. He also helped tutor other medical students, including two of Canada’s first women doctors. After completing a residency at a children’s hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, he became the assistant pathologist at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal.
Colonel John McCrae
In 1914, when the Great War broke out in Europe, Canada was obliged to go to war when the British Empire did. McCrae, with his militia background, volunteered and was appointed as a surgeon with the Canadian Artillery Corps. During the first Battle of Ypres, in 1915, McCrae’s long-time friend and former student, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, was killed and McCrae was inspired by the event to write “In Flanders Fields”.
The poem was first published in “Punch” Magazine on December 8 1915, and it became very popular both among the allied troops at the front and the people left behind at home. McCrae, in the meantime, was promoted to Lt-Colonel and put in charge of setting up No. 3 Canadian Field Hospital. On January 28, 1918, John McCrae died of severe pneumonia at Boulogne and buried at Wimereux Commonwealth War Cemetary.

McCrae’s legacy continued on, however. “In Flanders Fields” is learned by heart by all school children in Canada, the UK and New Zealand, and by interested people around the world. It is a stark reminder of the tragedy of war. John McCrae’s house in Guelph, Ontario has become a National Historic Site and museum of the doctor-poet. Every year on Remembrance Day his long-lasting poem is recited across the country in schools, in parliaments and legislatures, at war monuments and on radio and television. The poppy, which is included in the first few lines of the poem, has come to symbolize remembrance of those who gave their lives in war and is worn on the lapel by millions of people in the days leading up to Remembrance Day (November 11 every year).

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amidst the guns below
We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders Fields
Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders Fields


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