Lanterns: Where Poppies Grow

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Where Poppies Grow

In Flanders Field

 

In Flanders fields where the poppies grow

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 your quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

 

By

   John McCrae

 

We just celebrated Veterans Day, as well as the Marine’s 242nd birthday! There was a lot of conversation about when we celebrate this holiday or that one. Have you seen those little red paper mache poppies recently? Do you know why we give donations for those cute little red flowers that seem to always end up in our cars, coin purses, and dresser tops?  Do you know how to spell Veterans Day correctly? It doesn’t include an apostrophe but does include an “s” at the end of “veterans” BECAUSE IT’S NOT A DAY THAT BELONGS TO VETERANS. IT’S A DAY THAT HONORS THEM.

It always falls on the 11th day of November. Some celebrate it unofficially, on a weekend. Some schools close, others stay open. Many have an assembly to honor this day.

Many confuse Memorial Day and Veterans Day, and I’m throwing poppies in the mix too!

Veterans Day is a day set aside to thank ALL those who served honorably in the military— in wartime and peacetime. Most consider it a celebration to thank the living who fought for our freedoms and national security.  

Last month I got a little red poppy from a veteran who was part of the local VFW (Veteran of Foreign Wars ) group. You can also get them from someone associated with The American Legion too.

Memorial Day is a day for honoring those who have died while in the service of their country, especially those who died in battle. I noticed people thanking veterans on this day, as well. It seems there is always a murmur of someone having to explain what that commemorative holiday is about. 

The poppies began in 1921 to commemorate specifically the people that died during the battle in Flanders, Belgium, during WW1. It grew beyond that. Now in Europe it is used as a symbol of the fallen in any battle. I think some of that is rubbing off and that’s why I saw poppies offered not just on Memorial Day here in America. In Canada, November 11th commemorates the fallen and they begin doing this for a whole two weeks before November 11th. People all over the world celebrate Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Armistice. It has become a bit confusing.

Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae who was part of the Canadian Army Medical Corp wrote this poem, “In Flanders Fields”, May 3rd, 1915. What I love about this man was his heart. In a letter to his mother he wrote, “ I am really rather afraid, but more afraid to stay at home with my conscience.”  He was signing up at 42 years of age and was given the rank of Major and appointed brigade-surgeon to the First Brigade of the Canadian Forces Artillery stationed at Ypres, Belgium.

He had been treating and caring for so many dying soldiers that he was was not able to help his friend and student Lieutenant Alexis Helmer who died from being hit by German artillery. He wrote the poem from his dead friend’s perspective. This was the 2nd major battle in Ypres, Belgium. he called it the “17 days of Hades”. Germany used poisonous Chlorine gas in these attacks.

While still at the battlefront, McCrae assisted in his burial and service of his friend and student. They had to bury him in the dark. When morning came McCrae was resting on the edge of his medical wagon writing. Another soldier, Cyril Allinson witnessed and watched as McCrae wrote...looking back and forth from his friend's grave to his writing. He was just writing what he saw.

I have been finding some interesting facts about John McCrae. He was known as an author and poet that was published in national magazines. He went to medical school and was Canadian. He stopped his education to go fight in the Boer War in South Africa. Then he went back to school to become a Pathologist. It was his time during the Boer War where he was shocked at the care and treatment of sick and injured soldiers. I also found that there had been a girl. She died from an infection. There was a notation that he was in love with her.

When he would write home he would sign off on the letter and so did his horse Bonfire. Bonfire just used his hoof print at the bottom of the letter too. He had taken his horse to battle. He loved animals and people. There is a famous dog he met that followed him thru his rounds through the medical wards. He named him, Bonneau. He was said to be a highly compassionate and principled man. I can tell he was not just a good man, he was a great man

In the summer of 1910, McCrae went with Governor General Earl Grey as expedition doctor on a canoe trip! He went with the governor in a canoe down a river for a month. They went down Lake Winnipeg to Hudson’s Bay. Quite a life this man led!

Sadly, McCrae suffered from asthma since childhood and by December 1917 his health had declined he died from pneumonia and meningitis on January 28th, 1918. His funeral procession was led by his horse Bonfire, in the tradition of mounted officers; McCrae’s boots were placed backward in the stirrups. He was buried with full honors in the cemetery in Wimereux, France (plot 4, row H, grave 3). His funeral was one of the biggest attendances of the war. There were his many friends, military dignitaries, nursing sisters and colleagues.

Not long after his poem was published, another poet was touched by his poem, and she wrote a response. Her name was Moina Michael. She was a professor at the University of Georgia. She took some off from teaching to be a volunteer with the American YWCA. she was inspired and wrote, “ We Shall Keep the Faith.”  In this poem, she vowed to always wear a red silk poppy in honor of the dead to always keep them in our memory. She even handed these poppies out, and there it began. She went back to teaching and was teaching a course to some soldiers. Moina even sold some in order to pay for the needs of some disabled soldiers. It’s easy to misunderstand the many meanings of the poppy. You can look it up. It’s slightly different in different countries.

Next year it will be the 100th anniversary of the Armistice. Why am I bringing this up during our Veterans Day celebrations? There was a day when we all celebrated together. After the 2nd World War and before the Korean war, America morphed it all together. Not just for those who passed away but to those who lived. 

On November 11th, 1918, at 11:11 AM  Truce was made between Germany and the Allied nations.

Over 9 to 11 million people died in armed conflict.This war was ranked as one of the deadliest conflicts in human history. The total number of military and civilian death on both sided is said to be more than 41 million people. This war that ravaged a such a huge amount of the European continent and devastated so many lives through this loss that the effects were long-lived, deep into generations still. So many lives change dramatically from this war. England and France celebrate the men who have been hurt and died. In America, we celebrate Veterans Day for those who fought and survived. Memorial Day is supposed to be for honoring those we lost in any battle. 
 

 

Written by Josie Jackson

I'm a Patriot. I believe profoundly that I live the American Dream.I am also a Holistic Practitioner.

3 Responses

Thanks for this excellent piece, Josie! It's been awhile since I've read anything about McRae, and you taught me several new tidbits! Love it, girl! God bless you!

Sarah, Thank you so much...Oh my there was so much more. He was such an amazing man. It is sad to me that he died. A woman he loved died and I wonder about all his poems that have to do with death had its origin there. He was a wonderful fella. Men like him are a rare breed. Have you read any of his other poems or writings? I down played how much he wrote do to wanting to stay on task with the point of what I was writing...but it was really difficult to leave out.

I have not, Josie. I sure would like to, though!

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