The guns fell silent on this day in 1918. Death lessened his work and men, numbed by unimaginable carnage, tried so terribly hard to fathom the fact that they would, in all likelihood, live. It was an armistice, to be certain, but a sort of peace was at hand, though events that would soon follow would make that peace a bitter pill, and sew a whirlwind of violence in barely 2 decades more.
3 years earlier, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae penned what would be come the most well-known poem of that Great War, and it’s words transcends the years, the wars, the causes and everything else. It is a simple poem, but one well worth remembering, and passing forward to our youth.
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
Anthony Hutchcroft tells the story behind the poem:
On May 2, 1915, John McCrae’s close friend and former student Alexis Helmer was killed by a German 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”. For security reasons Helmer’s burial in Essex Farm Cemetery was performed in complete darkness.
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 YserCanal, 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.”
There is more on his site, well worth the time to visit.
May God bless all of our veterans this day, and let us thank them for what they have done on our behalf.