In the United States, we have several observance days that honor our military, past and present, living and deceased. A flower, the poppy, represents two of them- Memorial Day, in May, and Veterans’ Day, in November.
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 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. And for others, please remember those in your nation who are and have served you.
And may our world be blessed with peace and cooperation so that conflict among them is never needed again.
2 thoughts on “Poems and poppies-why we remember John McCrae-physician, poet, reluctant soldier”
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.
Thank you Joanne, I learned the story a little at a time. My husband is a veteran and we know many veterans, so yes you are right, there are many untold stories.