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In Flanders Fields

30 May 2016

In the United States, today is celebrated  as Memorial Day, in remembrance of those who died serving in the nation’s armed forces.

One of the most famous poems to come out of World War I was written by Canadian physician, John McCrae.

In April 1915, McCrae was stationed in the trenches near Ypres, Belgium, in an area called Flanders, during the bloody Second Battle of Ypres. In the midst of the battle, McCrae’s friend, twenty-two-year-old Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, was killed by artillery fire and quickly buried in a grave not far from the front line. Due to the absence of a chaplain, McCrae conducted Lieutenant Helmer’s funeral service. After seeing the field of makeshift graves blooming with wild poppies, he wrote his poem “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.

Here’s a photo of British soldiers during World War I from a recently-released book of photographs made from glass plates found in the attic of a farmhouse in France just a few years ago. The bracelets on the wrists of two of the men are identity tags primarily used to identify the dead.

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The name of the book is The Lost Tommies.

A few years ago, PG and Mrs. PG visited an American military cemetery in the beautiful Tuscan countryside outside of Florence, where some of the soldiers who died during the Italian campaign in World War II are buried.

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8 Comments to “In Flanders Fields”

  1. Thanks for posting, PG. I lost two shipmates during my time on the flight deck of the USS Theodore Roosevelt in 1988. Ronald Krauss and William Berry. You’re not forgotten.

    • Laura Montgomery

      Thank you for your service, Darren, and thank you to all who served and paid the ultimate price.

  2. Thank you for this, PG. It’s always sobering to remember WW I, often overlooked in favor of the more infamous WW II. I am now going to check out that book of photos, and read the poem again.

  3. P.G.

    I went out today and did my duty. I was welcomed by officers and civilians alike. No one took it awry that I am a furriner. They were glad to see me and I felt proud I was there.

    It is a deeply moving day and I think next year I will attend in full UK Police Uniform, something the UK forbids, but the USA celebrates.

    I’m honouring those that fought and those that died, so I didn’t have to. And I’m honouring my Father, who fought Rommel for five years as a desert rat in Libya and washed his hair with petrol, ‘cos there was no water.

    I’d have been chicken-feed. I’ve seen artillery and it is fearsome and the closest you can get to hell on earth.

    It was a good day, and as memorial day ALWAYS arrives on my birthday…it is a sad/glad day.

    brendan

  4. Well said, all. I agree that those celebrating Memorial Day next year would be happy to see you in uniform, Brendan. And Happy Birthday!

  5. Thanks for this. It made me think about my great uncle – my grandfather’s much loved elder brother, George, who died at the very beginning of WW1.

  6. Thank you PG, for remembering all of us. Good choice poem. And, I’d only add that many soldiers from the USA, Canada and Mexico are buried on foreign soil, so called, and that the people of those nations, most often take good care of the known graves. We thank them sincerely for tending.

    We live in a time that many of us in past service keep hoping old men will stop sending our young to wars that take so much from so many. I can say with conviction, there is nothing a warrior with heart and family, loves more than peace.

  7. margaret rainforth

    Thanks PG. I remember visiting Flanders… a beautiful but sobering place. Mixed feelings of pride, joy, and trepidation today as I see my grandson off to join the USAF. Thanks for posting.

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