“In Flanders Fields” is one of the most famous poems from World War One and is often credited as the reason why the ‘poppy’ was chosen as the flower of remembrance.
The poem was written by Canadian physician John McCrae while serving in the Second Battle of Ypres, in Belgium, on 3 May 1915 at a medical dressing station near Essex Farm. It was written after presiding over the funeral of a friend and fellow soldier Alexis Helmer.
It is widely reported that John McCrae was at first unhappy with his work and discarded it, only to find it retrieved by his fellow soldiers and then published on 8 December 1915 in the London-based magazine Punch. In Flanders Fields is now one of the most popular and most quoted poems from the war and of the many Great War Poets.
As a result of its popularity, parts of the poem were used to recruit soldiers and raise money by selling war bonds. Its references to the red poppies that grow on disturbed ground and flourish massively around the Ypres salient.
Sadly, John McCrae never returned to Canada or enjoyed his fame as a Great War Poet. He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel on 13 January 1918 and appointed Consulting Physician.
However, the years of war had worn John McCrae down, he contracted pneumonia and later came down with meningitis. On January 28, he died at a military hospital in Wimereux on the French coast near Calais and was buried close by with full military honours.
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…