This Week in History
This story was initially published in 1999
On November 11, 1918, the "war to end all wars" came to a close. In the midst of conflict, a masterpiece was born. Dr. John McCrae, who had spent the war tending to its victims, ensured through his poem In Flanders Fields that the sacrifices made by those who fought will never be forgotten.
In 1899, he postponed a pathology fellowship at McGill University, Montréal, to fight in the Boer War. Witnessing first hand the ravages of war and appalled by the poor treatment of the wounded, McCrae resigned from the military upon returning. He continued his medical career in Montréal as a respected teacher and doctor, pursuing his studies in pathology and setting up his own practice in 1905.
On May 2, 1915, a close friend and former student of McCrae's, Lt. Alexis Helmer, was killed. Soon after, McCrae composed In Flanders Fields, a moving but haunting anthem of remembrance and one of the most enduring war poems ever written. Published in December 1915, it enjoyed widespread popularity and came to symbolize the sacrifices of soldiers in the Great War. McCrae himself never saw the end of the war. On January 28, 1918, after becoming the first Canadian appointed consulting physician to the First British Army, McCrae died of pneumonia and meningitis.
Lt.-Col. John McCrae is commemorated by Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada plaques in Ypres, Belgium and Guelph, Ontario. His birth place in Guelph, McCrae House, has also been designated as a national historic site.
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