John McCrae


John McCrae was born in Ontario in 1872. He graduated from the University of Toronto with a degree in medicine, established a practice in Montreal, and lectured at McGill. McCrae went overseas after the outbreak of World War I in 1914 and served with the army medical corps in France. He died of pneumonia in January 1918. As a poet, he wrote only occasional pieces. His reputation rests solely on his single achievement, In Flanders Fields.

Sound file:
In Flanders fields

John McCrae , physician, poet (b at Guelph, Ont 30 Nov 1872; d at Boulogne, France 28 Jan 1918). Educated at U of T, he was appointed fellow in pathology at McGill in 1900. He served in the SOUTH AFRICAN WAR as an artillery subaltern 18899-1900. The author of a number of medical texts, he also contributed poetry to various magazines. In 1914 McCrae enlisted in the CANADIAN EXPEDITIONARY FORCE as a medical officer. He died of pneumonia at the hospital of which he was in charge in 1918. “In Flanders Fields,” his most enduring poem, was first published in Punch in 1915. A book of the same title was pulished posthumously in 1919. His birthplace in Guelph is now a historic site. David Evens, The Canadian Encyclopedia, p. 1258.

The Lyrics

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.

World War I On 4 Aug 1914 Britain’s ultimatum to Germany to withdraw from Belgium expired. The Britsih Empire, including Canada, was at war, allied with Serbia, Russia, and France against the German Austro-Hungarian empires. Prewar Canada has a regular army of only 3000, but 60 000 militia had trained in 1913; most provinces, including Quebec, insisted on military training in their schools, and defence spending had risen sixfold since 1897.

Desmond Morton, The Canadian Encyclopedia, pp. 2341-2344.

1. What is the significance of the poppy?
2. Why did Canada join the war?
3. How many Canadians died during WW1?
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