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.

Other Poems

John McCrae

An Essay in Character

by Sir Andrew Macphail

Going to the Wars

John McCrae went to the war without illusions. At first, like many others of his age, he did not “think of enlisting”, although “his services are at the disposal of the Country if it needs them.”

In July, 1914, he was at work upon the second edition of the `Text-Book of Pathology’ by Adami and McCrae, published by Messrs. Lea and Febiger, and he had gone to Philadelphia to read the proofs. He took them to Atlantic City where he could “sit out on the sand, and get sunshine and oxygen, and work all at once.”

It was a laborious task, passing eighty to a hundred pages of highly technical print each day. Then there was the index, between six and seven thousand items. “I have,” so he writes, “to change every item in the old index and add others. I have a pile of pages, 826 in all. I look at the index, find the old page among the 826, and then change the number. This about 7000 times, so you may guess the drudgery.” On July 15th, the work was finished, registered, and entrusted to the mail with a special delivery stamp. The next day he wrote the preface, “which really finished the job.” In very truth his scientific work was done.

It was now midsummer. The weather was hot. He returned to Montreal. Practice was dull. He was considering a voyage to Havre and “a little trip with Dr. Adami” when he arrived. On July 29th, he left Canada “for better or worse. With the world so disturbed,” he records, “I would gladly have stayed more in touch with events, but I dare say one is just as happy away from the hundred conflicting reports.” The ship was the `Scotian’ of the Allan Line, and he “shared a comfortable cabin with a professor of Greek,” who was at the University in his own time.

For one inland born, he had a keen curiosity about ships and the sea. There is a letter written when he was thirteen years of age in which he gives an account of a visit to a naval exhibition in London. He describes the models which he saw, and gives an elaborate table of names, dimensions, and tonnage. He could identify the house flags and funnels of all the principal liners; he could follow a ship through all her vicissitudes and change of ownership. When he found himself in a seaport town his first business was to visit the water front and take knowledge of the vessels that lay in the stream or by the docks. One voyage he made to England was in a cargo ship. With his passion for work he took on the duties of surgeon, and amazed the skipper with a revelation of the new technique in operations which he himself had been accustomed to perform by the light of experience alone.

On the present and more luxurious voyage, he remarks that the decks were roomy, the ship seven years old, and capable of fifteen knots an hour, the passengers pleasant, and including a large number of French. All now know only too well the nature of the business which sent those ardent spirits flocking home to their native land.

Forty-eight hours were lost in fog. The weather was too thick for making the Straits, and the `Scotian’ proceeded by Cape Race on her way to Havre. Under date of August 5-6 the first reference to the war appears: “All is excitement; the ship runs without lights. Surely the German kaiser has his head in the noose at last: it will be a terrible war, and the finish of one or the other. I am afraid my holiday trip is knocked galley west; but we shall see.” The voyage continues. A “hundred miles from Moville we turned back, and headed South for Queenstown; thence to the Channel; put in at Portland; a squadron of battleships; arrived here this morning.”

The problem presented itself to him as to many another. The decision was made. To go back to America was to go back from the war. Here are the words: “It seems quite impossible to return, and I do not think I should try. I would not feel quite comfortable over it. I am cabling to Morrison at Ottawa, that I am available either as combatant or medical if they need me. I do not go to it very light-heartedly, but I think it is up to me.”

It was not so easy in those days to get to the war, as he and many others were soon to discover. There was in Canada at the time a small permanent force of 3000 men, a military college, a Headquarters staff, and divisional staff for the various districts into which the country was divided. In addition there was a body of militia with a strength of about 60,000 officers and other ranks. Annual camps were formed at which all arms of the service were represented, and the whole was a very good imitation of service conditions. Complete plans for mobilization were in existence, by which a certain quota, according to the establishment required, could be detailed from each district. But upon the outbreak of war the operations were taken in hand by a Minister of Militia who assumed in his own person all those duties usually assigned to the staff. He called to his assistance certain business and political associates, with the result that volunteers who followed military methods did not get very far.

Accordingly we find it written in John McCrae’s diary from London: “Nothing doing here. I have yet no word from the Department at Ottawa, but I try to be philosophical until I hear from Morrison. If they want me for the Canadian forces, I could use my old Sam Browne belt, sword, and saddle if it is yet extant. At times I wish I could go home with a clear conscience.”

He sailed for Canada in the `Calgarian’ on August 28th, having received a cablegram from Colonel Morrison, that he had been provisionally appointed surgeon to the 1st Brigade Artillery. The night he arrived in Montreal I dined with him at the University Club, and he was aglow with enthusiasm over this new adventure. He remained in Montreal for a few days, and on September 9th, joined the unit to which he was attached as medical officer. Before leaving Montreal he wrote to his sister Geills:

“Out on the awful old trail again! And with very mixed feelings, but some determination. I am off to Val-cartier to-night. I was really afraid to go home, for I feared it would only be harrowing for Mater, and I think she agrees. We can hope for happier times. Everyone most kind and helpful: my going does not seem to surprise anyone. I know you will understand it is hard to go home, and perhaps easier for us all that I do not. I am in good hope of coming back soon and safely: that, I am glad to say, is in other and better hands than ours.”

(A Chance Meeting with His Father)

….His mother I never knew. Canada is a large place. With his father I had four hours’ talk from seven to eleven one June evening in London in 1917. At the time I was on leave from France to give the Cavendish Lecture, a task which demanded some thought; and after two years in the army it was a curious sensation — watching one’s mind at work again. The day was Sunday. I had walked down to the river to watch the flowing tide. To one brought up in a country of streams and a moving sea the curse of Flanders is her stagnant waters. It is little wonder the exiles from the Judæan hillsides wept beside the slimy River.

The Thames by evening in June, memories that reached from Tacitus to Wordsworth, the embrasure that extends in front of the Egyptian obelisk for a standing place, and some children “swimming a dog”; — that was the scene and circumstance of my first meeting with his father. A man of middle age was standing by. He wore the flashings of a Lieutenant-Colonel and for badges the Artillery grenades. He seemed a friendly man; and under the influence of the moment, which he also surely felt, I spoke to him.

“A fine river,” — That was a safe remark.

“But I know a finer.”

“Pharpar and Abana?” I put the stranger to the test.

“No,” he said. “The St. Lawrence is not of Damascus.” He had answered to the sign, and looked at my patches.

“I have a son in France, myself,” he said. “His name is McCrae.”

“Not John McCrae?”

“John McCrae is my son.”

The resemblance was instant, but this was an older man than at first sight he seemed to be. I asked him to dinner at Morley’s, my place of resort for a length of time beyond the memory of all but the oldest servants. He had already dined but he came and sat with me, and told me marvellous things.

David McCrae had raised, and trained, a field battery in Guelph, and brought it overseas. He was at the time upwards of seventy years of age, and was considered on account of years alone “unfit” to proceed to the front. For many years he had commanded a field battery in the Canadian militia, went on manoeuvres with his “cannons”, and fired round shot. When the time came for using shells he bored the fuse with a gimlet; and if the gimlet were lost in the grass, the gun was out of action until the useful tool could be found. This “cannon ball” would travel over the country according to the obstacles it encountered and, “if it struck a man, it might break his leg.”

In such a martial atmosphere the boy was brought up, and he was early nourished with the history of the Highland regiments. Also from his father he inherited, or had instilled into him, a love of the out of doors, a knowledge of trees, and plants, a sympathy with birds and beasts, domestic and wild. When the South African war broke out a contingent was dispatched from Canada, but it was so small that few of those desiring to go could find a place. This explains the genesis of the following letter:

I see by to-night’s bulletin that there is to be no second contingent. I feel sick with disappointment, and do not believe that I have ever been so disappointed in my life, for ever since this business began I am certain there have not been fifteen minutes of my waking hours that it has not been in my mind. It has to come sooner or later. One campaign might cure me, but nothing else ever will, unless it should be old age. I regret bitterly that I did not enlist with the first, for I doubt if ever another chance will offer like it. This is not said in ignorance of what the hardships would be.I am ashamed to say I am doing my work in a merely mechanical way. If they are taking surgeons on the other side, I have enough money to get myself across. If I knew any one over there who could do anything, I would certainly set about it. If I can get an appointment in England by going, I will go. My position here I do not count as an old boot in comparison.

In the end he accomplished the desire of his heart, and sailed on the `Laurentian’. Concerning the voyage one transcription will be enough:

On orderly duty. I have just been out taking the picket at 11.30 P.M. In the stables the long row of heads in the half-darkness, the creaking of the ship, the shivering of the hull from the vibration of the engines, the sing of a sentry on the spar deck to some passer-by. Then to the forward deck: the sky half covered with scudding clouds, the stars bright in the intervals, the wind whistling a regular blow that tries one’s ears, the constant swish as she settles down to a sea; and, looking aft, the funnel with a wreath of smoke trailing away off into the darkness on the starboard quarter; the patch of white on the funnel discernible dimly; the masts drawing maps across the sky as one looks up; the clank of shovels coming up through the ventilators, — if you have ever been there, you know it all.There was a voluntary service at six; two ships’ lanterns and the men all around, the background of sky and sea, and the strains of “Nearer my God to Thee” rising up in splendid chorus. It was a very effective scene, and it occurred to me that THIS was “the rooibaatjees singing on the road,” as the song says.

The next entry is from South Africa:

Green Point Camp, Capetown,
February 25th, 1900. You have no idea of the work. Section commanders live with their sections, which is the right way. It makes long hours. I never knew a softer bed than the ground is these nights. I really enjoy every minute though there is anxiety. We have lost all our spare horses. We have only enough to turn out the battery and no more.

After a description of a number of the regiments camped near by them, he speaks of the Indian troops, and then says:

We met the High Priest of it all, and I had a five minutes’ chat with him — Kipling I mean. He visited the camp. He looks like his pictures, and is very affable. He told me I spoke like a Winnipeger. He said we ought to “fine the men for drinking unboiled water. Don’t give them C.B.; it is no good. Fine them, or drive common sense into them. All Canadians have common sense.”

Dead in His Prime

John McCrae left the front after the second battle of Ypres, and never returned. On June 1st, 1915, he was posted to No. 3 General Hospital at Boulogne, a most efficient unit organized by McGill University and commanded by that fine soldier Colonel H. S. Birkett, C.B. He was placed in charge of medicine, with the rank of Lieut.-Colonel as from April 17th, 1915, and there he remained until his death.  (He died from the effects of asthma and pneumonia…blogger’s edit)

The funeral was held on Tuesday afternoon, January 29th, at the cemetery in Wimereux. The burial was made with full military pomp. From the Canadian Corps came Lieut.-General Sir Arthur Currie, the General Officer Commanding; Major-General E. W. B. Morrison, and Brigadier-General W. O. H. Dodds, of the Artillery. Sir A. T. Sloggett, the Director-General of Medical Services, and his Staff were waiting at the grave. All Commanding Officers at the Base, and all Deputy Directors were there. There was also a deputation from the Harvard Unit headed by Harvey Cushing.

Bonfire went first, led by two grooms, and decked in the regulation white ribbon, not the least pathetic figure in the sad procession. A hundred nursing Sisters in caps and veils stood in line, and then proceeded in ambulances to the cemetery, where they lined up again. Seventy-five of the personnel from the Hospital acted as escort, and six Sergeants bore the coffin from the gates to the grave. The firing party was in its place. Then followed the chief mourners, Colonel Elder and Sir Bertrand Dawson; and in their due order, the rank and file of No. 3 with their officers; the rank and file of No. 14 with their officers; all officers from the Base, with Major-General Wilberforce and the Deputy Directors to complete.

It was a springtime day, and those who have passed all those winters in France and in Flanders will know how lovely the springtime may be. So we may leave him, “on this sunny slope, facing the sunset and the sea.” These are the words used by one of the nurses in a letter to a friend, — those women from whom no heart is hid. She also adds: “The nurses lamented that he became unconscious so quickly they could not tell him how much they cared. To the funeral all came as we did, because we loved him so.”

At first there was the hush of grief and the silence of sudden shock. Then there was an outbreak of eulogy, of appraisement, and sorrow. No attempt shall be made to reproduce it here; but one or two voices may be recorded in so far as in disjointed words they speak for all. Stephen Leacock, for those who write, tells of his high vitality and splendid vigour — his career of honour and marked distinction — his life filled with honourable endeavour and instinct with the sense of duty — a sane and equable temperament — whatever he did, filled with sure purpose and swift conviction.

Dr. A. D. Blackader, acting Dean of the Medical Faculty of McGill University, himself speaking from out of the shadow, thus appraises his worth: “As a teacher, trusted and beloved; as a colleague, sincere and cordial; as a physician, faithful, cheerful, kind. An unkind word he never uttered.” Oskar Klotz, himself a student, testifies that the relationship was essentially one of master and pupil. From the head of his first department at McGill, Professor, now Colonel, Adami, comes the weighty phrase, that he was sound in diagnosis; as a teacher inspiring; that few could rise to his high level of service.

There is yet a deeper aspect of this character with which we are concerned; but I shrink from making the exposition, fearing lest with my heavy literary tread I might destroy more than I should discover. When one stands by the holy place wherein dwells a dead friend’s soul — the word would slip out at last — it becomes him to take off the shoes from off his feet. But fortunately the dilemma does not arise. The task has already been performed by one who by God has been endowed with the religious sense, and by nature enriched with the gift of expression; one who in his high calling has long been acquainted with the grief of others, and is now himself a man of sorrow, having seen with understanding eyes,

    These great days range like tides,
    And leave our dead on every shore.