In Flanders Fields John McCrae

Today marks the centenary of the death of the poet, medic and of course soldier, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, famous today as the author of that iconic verse In Flanders Fields.

Born on 30 November 1872 in Ontario, Canada, McCrae graduated in medicine from the University of Toronto in 1898, subsequently working at Toronto General Hospital and at John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland.

In 1900 he enlisted in the Canadian Field Artillery, serving in South Africa during the First and Second Boer Wars. On his return to Canada he became professor of pathology at the University of Vermont before – with the outbreak of war in August 1914 – being appointed Medical Officer to the 1st Brigade Canadian Field Artillery.

By 1915 McCrae was in Flanders working as a surgeon at the Advanced Dressing Station (ADS) one the banks of the User canal just outside Ypres (where Essex Farm Cemetery now stands).

It here in May that he wrote In Flanders Fields, following the death of his friend Lieutenant Alexis Helmer. The poem was published – anonymously – in the magazine Punch in December that year 1915. It was an instant success and soon after McCrae became a household (‘if frequently misspelt’) name all over the world.

McCrae was not to survive the war. He died of pneumonia on January 28th 1918 aged 45, and is buried at Wimereux Communal Cemetery near to the Canadian General Hospital near Boulogne-sur-Mer where he had been stationed since June 1915.

In Flanders Fields, by John McCrae
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.

 

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