Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae was assigned as the Surgeon to the Canadian First Field Artillery Brigade.
He had served during the Boer War, and was no stranger to hardship and carnage, but the fighting in the Ypres Salient was so horrendous, that it caused him to write this as a sort of release, after he'd just buried a friend.
It was penned at the Dressing Station on the banks of the Canal de l'Yser.
Dissatisfied with it, McCrae tossed the poem away, but a fellow officer retrieved it and sent it to newspapers in England.
'The Spectator', in London, rejected it, but 'Punch' published it on 8 December 1915.
He died while on active service on the 28 day of January, 1918.
Before his death, he wrote:
'In Flanders fields the poppies grow
Between the crosses, row on row.
That mark our place; and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amidst 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 lift it high.
If ye break faith with those who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies blow
In Flanders fields.
After the Great War, this poem was read at Armistice Day gatherings, celebrating the end of the 'War to End All Wars', on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month - November 11, 1918..
This following poem too, was written for that day, and was read to us at a firebase in Vietnam by an Australian Army Chaplain who possessed a wonderfully deep baritone voice.
Originally written to commemorate the ANZAC dead of the Great War - 'For the Fallen' is read on 'Remembrance Day' - the 11th of November - a day set aside much like our own 'Memorial Day' that commemorated those soldiers who fell in battle during our Civil War.
'For The Fallen'
With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.
Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.
They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
They mingle not with laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.
But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;
As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.
Laurence Binyon (1869-1943)
As an aside, that's what 'Memorial Day' was supposed to mean - a day set aside for patriotic speeches, parades and the remembering of our forefathers' sacrifices made in Service to the Country...
Would that it were ever thus...
If you can - take some time to visit the final resting place of those you've known and served with and those you've loved who've passed before.
Take with you a small brush and clean off their stone and think about them for a few minutes.
You know that they'd do the same for you if they could - after all - they were soldiers and they know that just to be remembered by fellow soldiers counts for a lot...