Monday, November 11, 2013

Remembrance Day: A Poet, Poppies & Punch

From its association with poppies flowering in the spring of 1915 on the battlefields of Belgium, France and Gallipoli, this vivid red flower has become synonymous with great loss of life in war. The seeds of the flower can remain dormant in the earth for years, but will blossom spectacularly when the soil is churned. The sight of these vibrant red flowers caught the attention of John McCrae, a young Canadian medical officer who noticed how they sprouted and bloomed across some of the worst battlefields of Flanders in World War I, their brilliant red colour an appropriate symbol for the blood spilled in the war. 

Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae

The sight of poppies on the battlefield at Ypres in 1915 moved Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae to write the poem 'In Flanders Fields', following the funeral of a close friend and former student, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer. Distressed at the death and suffering around him, McCrae stood in the cemetery as red poppies blew gently in the breeze, and scribbled a draft for his now famous poem in his notebook. The significance of the poppy as a memorial symbol to the sacrifice made by his comrades was captured by McCrae's words and has since become a lasting testament to those who died in World War One and later conflicts. McCrae threw away the poem, but a fellow officer rescued it and sent it on to the English magazine Punch, and on 8 December 8, 1915, 'In Flanders Fields' was published. 

In Flanders Fields
by Lieutenant Colonel John Alexander McCrae, May 1915

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.

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