“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.”
The immortal words of Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae are as relevant and timely today as when they were first written May 3 1915. The previous day McCrae had just witnessed, first hand, the death of a close friend and a former student Alexis Helmer from an enemy shell. That evening, in the absence of a Chaplain, John McCrae recited from memory a few passages from the Church of England’s “Order of the Burial of the Dead.”
The next day, May 3, 1915, Sergeant-Major Cyril Allinson was delivering mail. McCrae was sitting at the back of an ambulance parked near the dressing station beside the Yser Canal, just a few hundred yards north of Ypres, Belgium. As John McCrae was writing his In Flanders Fields poem, Allinson silently watched and later recalled, “His face was very tired but calm as he wrote. He looked around from time to time, his eyes straying to Helmer’s grave.”
Within moments, John McCrae had completed the “In Flanders Fields” poem and when he was done, without a word, McCrae took his mail and handed the poem to Allinson. Allinson was deeply moved: “The (Flanders Fields) poem was an exact description of the scene in front of us both. He used the word ‘blow’ in that line because the poppies actually were being blown that morning by a gentle east wind. It never occurred to me at that time that it would ever be published. It seemed to me just an exact description of the scene.”
“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!” Given all of the current atrocities taking place around the globe, it is more than ever critical to remember those who have gone before us, sacrificing themselves to enable the world to be a better place.