In Flanders’ Fields – the man behind the poem

Written by Lt. Col. (then Major) John McCrae in 1915, ‘In Flanders’ Fields’ has become the mantra of wartime and a tribute to those who sacrificed their lives while doing what they felt was the ‘right thing’.

McCrae was a Canadian poet, physician, author, artist and soldier during World War I, and a surgeon during the Second Battle of Ypres, in Belgium.

Among his many accomplishments … (Wikipedia)

“He was a resident master in English and Mathematics in 1894 at the Ontario Agricultural College in Guelph.  McCrae returned to the University of Toronto and completed his B.A and then returned again to study medicine on a scholarship.

At medical school, McCrae had tutored other students to help pay his tuition and two of his students were among the first female doctors in Ontario.  In 1902, he was appointed resident pathologist at Montreal General Hospital and later became assistant pathologist to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal, Quebec. In 1904, he was appointed an associate in medicine at the Royal Victoria Hospital. Later that year, he went to England where he studied for several months and became a member of the Royal College of Physicians.

In 1905, McCrae set up his own practice although he continued to work and lecture at several hospitals. The same year, he was appointed pathologist to the Montreal Foundling and Baby Hospital. In 1908, he was appointed physician to the Alexandra Hospital for Contagious Diseases. In 1910, he accompanied Lord Grey, the Governor General of Canada, on a canoe trip to Hudson Bay to serve as expedition physician.

When Britain declared war on Germany because of the latter’s invasion of neutral Belgium at the beginning of World War I (1914), Canada, as a Dominion within the British Empire, was at war as well. McCrae was appointed as Medical Officer and Major of the 1st Brigade CFA (Canadian Field Artillery). He treated the wounded during the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915, from a hastily dug 8-by-8-foot (2.4 m × 2.4 m) bunker in the back of the dyke along the Yser Canal about 2 miles north of Ypres.

In Flanders Fields” first appeared anonymously in Punch on December 8, 1915, but in the index to that year, McCrae was named as the author (misspelt as McCree).The verses swiftly became one of the most popular poems of the war, used in countless fund-raising campaigns and was also extensively printed in the United States.

On January 28, 1918, while still commanding No. 3 Canadian General Hospital (McGill) at Boulogne, McCrae died of pneumonia with “extensive pneumococcus meningitis” at the British General Hospital in Wimereux, France. He was buried the following day in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission section of Wimereux Cemetery, just a couple of kilometres up the coast from Boulogne, with full military honours. His flag-draped coffin was borne on a gun carriage and the mourners – who included Sir Arthur Currie and many of McCrae’s friends and staff – were preceded by McCrae’s charger, “Bonfire”, with McCrae’s boots reversed in the stirrups. Bonfire was with McCrae from Valcartier, Quebec until his death and was much loved.”