John McCrae (Remembrance Day)
Remembrance Day is an especially trying time for veterans and surviving families of war. They recall the good times and the bad, in particular those members of the armed forces who have died in the line of duty.
This day has been in place for almost a century now – It was established on November 11th in the majority of countries to honour individuals and recall the violence sieged during World War I and resolved with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28th 1919.
In case you didn’t already know, the poppy has become synonymous with Remembrance Day due to the poem In Flanders Fields. I read this poem, and about this poem when I was growing up. It was a pretty big deal in school because it was written by a Canadian physician by the name of John McCrae. McCrae was a Lieutenant-Colonel that served as a soldier in World War I and a surgeon during the second battle of Ypres in Belgium.
McCrae was an artist through and through. He was an author and a poet, but he didn’t make it through the end of the war unfortunately. He died of pneumonia near the end.
It’s a beautiful poem, and one which reminds us all of the urgency of the war, and the eternity that the dead moved into. It’s rather sobering, but I think worthwhile to read and remember. An exemplary instance of the power of art.
‘In Flanders Fields‘
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.
As for the inspiration, it’s a rather touching story once you shed some light upon it. And though I don’t remember the exact moment I heard this poem for the first time, I do recall that it was during my secondary education, and that the concrete walls which shaped the school around my peers and I, was rather cold and old itself. It served as a great backdrop to learn that McCrae likely wrote In Flanders Fields shortly after the funeral of his close friend Lieutenant Alexis Helmer.
Helmer had been killed during the second battle of Ypres. The battlefield was home to countless poppy flowers which featured in great numbers and even in its cemeteries. Thus the poppy grew in popularity because of this poem.
Though it has been quite some time since this war broke out, there have been others since and many more brave men and women who’ve fought for peace and given their lives doing so. Whether you are a creative professional or not dear readers, I think you can recognize rather easily that art has a place in life, and that without art there is no heart. So please take some time tomorrow to honour those who died so that we might live. It’s important, it’s not just a theory.