The History of “In Flanders Fields”

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    Flanders Field Poppy and Soldiers
    Reading Time: 2 minutes

    In Flanders Fields John McCrae – 1872-1918

    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.

    The popular wartime poem, In Flanders Field was written by John McCrae, a Canadian doctor and teacher who served in World War I.  Born in Guelph, Ontario, McCrae was appointed brigade-surgeon to the First Brigade of the Canadian Field Artillery in 1914 as the first shots of WW1 were fired.  

    During the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915, bloodshed in the form of 150 tonnes of lethal chlorine gas shocked troops, including McCrae, who was stationed in the trenches in a region called Flanders.  Despite the toxic poison fighting against them, Canadian soldiers determined and unwavering, remarkably held the line for another 16 days.

    In the depths of the devastating battle, twenty-two-year-old Lieutenant Alexis Helmer was killed. Helmer was buried in a makeshift grave with a simple cross as a marker.  Helmer was McCrae’s closest friend.  The following day, after seeing the field of endless makeshift graves blooming with red wild poppies, McCrae wrote his famous poem “In Flanders Fields,” forever giving soldiers and veterans a voice. 

    Just 11 months before the First World War was to end, while still commanding No. 3 Canadian General Hospital at Boulogne, McCrae died of pneumonia at the British General Hospital in Wimereux, France.  Today, McCrae’s verses have become the signature poem of Remembrance Day paying tribute to soldiers, past and present. “The torch; be yours to hold it high”. Let us keep the torch burning high for those who have fought and who continue to fight for peace and freedom.

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