Thursday, November 11, 2010

John McCrae and Remembrance Day

Veterans' Section of Woodland Cemetery, London Ontario

I have met many war veterans over the years while working in health care, some of them disabled from injuries received while in military service for our country. I have met many civilians who lived in Europe during the wars, some of them scarred emotionally for life because of their tragic experiences. I listen to their stories and am thankful for the freedom from war that I have enjoyed during my lifetime.

Lieutenant Colonel John Alexander McCrae was born in Guelph Ontario in 1872. He is famous for his poem, "In Flanders Fields" which he wrote in May 1915 after the death of his friend who was killed during the Second Battle of Ypres. He was born in a small limestone cottage on the banks of the Speed River. Originally built in 1855, an addition was added a couple of years later and today the home has been restored as a monument in John McCrae's honour. I have lived 20 minutes away from McCrae house for almost forty years, but visited it for the first time this week.

Monument at McCrae House, Guelph Ontario

I am sure that all Canadian school children, including myself, have recited McCrae's poem. But I did not know much about the author. After walking through the house and viewing the interpretive displays about his life and times, I felt a strong connection to this poet, doctor and soldier.

He was a top scholar who, at the age of 16, was awarded a scholarship to the University of Toronto where he studied medicine. (Twenty years later my grandmother and grandfather studied medicine at the same university.) He served in combat in South Africa during the Boer War in 1900-1901 and then returned to Canada to a distinguished medical career. In 1914, he once again offered his services to the military and served as a Brigade Surgeon. He died in January 1918 of pneumonia complicated by meningitis while working in a Canadian General Hospital in France. He never saw the armistice nor the impact his poem had on future Remembrance Day observances around the world.

In Flanders Fields by John McCrae
(click image to enlarge)

 The exhibits at the small museum in the McCrae homestead reveal the life of a son, a brother, a student, a doctor, a soldier. He served his country like many others of his generation and future generations, not looking for honour, but worthy this day of respectful remembrance.

We Remember... 

McCrae House, Guelph Ontario


  1. An interesting and informative post! What an appropriate place to visit "as we remember".

    I too, am very thankful for the country we live in and for the peace we've known.

  2. I'm glad you made the visit. It's a nice memorial. I just read the poem again today and it brought tears to my eyes. The fallen leaves in the cemetery shot is fantastic.

    Funny how we don't visit places in our own back yards.

  3. A very timely and informative post. I went to uni in Guelph but had no idea.

  4. God bless them all...

  5. So nice to read and hear "In Flanders Field" again. Not only today, but everyday we should take the time to thank and remember our soldiers.

  6. Very interesting to learn about the author of the poem. He was a brave and learned man who died much too soon.

  7. I appreciate your post--quite a man, wasn't he? And this is a great tribute to those who've served their country.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.