Lt.-Col. John McCrae – the Man Behind the Poppies

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When you go home, tell them of us and say

For your tomorrow, we gave our today.

— John Maxwell Edmonds (21 January 1875 – 18 March 1958)

We are one week away from Remembrance Day 2020. The origin of Remembrance Day was “Armistice Day”, which commemorated the armistice agreement that ended the First World War on November 11, 1918, at 11 a.m.

Since 1919, every year in the days leading up to November 11, Canadians will wear a red poppy (a lapel pin) to commemorate those who died in the First World War. This tradition originated from a poem called “In Flanders Fields”. You can read the poem here.

Today, let’s take a look at the life of the author that wrote the poem — Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae.

John McCrae was born in Guelph, Ontario in 1872. As a young boy, he was interested in both poetry and the military. Later he went to medical school while honing his skills as a poet. At university, he had some poems and short stories published in magazines.

The South African War broke out in 1899 and John McCrae joined the war. There he was shocked by the poor treatment of injured soldiers. After that, he continued his studies in pathology and later became an excelling pathologist in Montréal.

On August 4, 1914, Britain declared war on Germany. Canada was a member of the British Empire then. Along with 45 thousand fellow Canadians, John McCrae joined the war – this time, as a medical officer.

The war was relentless, cruel and unimaginable for those living in peaceful times. One of John McCrae’s closest friends was killed and buried with a simple wooden cross on his grave. Wild poppies were beginning to bloom between the crosses marking many graves of fallen soldiers. One day later, he wrote the famous poem “In Flanders Fields”.

Deeply affected by the losses and unable to help the fallen ones, John became deeply disappointed. In January 1918, he was diagnosed with pneumonia and passed away on the 28th.

The poem “In Flanders Fields” was published and translated into many languages. It became the most popular poem about the First World War. Later the poppy was adopted as the symbol for Remembrance Day.

This Remembrance Day, also visit the Field of Crosses along the Memorial Drive in Calgary.

Word of the Day:

Armistice: an agreement between two countries in a war to stop fighting