voices from the past


In Flanders Fields

by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)

Canadian Doctor and Poet

See also Australian Remembrance Poems and For The Fallen by Robert Binyon

Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae was a Canadian doctor attached to the 1st Field Artillery Brigade during WWI. The casualties and the suffering he witnessed around him had a profound affect on him. One death, however, hit him harder than the rest. A young friend and former student, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer was killed by a shell burst on 2 May 1915. He was buried that same day and McCrae performed the ceremony as there was no chaplain. The next day, while on a short break from surgery, he wrote the now famous poem In Flanders Fields. He put all his grief at his young friend's death into the poem.

Although he had written several medical books and a bit of poetry, it was for this poem that the world now remembers him. It might never have been published because McCrae was not happy with it and threw the poem away. Luckily a fellow officer rescued it and sent it to England where it was published in Punch on 8 December 1915. McCrae was wounded in May 1918 and died three days later.

It is because of McCrae's poem that poppies have become the flower of remembrance. The RSL sells millions of red cloth poppies each year around 11 November. Australians pin them to their lapels or shirts to honour our fallen servicemen and women. Proceeds from the sale go to RSL welfare work.

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.

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