On May 3, 1915 Canadian physician presided over the funeral of a fallen friend. There are differing accounts but many people say that the poem he became so famous for was written and read at this funeral. Rumor has it that McCrae discarded his work afterward, but the soldiers present for the service saved the poem, originally handwritten on a sheet of paper. The poem was later published that year in Punch Magazine.
The entire poem can be read below.
In Flanders Fields
By 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.
McCrae was both a soldier and physician. He saw things that no human should have to see. This poem captures the sorrow, and the dread of man fighting in a war that would change the world. Its evocative of a man who just lost his friend.
This poem would inspire the remembrance poppy tradition. Red poppies show reverence to all those that sacrificed. Today is Veteran’s Day here in the United States, but in Canada and many other places it’s known as Remembrance Day. You may see people wearing red poppies. I live close to Canada, so I see them a lot. Some people wear them here too, though technically Americans use red poppies to honor Memorial Day.
You can see them anywhere that has strong Canadian traditions. For instance, the National Hockey League, with its preponderance of Canadian players and coaches, you will see a majority of the coaches wearing them. You could see them in the hockey rinks when I was a kid.
I often wonder what John McCrae if he could see the flowers from his poem displayed across several countries. The flowers from a poem he reportedly threw away.
So you may see a poppy here and there, and perhaps you’ll see the poem and either way it’s good to take a moment and remember those who fought for our country and honor their service.