“In Flanders Fields,” written by a doctor during the Second Battle of Ypres, is perhaps the best known poem to come out of World War I.
Canadian military physician Major John McCrae was serving as brigade doctor when his friend, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, was killed. The chaplain was engaged elsewhere, so McCrae was asked to conduct the funeral.
The poem is believed to have been composed at the Essex Farm Advanced Dressing Station on May 3, 1915. Dealing with his grief, McCrae sat near an ambulance and wrote a poem about the view before him. He showed the poem to a young soldier delivering mail, but not satisfied with the poem threw it away. Another officer retrieved it and encouraged McCrae to submit it to magazines.
It was published December 1915 in the British magazine Punch.
Although the poem was not McCrae’s first, it is his most famous.
McCrae rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel, and was in command of No. 3 Canadian General Hospital when he died of pneumonia in January 1918.
In Flanders Fields
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.
Updated: 16 October 2020