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 amid the guns below.
We are dead; short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
The First World War produced more poems in the English language than possibly any other. This particular one was written by a Canadian, Dr John McCrae in early May 1915, during the second battle of Ypres. It was first published, anonymously, in Punch in December of that year, though the authorship was soon established.
Dr McCrae stayed in France until January 1918. He died of pneumonia, compounded by exhaustion and depression on January 28. He was 45 years old.
Some years ago one of Tory Historian’s clever-dick journalist friends put forward the suggestion that Remembrance Day should be moved from November 11 (and, presumably, Remembrance Sunday from the nearest Sunday) because that was too closely linked in people’s minds with the First World War. This was before Gordon Brown in a fit of leadership fever suggested having a British Veterans’ Day.
To all of these suggestions Tory Historian can reply with the well-known political adage: “if it ain’t broke, don’t mend it”. The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month is easy to remember and the inherited memory of that war is hard to erase (or change despite its severe inaccuracies) precisely because of the poems.
While the image created by the poets was potent the analysis that has grown out of it is not entirely accurate. The image serves us well for remembrance of the dead of that and many other wars.
They shall not grow 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.
Kings of Georgian Britain
15 hours ago