Today is Remembrance Day here in Canada.
It is a day we remember the brave men and women who have served their country as members of Canada’s armed forces.
One of the ways we remember these heroes is by wearing a red poppy (a nod to the famous poem “In Flander’s Fields” (see below). (The money raised by the sale of felt lapel poppies supports Canada’s military families.)
I was very honoured to be able to give away my poppy to a soon-to-be family member who recently moved to Canada. I tried to explain the tradition as best I could but stumbled over how the poppy and the poem “In Flanders Fields” tied into it all.
Since my explanation was a little shaky, I thought I should do a little research and here’s what I came up with:
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.
— Lt.-Col. John McCrae (1872 – 1918)
Canadian army physician Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae was born in Guelph, Ontario, on November 30, 1872. He fought on the Western Front during World War I. In April 1915, McCrae was in the trenches near Ypres, Belgium, in an area known as Flanders.
In the trenches, John McCrae was surrounded by the dead and the dying as he looked after hundreds of wounded soldiers. On 2 May 1915, one of his closest friends, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, was killed, then buried later that day in a makeshift grave with a simple wooden cross.
Wild poppies were beginning to bloom between the crosses that marked the graves. In the absence of a chaplain, McCrae performed the funeral ceremony. The next day, he 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 almost ended up in the recycle bin. He wasn’t happy with it and tossed it away. A fellow officer found it, and liked it enough to send it to newspapers in England. The Spectator (London) rejected it, but Punch published it on December 8, 1915.
John McCrae’s book of poetry, In Flanders Fields and Other Poems, was published in 1919. His words are also etched on one of the walls of the Memorial Chamber, inside the Peace Tower of the Centre Block of Parliament in Ottawa.
I think I’ll go send a note to Canada’s Peacekeepers, using the link in my Blogroll. (Subtle, huh? 🙂 )