In Flanders Field

Fredericton Cenotaph

In Flanders Field

By Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae

john_mccraeIn 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.

Composed at the battlefront on May 3, 1915 during the second battle of Ypres, Belgium

On the 2nd of May, 1915, Alexis Helmer, a close friend and former student of John McCrae, lost his life due to a German shell attack. In the absence of a Chaplain that evening, McCrae recited a few passages from memory from the Church of England’s “Order of the Burial of the Dead”. Helmer’s interment in the Essex Farm Cemetery was carried out under the cloak of complete darkness for safety purposes.

The following day, May 3, 1915, Sergeant-Major Cyril Allinson was on his mail delivery rounds. McCrae was positioned at the rear of an ambulance parked near the dressing station beside the Yser Canal, a mere few hundred yards north of Ypres, Belgium.

While McCrae was in the process of composing his now-famous poem, “In Flanders Fields”, Allinson quietly observed. He later remembered, “His face was very tired but calm as he wrote. He looked around from time to time, his eyes straying to Helmer’s grave.”

In no time, McCrae had finished the “In Flanders Fields” poem. Once he was done, he silently collected his mail and handed the freshly penned poem to Allinson.

Allinson was deeply touched by the poem:

“The (Flanders Fields) poem was an exact description of the scene in front of us both. He used the word ‘blow’ in that line because the poppies actually were being blown that morning by a gentle east wind. It never occurred to me at that time that it would ever be published. It seemed to me just an exact description of the scene.”

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