Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day Thoughts

A poem I read as a student really has stuck with me all these years. It seems a fitting tribute to all those who have died in wars over the years.

In Flanders Field
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.

Lt. Col .John McCrae

The following information is from Wikipedia:

John McCrae was a poet and physician from Guelph, Ontario. He developed an interest in poetry at a young age and wrote throughout his life. His earliest works were published in the mid 1890s in Canadian magazines and newspapers. McCrae's poetry often focused on death and the peace that followed.

At the age of 41, McCrae enrolled with the Canadian Expeditionary Force following the outbreak of the First World War. He had the option of joining the medical corps due to his training and age, but volunteered instead to join a fighting unit as a gunner and medical officer.[4] It was his second tour of duty in the Canadian military. He previously fought with a volunteer force in the  Second Boer War. He considered himself a soldier first; his father was a military leader in Guelph and McCrae grew up believing in the duty of fighting for his country and empire.

McCrae fought in the second battle of Ypres in the Flanders region of Belgium where the German army launched one of the first chamical attacks in the history of war. They attacked the Canadian position with chlorine gas on April 22, 1915, but were unable to break through the Canadian line which held for over two weeks. In a letter written to his mother, McCrae described the battle as a "nightmare": "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."

Alexis Helmer, a close friend, was killed during the battle on May 2. McCrae performed the burial service himself, at which time he noted how poppies quickly grew around the graves of those who died at Ypres. The next day, he composed the poem while sitting in the back of an ambulance.


For many years, veterans organizations collected money in public places to benefit surviving veterans. If you dropped money into the kettle you would receive a little red paper poppy to pin on your shoulder. (Is this still done? I never see it, but am not usually in public places on holidays such as today).

Because of that tradition, and the Flanders Field poem, I have forever associated red poppies with World War I.

Until old men stop sending young men off to fight their wars, we will continue mourning our war dead. And that's probably as close as I'll ever come to making a political statement on this blog.


  1. That poem always brings tears to my eyes.

    I agree with your last paragraph,and still sadly we see them brought home.Ida

    1. Me too, Ida. The First World War was such a horrific one. But then all wars are.

  2. Thanks for another appropriate poem. I am in awe of your ability to find them.

    1. Hello Beryl,
      I learned this one in school and it has stuck with me all these years. Sad and poignant.


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