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.”