Flanders
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In Flanders Field

By Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae

The areas of Northern France known as Flanders and Picardy, saw some of the most concentrated and bloodiest fighting of the First World War.

There was complete devastation. Buildings, roads, trees and natural life simply disappeared. Where once there were homes and farms there was now a sea of mud - a grave for the dead where men still lived and fought.

Only one other living thing survived. The poppy, flowering each year with the coming of the warm weather, brought life, hope, colour and reassurance to those still fighting.

John McCrae, a doctor serving with the Canadian Armed Forces, was inspired to write this poem on 3 May 1915 after presiding over the burial of his friend and fellow soldier, Alexis Helmer, who was killed the previous day in a German artillery barrage during the Second Battle of Ypres.  He was so deeply moved by what he saw in that he scribbled the following verse in his pocket book:

In Flanders Fields the poppies grow
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 Field.

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 Field.

 

McCrae's poem was eventually published in the 8 December 1915 edition of "Punch" magazine under the title "ln Flanders' Fields" and the people of Britain, and the Empire, were able to learn at first hand what the war in France, and in the trenches, really was like.

Three years later McCrae was to die in a Military Hospital on the French Channel Coast. Shortly before he died, with the British coastline visible on the horizon and the words of the poem in his mind, he is said to have murmured:

"Tell them this,
if ye break faith with us who die,
we shall not sleep."

On the Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month, The First World War ended. Thousands had died; thousands more had been injured and scarred by their experiences. The men and women who had survived returned to their homes. For them though, the world would never be the same. People at home had learned to manage without them and, all over Britain, and its Empire, there were men and women, old beyond their years, trying to fit back into an unrecognizable normality.

Moina Michael a school teacher from Georgia, and herself a writer of verse, had been moved by McCrae's work and had written:

"And now the torch and Poppy red
Wear in honour of our dead."

Miss Michael bought red poppies with money that had been given to her by work colleagues, and wearing one of the poppies she had bought, sold the remainder to her friends to raise a small amount of money for servicemen in need. Her French colleague, a Madame Guerin, encouraged by what Moina Michael had achieved with the poppy emblem, proposed the making of artificial poppies, and their sale, to help ex-Servicemen and their dependents. So the movement started.


"America Answers" by J. W. Lillard

Rest ye in peace, ye Flanders dead
The fight that you so bravely led
We've taken up. And we will keep
True faith with you who lie asleep,
With each a cross to mark his bed,
And poppies blowing overhead,
When once his own life-blood ran red
So let your rest be sweet and deep
In Flanders Fields.

Fear not that ye have died for naught;
The torch ye threw to us we caught,
Ten million hands will hold it high,
And freedom's light shall never die!
We've learned the lesson that ye taught
In Flanders' fields.