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 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.

by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, May 3, 1915

John McCrae, 1912

The poem “In Flanders Fields” was written after John McCrae witnessed the death, and presided over the funeral, of a friend, Lt. Alexis Helmer during World War I. McCrae was born in Guelph, Ontario in 1872, attended the University of Toronto from 1892-93, and served as resident master in English and Mathematics in 1894 at the Ontario Agricultural College in Guelph. He returned to the University of Toronto in 1984 to complete his B.A. and then attended medical school.

He was appointed as a pathologist at Montreal General Hospital in 1902 and then served at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal during 1904. In 1905 he set up his own private practice and continued to work as a lecturer at several hospitals in the Montreal area.

In 1911 he served in the Boer War as an artilleryman, and in 1915 he was appointed a field surgeon in the Canadian artillery. It was during the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915 that his friend Alexis Helmer was killed in battle. It was Helmer’s death that inspired In Flanders Fields.

The poem was an almost instant hit in Canada, Europe and even in the United States before that country entered the war. It was used, as we would say today, for propaganda purposes, during fund-raising campaigns and pro-war rallies.

McRae died of pneumonia in 1918 while serving in Boulogne, in northern France along the English Channel coast. He was buried in Wimereux Cemetery just up the coast from Boulogne.

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