“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.”
by Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae,
John McCrae was a physician and poet from Guelph, Ontario. McCrae enrolled with the Canadian Expeditionary Force at the age of forty-one following the outbreak of the First World War. Although he could have joined the medical corps because of his age and qualifications he insisted in joining a fighting unit as a gunner and medical officer.
McCrae fought in the Second Battle of Ypres in the Flanders region of Belgium. Conditions were horrific. The German army launched one of the first chemical attacks ever when they attacked French positions north of the McCrae’s Canadian unit with chlorine gas on twenty-second April 1915. In a letter written to his mother, McCrae described the battle-
“For seventeen days and seventeen nights none of us have had our clothes off, nor our boots even, except occasionally. In all that time while I was awake, gunfire and rifle fire never ceased for sixty seconds ... And behind it all was the constant background of the sights of the dead, the wounded, the maimed, and a terrible anxiety lest the line should give way.”
On Third May 1915, after presiding over the funeral of friend and fellow soldier Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, McCrae wrote the poem "In Flanders Fields". Apparently he was inspired by the poppies which quickly grew around the graves. He penned the first draft whilst sitting
in the back of an ambulance at an Advanced Dressing Station outside Ypres. The poem was first published on Eighth December of that year in London magazine Punch. It became popular immediately and today “In Flanders’ Fields” is one of the most quoted First World War poems, especially in Canada where it is one of the nation’s best known literary works.
Because of the poems references to red poppies that grew over the graves of fallen soldiers, the remembrance poppy became one of the world's most poignant memorial symbols for soldiers who have died in conflict.
The remembrance poppy is closely associated with Armistice Day, Remembrance Day, and Veteran’s Day. The armistice for the First World War came into effect on the 11thhour of the 11thday of the 11thmonth in 1918. Since then the day has come to be a day of remembrance for those who died in conflict and a time to reflect on the dreadful consequences of war. Often two minutes’ silence is observed at 11a.m.
Today on the centenary of the end of the First World War World Leaders have gathered in Paris to remember those who fought and died.
Author The Cypher Bureau (How the Poles solved Enigma)