Friday, November 11, 2011

In Flanders Fields


by John McCrae, May 1915

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.

I grew up reciting and memorizing this poem every year on what Canadians call Remembrance Day.  It is so haunting.  It is a true piece of Canadiana.  It is a huge part of the memories of my childhood school years.We also went to the cemetery with poppy wreaths to lay on the graves of soldiers.  The bagpipes would play, the faces were solemn and we wore  poppies on our coats with pride.  In Canada most people make a donation and receive a poppy which they wear with pride in the days leading up to and on November 11th.  I have one stuck to my bulletin board in my scrap studio.   I'm going out and about tonight.  I think I'll put it on.  Here in the U.S. they may not know what it means but I'll enlighten them.
Just a bit of history about the poem.  
During the early days of the Second Battle of Ypres a young Canadian artillery officer, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, was killed on 2nd May, 1915 in the gun positions near Ypres. An exploding German artillery shell landed near him. He was serving in the same Canadian artillery unit as a friend of his, the Canadian military doctor and artillery commander Major John McCrae.
As the brigade doctor, John McCrae was asked to conduct the burial service for Alexis because the chaplain had been called away somewhere else on duty that evening. It is believed that later that evening, after the burial, John began the draft for his now famous poem “In Flanders Fields”.

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