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John McCrae, Famous Canadian in WW1. Author of In Flanders Fields

John McCrae

John McCrae, Famous Canadian in WW1. Author of In Flanders Fields


1872-1918

John McCrae was born Nov 30th 1872 in Guelph Ontario. He was the second son of Lieutenant Colonel David McCrae and Janet Simpson Eckford McCrae. He received his education at Guelph Collegiate and the University of Toronto medical school. As a young man John was also interested in the military. He had joined the Highland Cadet Corps at the age of 14 and at 17 he joined the Milita field battery commanded by his father; by 1896 he achieved the rank of Lieutenant.

In 1898 John received a Bachelor of Medicine degree and the gold medal from the University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario. When the South African War (Boer War) started in October 1899 John felt it was important to fight. He was commissioned to lead an artillery battery from Guelph. John sailed for Africa in December and spent a year there with his unit. He resigned from the military in 1904.

After returning to Canada in 1901 John picked up his life where he had left off. The years after the war were very busy for the young doctor. He resumed his studies in pathology, which he had postponed, to go to Africa then went on to become assistant pathologist at Montreal General Hospital. In 1905 he set up his own practice as well as continuing work at several hospitals.

When The Great War broke out in Aug 1914, John was among the first to enlist. He was appointed brigade surgeon to the First Brigade Canadian Forces Artillery. Just before his departure, he wrote to a friend:

It is a terrible state of affairs, and I am going because I think every bachelor, especially if he has experience of war, ought to go. I am really rather afraid, but more afraid to stay at home with my conscience.

John sailed for England with the First Contingent on Oct. 3, 1914 and would spend the next four months at Salisbury Plain. In early Feb. 1915 the First Contingent moved to France and by the 10th of March John would see his first fighting of the Great War at Neuve Chapell.

On the 20th of April the First Canadian Division began taking over a section of French Trench near Ypres, Belgium. This area, which is traditionally called Flanders, was witness to some of the heaviest fighting of the Great War. On April 22nd the Germans launched the first gas attack of the war against French troops who were holding the line next to the Canadians. The French line broke as the gas swept over them and it was left to the Canadians to fill the gap in the line and stop the German advance.

On May 2nd Lieut. Alex Helmer, a friend of John's, was killed by a shell and it was his death which some accounts say inspired John to write the poem that has become symbolic for the suffering and loss of the great war. In Flanders' Fields was first published in the British magazine Punch in Dec 1915 and was soon to become the most popular poem of the war.

Soon after the poem was written John was transferred to No.3 Canadian Field Hospital in France as Chief of Medical Services. This move away from the front would spare John from some of the dangers of War but not the horror, for here John would treat the wounded from battles such as the Somme, Vimy Ridge, Arras and Passchendaele.

During the summer of 1917 John was troubled by attacks of asthama and bronchitis possibly aggravated by the chlorine gas he inhaled at Ypres. On January 23rd John fell ill with pneumonia and was admited to hospital. Six days later on January 28,1918 John McCrae died. He was 46 years old. The day after he fell ill John was appointed consulting physician to the First British Army, the first Canadian so honoured. John was buried in Wimereux Cemetery north of Boulogne, not far from the fields of Flanders.

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These pages were researched and written by Brian Lee Massey & are Copyright 1997 - 2007. This site may be freely linked to but not duplicated in any fashion without my consent. Poppy graphic and poppybar graphic designed by Brian L. Massey and may not be used on other sites

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