In Flanders Fields

Canada 150

100th Anniversary of the writing of the poem  by Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae    
In Flanders Fields, printed in 1918 by the Heliotype Co. Ltd. Ottawa. (Canadian War Museum -   http://www.warmuseum.ca/cwm/ exhibitions/remember/flandersfields_e.shtml)



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.


(poem written by Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, May 3, 1915)

1915: In Flanders Fields

“In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,"

In Canada, the countries of the British Commonwealth and the United States, the poppy is an emblem of remembrance and of hope.

The flower as a symbol owes its significance to the poem In Flanders Fields, the most widely read and oft-quoted poem of the First World War (1914-1918).

Canadian soldier and doctor John McCrae composed this poem in May 1915 during his service as a field surgeon in the midst of the bloody Second Battle of Ypres, in Flanders (Belgium).

Field of poppies Canadian Legion website http://www.legion.ca/honour-remember/the-poppy-campaign/

Answering the Call

“That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.”

On August 4, 1914, Britain went to war with Germany. As a British dominion, Canada was also at war.

During August and September, newly-gathered Canadian recruits were given basic training at a hastily-built camp at Valcartier, Quebec.

Troopships transported the first wave of the Canadian Expeditionary Force to Britain: 32,000 Canadian troops and 500 troops from Newfoundland. 

At that time, no one yet knew the horrors that 20th-century industrialized warfare would bring over the next four years.

Battalion going over the top. Photo: Library and Archives Canada / PA-142 http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/history/first-world-war/historical
Sergeant Bertram John Parker displays his muddy boot while posing with two other soldiers for a snapshot, circa 1914.   George Metcalf Collection/Canadian War Museum 20120179-019   Canadian troops trained for four months on Salisbury Plain in the south of England. They endured cold, muddy conditions during one of the wettest winters in decades

At the  Front

"We are the Dead. Short days ago 

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,"

Canadian soldiers first arrived in Europe in large numbers in early 1915.

At the Second Battle of Ypres that started in April 1915, the Canadian Division fought desperately to stop the Germans from capturing the small town in Flanders, Belgium.

Outnumbered and tormented by poison gas, the first time gas was ever used in modern warfare, the Canadians stalled the enemy advance, at the cost of almost 6,000 men killed, wounded or taken prisoner.

As a result, they earned the reputation of being among the British Empire's best troops.

A soldier and horse model protective masks, Canadian Army Veterinary Corps Headquarters, Shorncliffe, England, circa 1916.   Department of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada 3194261   At Ypres, the Canadians were unprepared for the surprise use of poison gas. By 1916, Canadian forces were equipped with the smallbox respirator, like the one seen here.  
Map of Belgium showing the location of Ypres. Canadian War Museum CGR02-V9
A 5 meter shell hole in the Main Square, Ypres. Brigadier-General Burstall and Captain Papineau. Ypres, Belgium, July 1916. Department of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-000335

Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae

“Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.”

John McCrae was born in Guelph, Ontario, on November 30, 1872. At age 15 he became a bugler in the Canadian Field Artillery, and at 17 he enlisted in the local artillery unit commanded by his father, Lieutenant-Colonel David McCrae.

He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in 1893, and in 1899 he volunteered to deploy with Canada’s second contingent to fight in the Boer War in South Africa with the Canadian Field Artillery. He was a popular and caring leader who was both competent and courageous during engagements. McCrae retired from the artillery as a Major in 1904.

After finishing his B.A. at the University of Toronto, McCrae went on to study medicine, and following his residency, was appointed as Resident Pathologist at the Montreal General Hospital in 1902. After pursuing further studies in England, he returned to Canada, and in 1910, he was the Expedition Physician for the Governor General’s trip to Hudson Bay.

John McCrae with his mother Janet Simpson Eckford McCrae, and siblings Geills and Tom
Surgery in a Canadian field ambulance, October 1916. George Metcalf Collection/ Canadian War Museum 19920085-102   Improvements in combat surgery, such as blood transfusion, increased survival rates for wounded soldiers.    More than half of all Canadian physicians served overseas to meet the demand of heavy casualties. 

Bitter Fields of Gas

“and now we lie

In Flanders fields”

In September 1914, McCrae volunteered to fight in the First World War.  McCrae deployed overseas as with Canada’s first contingent as the second-in-command and brigade surgeon of Morrison’s 1st Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery. As brigade-surgeon he attended to hundreds of wounded and dying Canadian soldiers. 

In March 1915, his brigade was deployed to Ypres. Maj McCrae established his dressing station near the frontline, where he could see the guns firing from nearby fields.

In June 1915, after the Second Battle of Ypres, McCrae was transferred to No.3 Canadian General Hospital at Dannes-Camiers, where he served as a Chief of Medical Services in the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, treating casualties from the Somme, Vimy Ridge, Arras, and Passchendaele.

“The general impression in my mind is of a nightmare. We have been in the most bitter of fights. For seventeen days and seventeen nights none of us have had our clothes off, nor our boots even, except occasionally. In all that time while I was awake, gunfire and rifle fire never ceased for sixty seconds ..... And behind it all was the constant background of the sights of the dead, the wounded, the maimed, and a terrible anxiety lest the line should give way.” 

(Prescott. In Flanders Fields: The Story of John McCrae, p. 98)

Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae in uniform prior to departure for wartime service in Europe, 1914.   Photograph by William Notman & Son. Courtesy of  McCrae House, Guelph Civic Museum
Library and Archives Canada Online MIKAN no. 3192003 McCrae with his dog Bonneau, circa 1914. 
McCrae on his horse Bonfire.   McCrae wrote letters to his young nieces and nephews from his horse Bonfire, signing them with a hoof print.

The Poem

"Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high"

In May 1915, following the deaths of two fellow officers and the funeral of his friend Lieutenant Alexis Helmer during the Second Battle of Ypres, John McCrae wrote the poem In Flanders Fields.  

Published in Punch magazine in December 1915, the poem quickly became popular with both soldiers and civilians.

John McCrae realized his poem touched many people and had been a success. Soon after its publication, it became the most popular poem on the First World War and was translated into many languages.

In Flanders Fields, written in John McCrae's hand for Punch magazine, December 8, 1915. Library and Archives Canada 179238   Note the word “grow” instead of “blow” at the end of the first line.  McCrae made several handwritten copies of the poem using “grow,” but eventually changed the line on the advice of his editor.

Increasingly ill after his transfer to the French battlefront in 1915, John McCrae died of pneumonia on January 28, 1918.

"The day of the funeral was a beautiful spring day; none of us wore overcoats. You know the haze that comes over the hills at Wimereux. I felt so thankful that the poet of 'In Flanders Fields' was lying out there in the bright sunshine in the open space he loved so well.... “

(Prescott. In Flanders Fields: The Story of John McCrae, p. 129)

Page 1 of the introduction from a limited edition book containing an illustrated poem, In Flanders Fields, 1921
The funeral of John McCrae.  Bonfire at John McCrae's Funeral, January 30, 1918  © Guelph Museums   John McCrae’s boots are reversed in the stirrups of his horse Bonfire, indicating the rider has passed away. http://www.mccord-museum.qc.ca/en/collection/artifacts/M972.5.5.1?Lang=1&accessnumber=M972.5.5.1

The Home Front

"If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep,"

In Flanders Fields was used on billboards advertising the sale of the first Victory Loan Bonds in Canada in 1917.

Canadians’ willingness to loan money to their own government to finance the war surpassed all expectations.

Total Victory Bond purchases during the war exceeded two billion dollars (equivalent to 26 billion dollars today).

This poster references John McCrae’s In Flanders Fields to urge Canadians to support the war effort financially.   If Ye Break Faith, 1918. Fundraising poster designed by Frank Nicolet.  
Parade of Women Munition Workers, Vancouver Engineering Works Ltd., Vancouver, B.C. Library and Archives Canada Online MIKAN no. 3371151   The Imperial Munitions Board, Canada's largest civilian employer, was a major manufacturer of ships, aircraft, and almost a third of the shells used by the British Forces. At the height of production, it employed 289,000 people, including 15,000 women.

A Generation of Service

"...though poppies grow"

The First World War was one of the most far-reaching and traumatic events in Canadian history.

Most of the Canadians who served in the war were not professional soldiers or battlefield nurses:  they were young men and women from the cities, towns and farms.

Communities grieved for and honoured their dead on memorials all over the country

Over 173,000 Canadians returning from the battles in Europe were wounded, many permanently physically disabled or suffering from “shell shock”.

A Flower of Remembrance

"In Flanders fields."

Influenced by McCrae's poem, the American Legion adopted the poppy as its official symbol of remembrance in 1920.  Veterans' groups in Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand followed suit one year later.

Today, reading McCrae's poem and wearing felt poppies signify remembrance and reflection on the tragedies and achievements of not only the First World War, but all war.

Placing poppies on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier following Remembrance Day ceremonies at the National War Memorial, Ottawa, Ontario, November 11, 2011. Photograph by Adrian Wyld.    Canadian Press Images 01602781
The gravemarker of Sapper Ivor Beynon killed in the Second Battle of Ypres, photograph taken November 1917.    Department of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada 3403359   In Flanders Fields refers to temporary gravesites behind the lines and in nearby fields. These were later relocated to large Commonwealth War Graves cemeteries across France and Belgium.

The Gunner, the Doctor, the Poet . . . the Legacy

Today, people continue to pay tribute to the poet of In Flanders Fields by visiting McCrae House, the limestone cottage in Guelph, Ontario where he was born. The house has been preserved as a museum. Beside it are a memorial cenotaph and a garden of remembrance.

Coins and banknotes over the years have featured poppies or lines from the poem.  It has been set to music and sung by choirs of children all over the world.

Canada’s ten dollar bill included images of poppies and the poem In Flanders Fields from 2001 to 2005
Silver commemorative coin by the Royal Canada Mint to mark the 100th anniversary of the poem "In Flanders Fields" 
Commemorative stamp by Canada Post marks 100th anniversary of "In Flanders Fields" 

On May 3, 2015, the 100th anniversary of the writing of the poem, The Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery (RCA) unveiled a statue of Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae at the National Artillery Memorial on Green Island in Ottawa.  The statue has been created by noted Canadian sculptor Ruth Abernethy. 

The second casting of the bronze statue will be placed in Guelph and inaugurated in June 2015.

The symbolic poppy and John McCrae's poems are still linked and the voices of those who have died in war continue to be heard each Remembrance Day.

This statue of John McCrae was unveiled May 3, 2015 in Ottawa.
John McCrae Statue Project (Video 1 - English) - Ruth Abernethy describes the artistic process behind the John McCrae statue project.
Le projet de statue de  John McCrae (vidéo 1 - français) - Ruth Abernethy décrit le processus artistique utilisé pour le projet de statue de John McCrae.
John McCrae Statue Project (Video 2 - English) - Who was John McCrae?
Le projet de statue de  John McCrae (vidéo 2 - français) - Qui était John McCrae?
John McCrae Statue Project (Video 3 - English) - John McCrae was a great Canadian and  we recognize his contribution with this statue. LGen (Ret'd) Michael Jeffery.
Le projet de statue de  John McCrae (vidéo 3 - français) - John McCrae était un grand Canadien et nous soulignons sa contribution au moyen de cette statue. Lgen (ret) Michael Jeffery
A section of the McCrae Monument in Guelph
McCrae House is owned and operated by the City of Guelph in conjunction with Guelph Civic Museum. John McCrae born in Guelph on November 30, 1872 and lived in this house with his family. 
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