Blog Diary 2018/2019

June 25, 2018

Rediscovered this a couple days ago, the 23rd, because of the recording date, also the 23rd, October 2015. A little research and the date connections were intriguing, including today’s.

Wikipedia tells us...


Lieutenant Colonel John McCraeMD (November 30, 1872 – January 28, 1918) was a Canadian poet, physician, author, artist and soldier during World War I, and a surgeon during the Second Battle of Ypres, in Belgium. He is best known for writing the famous war memorial poem "In Flanders Fields". McCrae died of pneumonia near the end of the war...


Britain declared war on Germany at the start of World War I, Canada, as a Dominionwithin the British Empire, was at war as well. McCrae was appointed as Medical Officer and Major of the 1st Brigade CFA (Canadian Field Artillery).[5] He treated wounded during the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915, from a hastily dug, 8 foot by 8 foot bunker dug in the back of the dyke along the Yser Canal about 2 miles north of Ypres.[6] McCrae's friend and former militia pal, Lt. Alexis Helmer,[7] was killed in the battle, and his burial inspired the poem, "In Flanders Fields", which was written on May 3, 1915 and first published in the magazine Punch.

From June 1, 1915, McCrae was ordered away from the artillery to set up No. 3 Canadian General Hospital at Dannes-Camiers near Boulogne-sur-Mer, northern France. 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 guns. His last words to me were: 'Allinson, all the goddamn doctors in the world will not win this bloody war: what we need is more and more fighting men.'"[8]

"In Flanders Fields" appeared anonymously in Punch on December 8, 1915, but in the index to that year McCrae was named as the author...

On January 28, 1918, while still commanding No. 3 Canadian General Hospital (McGill) at Boulogne, McCrae died of pneumonia with "extensive pneumococcus meningitis".[11] He was buried the following day in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission section of Wimereux Cemetery,[12] just a couple of kilometres up the coast from Boulogne, with full military honours.[13] His flag-draped coffin was borne on a gun carriage and the mourners – who included Sir Arthur Currie and many of McCrae's friends and staff – were preceded by McCrae's charger, "Bonfire", with McCrae's boots reversed in the stirrups. Bonfire was with McCrae from Valcartier, Quebec until his death and was much loved.[6][13] McCrae's gravestone is placed flat, as are all the others in the section, because of the unstable sandy soil.[14]


Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae

I love it when the universe seems to be teasing me. Reviewing old recordings on the 23rd, I note in passing one I did on the 23rd three years ago. A tiny hook, but one nested inside a larger other one. Since then, we’ve done the book 100 Years On: World War I, which consisted mostly of letters written by granddad, Captain Leon W. Miesse, to his wife from the front in WWI. Publication was very much date driven. It wasn’t released in early 2017 because the content had suddenly come to light. You see, there was this box of letters I’d been sitting on since my mother died more than a dozen years ago. A box that sat at the back of my closet like a toothache of conscience.

When did the clock start ticking in earnest on the book this box became? Late 2015, about the time I recorded In Flanders Fields. The deadline had to be 2017, the 100th anniversary of the year my granddad went to France with the illustrious 166th Rainbow Division, famous for being composed of National Guard from all the states, unit of the legendary General Douglas MacArthur, and a division responsible for some of the greatest heroics and victories of The Great War.


Significant lead time was involved in publication. My wife’s daughter Marge did what I could not do, pull the letters out of their envelopes, type the handwritten contents, and restore the originals to their envelopes and the box without losing any of the order. My wife Pat did all the hard work of publishing. I wrote an introduction about my granddad, made the decision about the prewar content to leave on the cutting room floor, and kibbitzed with my wife on the pictorial content. I would have given the author credit where it belonged, to my granddad,  Pat, and Margie, but I wanted the book included with my others so as not to be misfiled. And my wife and her daughter demurred. So my name went up top, my conscience was appeased, and the box went back into the closet for safekeeping.

But why was my attention called to the McCrae recording when it was, in Late June? Because when I looked for what the Americans were up to in June 1917, since they obviously were not on hand for the 2015 battle in Ypres, I discovered an important date I’d never have noted otherwise.


June 25th, 1917, was the date the first American troops embarked for France in World War I.


And Flanders Fields was germane. The Gilder Lehman Institute of American History tells us in their coverage of the poem that it had a distinct American effect:


“Ella Osborn’s 1918 diary provides insight into the experiences of an American nurse serving in France at the end of World War I. In addition to her notes about the men under her care and events in France, Osborn jotted down two popular World War I poems, "In Flanders Fields," by Canadian surgeon Lt. Col. John D. McCrae, and "The Answer," by Lt. J. A. Armstrong of Wisconsin.

“McCrae composed "In Flanders Fields" on May 3, 1915, during the Second Battle of Ypres, Belgium. It was published in Punch magazine on December 8, 1915, and became one of the most popular and frequently quoted poems about the war. It was used for recruitment, in propaganda efforts, and to sell war bonds. Today the red poppy of McCrae’s poem has become a symbol for soldiers who have died in combat.

"The Answer" is one of many poems written in response to "In Flanders Fields”...”

 Apparently, Americans were inspired by and kept the promise made in The Answer.

So in honor of the anniversary of Americans setting sail for France, as well as in memory of the Canadian doctor who immortalized the poppies at the American Cemetery in Ypres, I offer up this post. 


Hopefully, the poppies still breathe and wave above the tombstone of McCrae as well as his fallen comrades.