Friday, August 2, 2013

In Flanders' Fields

On April 22, 1915, the Germans on the Western front of The Great War launched the famous second assault at Ypres. For the almost the first time in the war, chemical weapons were used. Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a man who could have been spared active duty because he was aged 41, had opted to fight for what he believed was the glory of the empire.

He had already published poetry in several magazines, and was a medical man in the army. He was on his second tour of duty during the War to End All Wars.

The firing, during the battle, never stopped for “over 60 seconds.” The men kept their clothes on, knelt in the trenches and fired until their guns were empty, then took those of dead comrades.
On May 2nd, a friend of his was killed in the fighting. McCrae performed the funeral, and as he did so, he noted that the poppies grew quickly around the graves of the soldiers who had been buried there. They were the boys who thought they would be home by Christmas, and they were still here, and some would never leave. The next day while sitting in the back of an ambulance, McCrae wrote the famous poem. The final verse is the one to contemplate.

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.

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