Poems and poppies-why we remember John McCrae-physician, poet, reluctant soldier

Originally from Canada, Dr.McCrae was an English and math teacher, as well as a poet, before he attended medical school. He moved to England and was practicing there when World War I broke out, and he was called to serve as a brigade-surgeon.

simple cross grave markers in a cemetery

In the United States,  we have several observance days that honor our military, past and present, living and deceased. At least two of them, Memorial Day, in May, and Veterans’ Day, in November, have become symbolized by the poppy.

 

armed forces emblems over a field of poppies
photo used compliments of the American Legion Auxiliary

Why poppies?

I love the story of the poppies because it has a medical connection.

In the battlefields of Belgium during World War I, poppies grew wild amid the ravages of war. The overturned soils of battle covered  the poppy seeds to,  allowing them to grow and forever serve as a reminder of the bloodshed of war.

Out of this conflict came a poem, from which also came the association with poppies .

 And, the poem has a medical connection.

The now famous poem, In Flanders Fields, was written by a Canadian physician, Lt. Col. John McCrae.

Dr. John McCrae

Originally from Canada, Dr.McCrae was an English and math teacher, as well as a poet, before he attended medical school. He moved to England and was practicing there when World War I broke out, and he was called to serve as a brigade-surgeon.

I suspect that as a physician, he was deeply  pained by  treating the wounded, and the loss of those he could not save.

“In April 1915, McCrae was stationed in the trenches near Ypres, Belgium, in an area known as Flanders, during the bloody Second Battle of Ypres.

In the midst of the tragic warfare, McCrae’s friend, twenty-two-year-old Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, was killed by artillery fire and buried in a makeshift grave.

The following day, McCrae, after seeing the field of makeshift graves blooming with wild poppies, wrote his famous poem “In Flanders Field,” which would be the second to last poem he would ever write.”

(from John McCrae at poets.org)

In Flanders Fields

by Dr. John McCrae

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.

This poem is in the public domain.

Soon after writing “In Flanders Fields,” McCrae was transferred to a hospital in France, . Saddened and disillusioned by the war, McCrae found respite in writing letters and poetry, and wrote his final poem, “The Anxious Dead.”

In the summer of 1917, McCrae’s health took a turn, and he began suffering from severe asthma attacks and bronchitis. McCrae died of pneumonia and meningitis on January 28, 1918.

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sharing the HEART of health

This post is dedicated to all those in the armed services of the United States, past and present. For you in other lands, please remember those in your nation who have done likewise, in whatever manner is your custom. And may our world be blessed with peace and cooperation so that conflict among them is never needed again.

2 oval plates with words "thank you"

Dr Aletha

Author: Aletha Cress Oglesby, M.D.

As a family physician, I explore the HEART of HEALTH in my work, recreation, community, and through writing. My blog, Watercress Words, informs and inspires us to live in health. I believe we can turn our health challenges into healthy opportunities. When we do, we can share the HEART of health with our families, communities, and the world. Come explore and share with me.

2 thoughts on “Poems and poppies-why we remember John McCrae-physician, poet, reluctant soldier”

  1. I had not ever heard this story. We truly may never know all that has been experienced by those who serve our countries. May we keep them in our prayers and remember their sacrifice.

    Like

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