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Remembering John McCrae

November 7, 2022

Lt.-Col. John McCrae and his dog Bonneau

The son of a Lieutenant-Colonel from Guelph, John fought in the Boer War as an artillery man before becoming a physician. Though he would have preferred to serve as a gunner – “all the goddamn doctors in the world will not win this bloody war: what we need is more and more fighting men,” – he was appointed a field surgeon for the First World War. The death of a friend in 1915 at the Second Battle of Ypres inspired “In Flanders Fields,” first published anonymously in Punch magazine that December. It quickly gained international popularity, and remains the common epigraph for the Great War. McCrae died of pneumonia at his field hospital in 1918, and is buried in Flanders Fields.

Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae Buried in Flanders’ Fields

From the Fenelon Falls Gazette, June 28, 1918

Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, the author of “In Flanders’ Fields,” died recently in France of pneumonia. At the time of his death, Col. McCrae was in command of the medical side of the Canadian Hospital, No. 3, the McGIll unit, at Boulogne, France. At the beginning of the war he entered active service with the first brigade of Canadian artillery on the staff of Brig-Gen Morrison, and during the early period of the war, up to and through the second battle of Ypres served with his brigade in the double capacity of staff and medical officer. Col. McCrae was a distinguished physician of Montreal and on the professional staff of McGill University. Col. McCrae was the son of Lieut.-Col. David McCrae of Guelph, Ont., and a brother of Mrs. J.F. Kilgour of Brandon.

Lieut.-Col. McCrae has been laid to rest ‘between the crosses row on row,’ that march the hallowed couch of Canada’s immortal dead who have fought on foreign soil. He went out, as so many have gone, as a physician to heal the scares of war, not to engage the enemy in battle, but he sleeps as a soldier of war within the sound of the guns, having given all that man may give for the honour and liberty of his country.

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