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Friday, November 11, 2011

Remembrance Day Tribute

The World’s Most Famous WAR MEMORIAL POEM
By Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae

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

Composed at the battlefront on May 3, 1915
during the second battle of Ypres, Belgium

This poem, by the Canadian army physician, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, (1872-1918) is one of the most memorable war poems ever written. It is a lasting legacy of the terrible battle in Ypres in the spring of 1915. Lieutenant Colonel McCrae fought on the Western Front during World War I. He was appointed brigade-surgeon to the First Brigade of the Canadian Forces Artillery with the rank of Major and second-in-command. In April 1915, McCrae was in the trenches near Ypres, Belgium, in the area traditionally called Flanders. Some of the heaviest fighting of the war took place there during what was known as the Second Battle of Ypres.

On 22 April 1915, the Germans used deadly chlorine gas against Allied troops. Despite the debilitating effects of the gas, Canadian soldiers fought relentlessly and held the line for another 16 days. In the trenches, John McCrae was surrounded by the dead and the dying as he tended hundreds of wounded soldiers. On 2 May 1915, one of his closest friends and a former student, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, was killed; he was buried later that day in a makeshift grave with a simple wooden cross, in a little cemetery outside McCrae's dressing station. Wild poppies were beginning to bloom between the crosses that marked the many graves. In the absence of a chaplain, McCrae performed the funeral ceremony. The next day, he gave a voice to his dead comrades and wrote the poem for which he is best remembered. Later in the war, he was transferred to the medical corps and assigned to a hospital in France. He died of pneumonia while on active duty in 1918.
John McCrae's poem was very nearly not published. Dissatisfied with it, McCrae tossed the poem away, but a fellow officer retrieved it and sent it to newspapers in England. The Spectator (London) rejected it, but Punch published it on 8 December 1915.

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