Every November 11th, Canadians across the country pause in a silent moment of remembrance for the men and women who served our country during wartime. We honour those who fought for Canada – in the First World War (1914-1918), the Second World War (1939-1945) and the Korean War (1950-1953), the war in Afghanistan, and the many peace-keeping and peace-making missions in which Canadian troops have participated around the world. More than 1,500,000 Canadians served overseas – more than 100,000 died. They gave their lives and their future so that we may live in peace.
In Canada, our war dead are honoured in the Books of Remembrance. These magnificent, hand-lettered and illustrated volumes are maintained on public view in the Peace Tower of the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa.
Also, copies are on display in each of the provincial capitals. The pages are turned so that all the names of the dead are placed in view over the course of a year.
During World War I, much of the fiercest fighting took place in Flanders, Belgium. The lush green fields were quickly turned into barren, blackened wastes. But each spring the soldiers fighting in the trenches were greeted by a remarkable sight. The wastelands of battle would sprout vast stretches of scarlet from the blood-red of the Flanders’ poppy.
Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian artillery officer and military doctor, wrote In Flanders’ Fields. He had just come to Ypres to tend the wounded and dying in the spring of 1915. It was during the time when the enemy first used chlorine gas, and the dead littered the front line.
Colonel McCrae lived that horror for seventeen days without relief, working with no time to bathe or change his clothes and with only brief stretches of sleep. Yet, despite the exhaustion and despair, he composed some memorable lines of verse.
His poem was printed in Punch, an English magazine, on December 8, 1915. It was soon repeated throughout the trenches as men heard it, learned it by heart, and passed it on by word of mouth. The poem became the soldiers’ anthem, for it expressed their innermost thoughts and fears of dying for nothing and being forgotten.
“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 amidst 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 falling 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.”
by Lt. Col. John McCrae
(of Guelph, Ontario)
Died January 28, 1918, while on
active service in France.