In Flanders FieldsIn Flanders fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row,That mark our place; and in the skyThe larks, still bravely singing, flyScarce heard amid the guns below.We are the Dead. Short days agoWe lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,Loved, and were loved, and now we lieIn Flanders fields.Take up our quarrel with the foe:To you from failing hands we throwThe torch; be yours to hold it high.If ye break faith with us who dieWe shall not sleep, though poppies growIn Flanders fields.
John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields” as a Canadian Cultural Artifact
The poem, “In Flanders Fields” written by Canadian John McCrae remains one of the most important and memorable pieces of war poems ever written. John McCrae came from a respectable family and became a soldier/ doctor/ author/ teacher. Though he wrote textbooks on medicine and numerous poems he will be forever remembered as being the voice of the many who had fallen during WWI. “In Flanders Field,” stirred the hearts of soldiers and their family’s everywhere- not just Canada. In a simple language and with flowing verse it vividly evoked the situation and emotions of the front line troops. John McCrae’s poem later inspired the poppy to become the symbol of Remembrance and sacrifice.
John McCrae was born in Guelph, Ontario on November 30,1872 to two established, respectable and hardworking Scottish parents, David McCrae and Janet Simpson Eckford. The McCraes were staunch Presbyterians with the resilience and self-reliance of second-generation pioneers in Canada. David McCrae instilled a strong sense of duty and healthy respect for military values in his two sons. John McCrae was offered a scholarship from the University of Toronto in 1888 where he went on to study physiology and pathology as well, McCrae wrote poetry for the school paper The Varsity. From there he graduated from medical school with a gold medal for his outstanding academic performance. In 1899 he moved to Montreal to accept a fellowship in pathology and to study at the McGill University School of Medicine. Although McCrae was devoted to his medical career; when the Boer War erupted he was one of the first volunteers who wished to go and contribute to the defense of the Empire. John McCrae had been brought up to cherish the duty of fighting for one’s country and was eager to do his part. The Boer (in 1899) war was his first experience where his military skills as a soldier came before his role of doctor. When Britain declared war in 1917 and joined forces with the Allied powers, Canada followed suit immediately. McCrae had seen first hand the deadly effects of war and had no illusions of what to expect. McCrae was assigned to be surgeon to the 1st Field Artillery Brigade. He felt he was one of the most qualified doctor-soldiers in the country and felt his obligation to the country and to the Empire. McCrae’s greatest test would come when his Canadian contingent were sent to the Ypres Salient. Up to this point the Canadians were not regarded as fighting soldiers and were thus given the assignment of occupying this relatively quite sector of the front. The importance of Ypres would soon be realized when on April 22, 1915 the German line used the first poisonous gas attack in war against the Canadians and Algerians troops to gain access to the important roads that intersected in Ypres. The Algerian troops fled leaving a gap of six kilometers along the trench system. Now the German side had the ability to take control of the area. Somehow the gap was filled with the Canadians who even managed to counterattack, a strategy that came as a complete surprise to the Germans. John McCrae’s post was near a particularly dangerous section of the road. The Germans had it covered with artillery fire for seventeen days of battle. McCrae would later write:
Bibliography: Dancocks, Dan. Welcome to Flanders Fields. Toronto: Meclelland & Stewart, 1988.
Granfield, Linda. In Flanders Fields: The Story of the Poem by John McCrae. Toronto: Lester Publishing Limited, 1995.
In Flanders Fields Museum. September 1998. http://www.inflandersfield.be (October 12,1999).
McCrae, John. In Flanders Fields. Toronto: William Briggs, 1919.
Prescott, John F. In Flanders Fields: The Story of John McCrae. Ontario: The Boston Mill Press, 1985.
Ruggenberg, Rob. “In Flanders Fields.” The Heritage of the Great War. 1995. http://www.iaenv.nl/users/robr/poppies.html (October 12, 1999).
Smithson, Dan. In Flanders Fields. Toronto: Fitzhenry & Whiteside Limited, 1984.
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