FLANDERS— The seminal war poem of our age was penned 100 years ago this past May by a Canadian doctor sitting amongst the horrors of the First World War trenches and has become so familiar to the world that most of us can recall at least its opening lines “In Flanders fields the poppies blow, between the crosses row on row.”
Since its penning in 1915, the poem has been credited with making the poppy a globally-recognized symbol of Remembrance, although it has been associated with the graves of soldiers since at least the Napoleonic Wars.
‘In Flanders Fields’ was written around May 3, 1915 by Canadian physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae of Guelph, after he had presided over the funeral of his friend and fellow soldier Alexis Helmer, who fell during the Second Battle of Ypres
‘In Flanders Fields’ was first published on December 8, 1915 in the London famous British magazine Punch. Although the end of first line of the poem has variously been published as both ‘blow’ or ‘grow,’ the following is the original Punch version. Dr. McRae died before the war’s end, succumbing to cerebral meningitis on January 28, 1918. He was buried with full military honours and his birthplace in Guelph has been converted into a museum dedicated to his life and the war, while Colonel McCrae was designated a National Historic Person in 1946 and his house was designated a National Historic Site in 1966.
Lest we forget.