Day 361 of Colourisation Project – May 3
Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.
Inspired by the death of his friend in combat, Canadian Officer, Major John McCrae composed one of the most famous poems to come out of world war 1 –In Flanders Fields.
At 42 years of age, McCrae was older than most WWI volunteers when he enlisted. In 1915 he was given the rank of Major and appointed brigade-surgeon to the First Brigade of the Canadian Forces Artillery stationed at Ypres, Belgium. As a doctor, who served in both the Boer War and the First World War, John McCrae had tended to gravely wounded soldiers and witnessed the deaths of countless men in battle. But it was on this day, 3rd May 1915 one hundred years ago, after having officiated at the funeral of his friend, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, who lost his life in the Second Battle of Ypres, that McCrae penned the words to In Flanders Fields.
Helmer was buried in a makeshift grave with a simple wooden cross in the field of Flanders, where the wild poppies were beginning to bloom between all the other crosses marking the many graves of fallen soldiers. (The damage done to the Flanders landscape during battle greatly increased the lime content in the soil, enabling the poppy to flourish in the region.)
Written from the point of view of the dead, and early in the conflict before the romanticism of war turned to bitterness and disillusionment for soldiers and civilians alike, McCrae’s evocative poem gives the fallen soldiers the voice to urge those living to take up the torch.
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.
In Flanders Fields was first published in England’s Punch magazine in December 1915. Before long it came to symbolise the sacrifices of all soldiers fighting in the First World War. Today, the poem continues to be a part of Remembrance Day ceremonies in Canada, Australia, the UK and other countries throughout the world, while the poppy has become the world’s most powerful and recognized memorial symbol for soldiers who have died in battle.
John McCrae went on to earn the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and though disillusioned by the war, McCrae found respite in writing letters and poetry. However, within 3 years of writing his famous poem McCrae would be dead, not of enemy fire but from pneumonia and meningitis developed while on duty.
John McCrae died on January 28, 1918. He was buried with full military honors in the cemetery in Wimereux, France He was only 45 years old.