Kate & Co. The Memories Shop Flanders Fields Battle Of Ypres Belgium 1914 1918

Flanders Fields


The Backstory

Can you Imag­ine what a a severe thun­der storm with inces­sant light­ing turn­ing night into day? Now think of thun­der claps rat­tling win­dows and rolling thun­der crash­ing about with sud­den light­en­ing flash­es appear­ing before you. Now think of light­en­ing and thun­der hap­pen­ing non­stop all about you the air about you siz­zling with ener­gy, hurt­ing your ear, pres­sure waves bat­ter­ing your body.

World War I is now into it’s sec­ond year, the time is 1915 and Cana­di­an sol­diers find them­selves fight­ing in Bel­gium at a loca­tion known as Ypres.

What we know as Flan­ders Fields is a com­mon Eng­lish name of the World War I bat­tle­fields in an area strad­dling the Bel­gian provinces of West Flan­ders and East Flan­ders as well as the French depart­ment of Nord-Pas-de-Calais, part of which makes up the area known as French Flan­ders. The Ypres Salient is now stage cen­tre for fierce fight­ing in no mans land in and around the ancient city of Ypres, now reduced to rub­ble by shelling.

It is esti­mat­ed that about 85% of bat­tle front deaths were caused by artillery fire, some­times short fir­ing from back loca­tions falling into friend­ly lines and trench­es.

To put the com­bat­ant loss of life in per­spec­tive, approx­i­mate­ly 253 mil­i­tary deaths occurred per hour through­out WWI. At it’s peak 57,470 British Sol­diers died in one day on Thurs­day June 1st 1916.

For more infor­ma­tion on WWI check out The Great War

Enter Lieu­tenant Colonel John McCrae, a Cana­di­an Physi­cian who loos­es a close friend and col­league Alex­is Helmer

World War I War Poem
By Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae

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

Com­posed at the bat­tle­front on May 3, 1915 dur­ing the sec­ond bat­tle of Ypres, Bel­gium

On May 2, 1915, John McCrae’s close friend and for­mer stu­dent Alex­is Helmer was killed by a Ger­man artillery shell. That evening, in the absence of a Chap­lain, John McCrae recit­ed from mem­o­ry a few pas­sages from the Church of England’s “Order of the Bur­ial of the Dead”. For secu­ri­ty rea­sons Helmer’s bur­ial in Essex Farm Ceme­tery was per­formed in com­plete dark­ness.

The next day, May 3, 1915, Sergeant-Major Cyril Allinson was deliv­er­ing mail. McCrae was sit­ting at the back of an ambu­lance parked near the dress­ing sta­tion beside the Yser Canal, just a few hun­dred yards north of Ypres, Bel­gium.

In Flan­ders Fields Poem

As John McCrae was writ­ing his In Flan­ders Fields poem, Allinson silent­ly watched and lat­er recalled, “His face was very tired but calm as he wrote. He looked around from time to time, his eyes stray­ing to Helmer’s grave.”

With­in moments, John McCrae had com­plet­ed the “In Flan­ders Fields” poem and when he was done, with­out a word, McCrae took his mail and hand­ed the poem to Allinson.

Allinson was deeply moved:

The (Flan­ders Fields) poem was an exact descrip­tion of the scene in front of us both. He used the word blow in that line because the pop­pies actu­al­ly were being blown that morn­ing by a gen­tle east wind. It nev­er occurred to me at that time that it would ever be pub­lished. It seemed to me just an exact descrip­tion of the scene.”