McCrae, John

Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae is best remembered for In Flanders Fields, probably the single best-known and popular English-language poem from “The War to End All Wars.” He died of pneumonia and cerebral meningitis while on active duty Flanders on January 28, 1918.

He began his connection with the military becoming a gunner with the Number 2 Battery in Guelph in 1890, Quarter-Master Sergeant in 1891, Second Lieutenant in 1893 and Lieutenant in 1896. While attending the University of Toronto, he was a member of The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada during which time he was promoted Captain.

During the South African war John McCrae served with the Guelph contingent which became part of D Battery, Canadian Field Artillery. John McCrae resigned from the Artillery in 1904 after being promoted to Major. He was not involved with the military again until 1914.

In August 4, 1914, Britain declared war on Germany. Canada, as a member of the British Empire, was automatically at war, and its citizens from all across the land responded quickly. Within three weeks, 45,000 Canadians had rushed to join up; John McCrae was among them. He was appointed brigade-surgeon to the First Brigade of the Canadian Forces Artillery with the rank of Major and second-in-command. Before his death he was promoted Lieutenant Colonel.

Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae’s funeral procession to Wimereux Cemtery, January 29, 1918. The coffin is followed by his horse Bonfire with McCrae’s boot reversed in the stirrups. Photo from the Guelph Museum.

“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.”

Written May 3, 1915

4 thoughts on “McCrae, John”

  1. Beautiful poem written with so much meaning during dreadful time in history.
    Sad how wars are only started by a few – but kill thousands.
    How come a few cant be dealt with?

  2. Interesting that the Canadian Corps Commander, General Sir Arthur Currie, attended the funeral. McCrae must have had some influence across the Corps, even at that time.

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