Wednesday, October 29, 1997
McCrae House a monument to a hero
During a lull in the battle, Lt.-Col. John McCrae scribbled the 13 lines of In Flanders Field on a scrap of paper, describing the horror he had seen at Ypres and the hope that it would not be forgotten.
McCrae, a tall, boyish 43-year-old member of the Canadian Medical Corps., was an artillery veteran of the Boer War in South Africa. He went to the line in at Ypres on April 22, 1915, the first time the enemy used poison gas.
But the first attack failed and so did the next wave and the next. For 17 days the allies repulsed wave after wave of the attacking enemy.
"One can see the dead lying there on the front field," McCrae wrote 'And in places where the enemy threw in an attack, they lie very thick on the slopes of the German trenches."
McCrae, worked on the bank of the Yser Canal, dressing hundreds of wounded. At times the dead and wounded actually rolled down the bank from above his dugout. Other times, while awaiting the arrival of batches of wounded, he would watch the men at work in the burial plots which were quickly filling up.
Finally, McCrae and his unit were relieved and he wrote home: "We are weary in body and wearier in mind. The general impression in my mind is one of a nightmare".
In April 1915, his closest friend was killed.
McCrae, who had written poetry since childhood in Guelph, Ont., sat down and distilled his thoughts about the war into his famous poem.
McCrae never returned home from the war. He died of pneumonia in Boulogne, France on January 28, 1918.
Near the town of Mennin, in Flanders, Belgium, they've restored as a shrine the battlefield bunker where McCrae wrote his famous poem. In memory of McCrae and other war dead, a bugler plays the Last Post every evening.
Born to a Scottish family that operated woolen and lumber mills, McCrae graduated from Guelph Collegiate with a scholarship to the University of Toronto.
He earned a B.A. and a medical degree at Toronto, did graduate work at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, served as a gunner with Canadian Field Artillery in the Boer War and then moved to Montreal.
His Guelph home is now a museum that attracts visitors from Belgium, France, Britain and Germany.
For more information, McCrae House is on the web at www.museum.guelph.on.ca/mccrae.htm.