Col. John McCrae was a soldier and physician with the Canadian Expeditionary Force, serving and dying in World War I — the “war to end all wars.” After burying one of his friends and fellow soldiers near Ypres, Belgium, he noticed how only poppies grew around the graves. Poppies had been associated with war since the time of Napoleon, when cannon blasting and trampling of rubble had changed the composition of the soil, increasing the proportion of lime content and making it difficult for any other flowers or grasses to flourish.
The day after the burial, Col. McCrae wrote his famous rondeau, “In Flanders Fields,” in the back of an ambulance. It was published in the UK in 1915 and in the U.S. in 1919, a year after his death. The poem was criticized in his native Canada after being used to promote war bonds. The poem’s call to arms in the third stanza was seen by some as war propaganda. But I believe it is a beautiful poem that honors those who served and those who lost their lives or loved ones. It seems particularly poignant at a time when we have been involved in a military conflict for 12 years in a land that is known for rocky terrain and poppies (and substances gleaned from them).
I also enjoy the song created–and beautifully performed–by Canadian composer Anthony Hutchcroft, using the lyrics of the poem. The music video incorporates a dramatic dance evoking the spirits of fallen soldiers, against the backdrop of the cemetery where McCrae buried his friend. I hope you find it meaningful as you celebrate the holiday and honor your neighbors and loved ones who have served and sacrificed.
And to you who are currently serving in the armed forces, many thanks to you and your families.
For more information, visit Flanders Fields Music.