Today is Remembrance Day.
We remember those amazing men and woman of our armed services that have died and fallen in service to our country. Two minutes of silence will be observed on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
As a military spouse, this day has special importance to me. Please take a moment today if you can, to remember those that have paid the ultimate sacrifice for peace and freedom:
The wearing of the red poppy was inspired by this poem written by LCol. John McCrae a Canadian surgeon in World War I, during the battle of Ypres in 1915:
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 is the background to Major John McCrae’s poem excerpted here:
Although he had been a doctor for years and had served in the South African War, it was impossible to get used to the suffering here, and Major John McCrae had seen and heard enough in his dressing station to last him a lifetime.
As a surgeon attached to the 1st Field Artillery Brigade, LCol. McCrae had spent seventeen days treating injured men in the Ypres salient.
It had been an ordeal that he had hardly thought possible. McCrae later wrote of it:
“I wish I could embody on paper some of the varied sensations of that seventeen days… Seventeen days of Hades! At the end of the first day if anyone had told us we had to spend seventeen days there, we would have folded our hands and said it could not have been done.”
One death particularly affected McCrae. A young friend and former student, Lieut. Alexis Helmer of Ottawa, had been killed by a shell burst on 2 May 1915. Lieutenant Helmer was buried later that day in the little cemetery outside McCrae’s dressing station, and McCrae had performed the funeral ceremony in the absence of the chaplain.
The next day, sitting on the back of an ambulance parked near the dressing station beside the Canal de l’Yser, just a few hundred yards north of Ypres, McCrae vented his anguish by composing a poem.
In the nearby cemetery, McCrae could see the wild poppies that sprang up everywhere in that part of Europe, and he spent twenty minutes of precious rest time scribbling fifteen lines of verse in a notebook.
A young soldier watched him write it. Cyril Allinson, a twenty-two year old sergeant-major, was delivering mail that day when he spotted McCrae. The major looked up as Allinson approached, then went on writing while the sergeant-major stood there quietly. “His face was very tired but calm as we wrote,” Allinson recalled. “He looked around from time to time, his eyes straying to Helmer’s grave.”
When McCrae finished five minutes later, he took his mail from Allinson and, without saying a word, handed his pad to the young NCO.