John McCrae is remembered for what is probably the best known and most popular of all First World War poetry. It is believed that he was so moved by the death of his friend Lieutenant Alexis Helmet, who had been killed by a shell burst, and inspired by the profusion of wild poppies he could see in the nearby cemetery, that he wrote In Flanders Fields. Sadly, John McCrae did not survive WW1; he died from pneumonia whilst on active duty in 1918. He is buried at the Commonwealth War Grave Commission, Wimereux Communal cemetery.
In Flanders Fields
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 live, 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 on high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
The words of Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD, Canadian Army (1872-1918)
My mother’s father was involved in this war and served in many areas of conflict – but not in Flanders. He died in the mid-1930s and, according to my mother, the doctor said it was because of what he did in the war.
It’s Sunday April 18th 1915 and Nellie Lant is enjoying Springtime in the Cambridge Colleges. She writes:
My favourite pastime is to go for a walk round the backs of the collages, especially in Spring when one can see all the lovely flowers growing in the college grounds. The Daffodils dancing and fluttering in the breeze, looking like a flash of brilliant light. In the wilderness one can see Tulips, Primroses, Daffodils and Narcissus making a wonderful sight.
All nature seems gay with all the birds singing. One can pick violets, daisies and buttercups. The last time I went round all the leaves on the trees were bursting, and the May was coming out on the hedge.
There are some soldiers drilling on the grounds at the back of the Collages. I think the Backs look most beautiful in the Spring more than at any other season.
Based on our first meeting with Nellie Lant a couple of weeks ago this letter is out of place. Last time we were in 1916 – this one is from 1915, almost to the day. The war is some 9 months old and Nellie is at Wesley School, King Street, Cambridge – a different, but still residential, girl’s school – Nellie will only come home at the end of each of the three terms. and is writing home to her father on Friday 16th April 1915.
Christ’s Pieces are now our playground. We have been turned out of our proper school by the soldiers. On Christ’s Pieces there is a band stand nearly every Sunday evening. The bands play and crowds of people listen to it. Not very long ago there were some soldier’s horses on there. At the middle of every morning and afternoon we have ten minutes play time. At playtime we all go out and play until the bell rings. On certain days of the week we have drill on the Piece.
Your loving daughter