Canadian poet, author, artist, and soldier, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae was a physician and surgeon in World War I. Because Canada was a dominion within the British Empire, when England declared war upon Germany on August 4, 1914, Canada was at war as well; and to fulfill duty in service to his country, McCrae was appointed Medical Officer and Major of the 1st Brigade (CFA) Canadian Field Artillery.
In 1915, during the Second Battle of Ypres, McCrae was treating the wounded from an 8 foot by 8 foot bunker dug from back of the dyke along the Yser Canal, which was located approximately 2 miles from Ypres. During the raging battle, McCrae’s friend, Lt Alexis Helmer was killed, and it was while sitting in the back of a field ambulance, he penned the most famous of all words from those days, “In Flander’s 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”
After all the education, training, and work on behalf of his soldiers and fellow Canadians, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae did not make it home from the fields of war. Just 10 months before the Armistice on November 11, 1918, McCrae died of pneumonia with extensive pneumococcus meningitis. He was buried in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission section of Wimereux Cemetery, just a couple of miles up the coast from Boulogne.
He left too soon, but like so many who make the ultimate sacrifice during times of war, McCrae and others live on through the memory of their service, the likes of his poem, and their poppy.