Tuesday, November 13, 2007

We Are the Dead…

(published on Flickr, November 11, 2007)

WE ARE the Dead…

…short days ago…

One of the dead, Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, MD.

The man.

The life.

His ultimate sacrifice.

The poem as it appeared, anonymously, in Punch, December 08, 1915.

To fill out the bottom corner of a page.

It was expected to be read and forgotten and disappear like most of Punch’s stuff…

Only it didn’t.

It “spoke” to so many… from every walk of life, all who had been touched by his words, and whose lives had already been, forever altered, by war.

So many…… never came back.

We must remember them. And thank them.

By our lives.

By the defense of our freedom and our ally’s freedom. Whenever that call comes.

Right now, Canadians are being called to support Afghanistan, in her quest to maintain her shaky democracy.

Already, seventy-one Canadians have given their lives for Afghanistan… for her to remain free.

Rest in peace, heroes… past and present.

Physician, surgeon, medical author, sketch artist, WW I soldier and unlikely poet.

Even more unlikely– a Canadian.

John was not a peacekeeper.

John is forever remembered NOT for the lives he saved as a doctor and field surgeon, nor for the battles he fought as a Second Boer War and WW I soldier, BUT FOR his reflections on war and the necessity of maintaining our religious and cultural freedom, in keeping that faith, especially with those who have given their ultimate sacrifice to that very end.

Colonel John McCrae, from a WW I trench wrote, “In Flanders Fields” on a scrap of paper, upon the back of Colonel Cosgrave during a “recess” from the bombings. The inspiration for his sombre and reflective poem came after John attended the burial of a friend, and former student of his, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer.

John didn't like the poem and tossed it out. Another officer however "rescued" it and submitted it to Punch for publication. "In Flanders Fields" was published anonymously, on December 8th in 1915, about halfway through the war. McCrae's poem became famous “instantly”, and thus his identity was soon discovered.

"Demanding the highest possible standards of service to sick and wounded soldiers, McCrae insisted on living in a tent like his comrades at the front and had to be ordered to the heated huts when the winter badly affected his health. He felt the war intensely, watching its changes reflected daily in the barometer of the many casualties reaching the hospital."

SADLY John, a life-long asthma sufferer, would succumb to pneumonia while in command of No3 Canadian General Hospital at Boulogne, France only ten months before World War I would end on November 11, 1918.

"He would have broken faith had he lived while so many died."

John was happy with the poem’s success if, "the poem enabled men to see where their duty lay."

C.L.C. Allinson reported that McCrae "most unmilitarily told [me] what he thought of being transferred to the medicals and being pulled away from his "beloved" [artillery] guns. His last words to me were:

'Allinson, all the damn doctors in the world will not win this bloody war: what we need is more and more fighting men.'"

© John F. Prescott
© 2000 University of Toronto/Université Laval
© 2007 Special Projects IR
© 2007 Paul Cardin