One hundred years ago this year, the first Great War raged across Europe, but its impact truly was felt world-wide. When Great Britain declared war on Germany on August 4, 1914, Canada, as a part of the British Empire, was automatically also at war.
Many of the young men of the day signed up to serve—some as soldiers, and some as medical support. One of those who volunteered his services was a Doctor who’d been born and raised in Guelph, Ontario (just down the road from me), who’d been a resident at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Maryland at the dawn of the 20th century, and who had already seen the affects of war on the human body. His name was Dr. John McRae, and when he enlisted, he was appointed as a medical officer to the First Brigade of the Canadian Field Artillery—and given the rank of Major.
McRae wasn’t just a doctor. He expressed himself in words—as a poet, and a writer of articles for medical journals—and he was also an artist who rendered pencil sketches of some of the places he’d been during his world travels.
He wrote to his mother, while stationed in Belgium, of the carnage of war. He did what he could for the wounded in the trenches near Ypres, Belgium, often doing without much sleep or relief of any kind for days on end. And it was while he was in Belgium, and after the death of a friend, that he gave us words that are as timely now as ever they were, and a symbol we all recognize as synonymous with honoring all those who’ve died in military service to their countries.
That poem is called In Flanders Fields. In case it’s been a while since you’ve heard it, here it is:
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 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.
Today is a day we pause, and with a minute of silence, honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice so that we could live our lives blessed with freedom.
That first Great War, and the next one—the Second World War—seem far removed from us in 2015. And yet, today, there are other wars, and rumors of wars, and there are acts of war not committed nation against nation, but man against man.
Now more than ever we need to stop, and pause, and reflect: lest we forget.