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On December 8, 1915, Punch magazine published a poem commemorating the dead of World War I. "In Flanders Fields" was written by John McCrae of Guelph, Ontario, after his experiences in the trench warfare around Ypres, Belgium.
McCrae enlisted in the First Canadian Contingent soon after the beginning of World War I in 1914. He was posted as a medical officer to one of the artillery batteries fighting at Ypres in April 1915. He attended to the gun lines, and in letters home wrote that after casualties were reported to him by telephone, he would visit the scene to attend to the wounded, who could not be brought to his dressing station until dark. On June 1, 1915, McCrae was transferred to Boulogne No.3 General Hospital as officer in charge of medicine. He stayed at this position until his death, of pneumonia, on January 28, 1918.
McCrae published other poems before the war in McGill University's University Magazine. "In Flanders Fields" is one of a collection of poems published posthumously in 1919 as In Flanders Fields and Other Poems.
He was educated at the University of Toronto and in 1900 was appointed fellow in pathology at McGill University in Montréal. He later became a physician at the Alexandra Hospital and assistant physician at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montréal.
John McCrae was not new to war. He had served as an artillery subaltern (1899-1900) in the Canadian Contingent during the Boer War in South Africa. A conflict over independence, the Boers were fighting against Britain's attempts to integrate South Africa into the British Empire. It was sparked after a failed coup, sponsored by the premier of the Cape of Good Hope Colony, Cecil Rhodes. Although Canadian volunteers went to South Africa at the request of the British government, divisions in Canada fighting a British colonial war prevented the Canadian Prime Minister at the time, Wilfrid Laurier, from sending regular troops.
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