#1
The importance of John McCrae's In Flanders Fields some 100 years on
Jane Stevenson
Published:
October 31, 2018
Updated:
October 31, 2018 4:48 PM EDT
Wild poppies grow in the 'Trench of Death', a preserved Belgian World War One trench system on July 14, 2017 in Diksmuide, Belgium. (Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
“In Flanders fields the poppies blow, Between the crosses, row on row …”
So begins the 1915 poem penned by Lt.-Col. (and Dr.) John McCrae during the First World War, the end of which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year.
In Flanders Fields was subsequently published in the London magazine Punch in December of that year and exponentially grew in popularity to become the most famous poem of Remembrance Day whether it was used to sell war bonds or for conscription in the past, or excerpted on a Canadian 10 dollar bill more recently.
Just three years ago, a bronze statue of McCrae — who died in January 1918 of pneumonia and was buried in Wimereux Cemetery in France — went up next to the National Artillery Memorial in Ottawa with him portrayed on a broken tree branch just having signed a copy of his poem. (There’s also a second statue in his hometown of Guelph.)
Lt.-Col. John McCrae. (National Archives of Canada)
So how did McCrae’s verses became the signature poem of Remembrance Day in the first place, as he paid tribute to his fellow soldier, friend and former student Lt. Alexis Helmer who was killed in action in the Second Battle of Ypres where the Germans first used poison gas en masse?
“You can imagine this fortysomething doctor, very patriotic and doing his best but his kind of overwhelmed by what he’s seeing Ť— all this death and destruction — and then a special friend, someone that he knew, a young man, who died,” said Veteran Affairs education officer Alan Banman.
“He steps away the next day from his surgery and helping the wounded and he takes a few minutes, he was always an amateur poet all his life, and the next day, he put pen to paper and he wrote the lines of In Flanders Fields.”
It was only when it was published in Punch that it started to catch on.
“Some magic happened in those lines that he wrote down in that poem and it caught fire,” said Banman.
“People always knew for years that (poppies) were grow near fresh grave sites (in Europe) where the soil had been disturbed to bury people so he saw this at so many war graves so it kind of moved him to use the poppy.
“It’s hard to describe why it caught on. It just really resonated for people. And if you look at the poem, people here and now we see the First World War, rightly so, as this tragic event with so much death. But at the time it was also seen as a righteous crusade. It was seen as freedom versus tyranny and that the Kaiser had to be beaten, hold that torch high, and originally it was very much a call to keep fighting.
But over the years it seemed to have morphed. It was seen as that, yes, but also pick up that torch to remember those who put their lives and gave their lives for peace and freedom.”
http://torontosun.com/news/national/...e-100-years-on