Major John McCrae

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12 November 2017, Comments 0

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 amid 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.

“In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae, May 1915.

Major John McCrae was serving as the military doctor and second-in-command of the 1st Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery; when on the evening of 2 May 1915, in the second week of fighting during the Battle of Ypres, he began to pen this poignant poem.

Accounts vary as to exactly why he wrote the poem, but, it is generally accepted that the death of his friend, Alexis Helmer, was the main inspiration, as were the poppies that sprang from the ground between the many graves in the burial ground.

During 1915, John sent his poem to The Spectator magazine, but it was returned to him unpublished; however, Punch magazine subsequently published it on 8 December 1915.

Sadly, on 28 January 1918, while commanding No 3 Canadian General Hospital (McGill) at Boulogne, John died of pneumonia and was buried in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission section of Wimereux Cemetery.

And so, John’s legacy, the poppy, in its many versions, has become the universal emblem of remembrance – the Canadian poppy featured below is particularly distinctive.

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