John McCrae (1872–1918) was born in Guelph, Ontario, on November 30, 1872. He was awarded a fellowship in biology at the University of Toronto, where he studied medicine like his brother before him. He graduated in 1898 and the following year interned under William Osler at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. In 1899, he accepted a fellowship in pathology at Montreal’s McGill University under Professor John George Adami. However, his post-graduate work there at the Royal Victoria Hospital was cut short by the Boer War. Taking leave from his studies in December 1899, McCrae joined the 2nd Contingent of Canadian soldiers volunteering for the war in South Africa, as Lieutenant of the 1st Artillery Brigade. He served in South Africa through 1900, returning to Canada in January 1901.
McCrae resumed his work as a physician, first becoming resident pathologist at the Montreal General Hospital, and later practising as a clinician at both the Royal Victoria and Alexandria hospitals. He lectured at McGill and, in 1912, co-authored A text-book of pathology for students of medicine with Professor Adami. At the outbreak of the First World War, McCrae was on holiday in London, England. He returned to Canada and enlisted with the Canadian
Expeditionary Force on September 22, 1914, as Major and Brigade Surgeon of the 1st Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery. He left Canada in October and was sent with the 1st Canadian Division to Flanders, Belgium, in April 1915. In late May, McCrae was appointed Chief Medical Officer of the planned No. 3 Canadian General Hospital in Boulogne, France. As Lieutenant Colonel, he took up his duties there in August and spent the next two and a half years tending to the wounded. In January 1918, he was appointed consultant physician to the 1st British Army, but fell ill with bronchitis before he could take on that role. Frail and weary from the stress of war, his condition worsened. He developed pneumonia, then complications of meningitis, and died on January 28, 1918.
John Alexander McCrae is buried in Wimereux, France. Along with his accomplishments as a remarkable physician, he was also a poet. He wrote many poems during his lifetime, 30 of which were published. His more famous In Flanders Fields was written during the Second Battle of Ypres in the spring of 1915. It was published in the London magazine Punch in December 1915, and posthumously with some of his other poems in 1919.
Service Record Details
Date of Birth: November 30, 1872 (Guelph, Ontario)
Date of Attestation: September 22, 1914 (Valcartier, Quebec)
Age at Enlistment: 41 years, 9 months old
Prior Military Service: Canadian Artillery, 1889–1904, and “D” Battery, Royal Canadian Artillery, 1900
Height: 6 feet
Weight: Not indicated
Description: Fair complexion, blue eyes, brown hair. “Appendicitis” scar. Presbyterian.
Home Address: 211 Paisley Street, Guelph, Ontario
Next of Kin: Father, David McCrae. Mother, Janet Eckford McCrae. Both are living at 211 Paisley Street in Guelph, Ontario.
Theatre of War: England, France
- November 14, 1916 – McCrae is admitted to No. 14 General Hospital in Boulogne, France, for treatment of severe bronchitis.
- November 27, 1916 – He is transferred to No. 8 Michelham Convalescent Home, Cap Martin. After a stay of 16 days, he is discharged and returns to duty.
- January 26, 1918 – He is readmitted “seriously ill” to No. 14 General Hospital in Boulogne, France, this time diagnosed with “Pleuro Pneumonia.”
- January 28, 1918 – McCrae succumbs to his illness: “It has been ascertained that this Officer Died from Supperative [sic] Meningitis Secondary to Acute Lobar Pneumonia.”
Interesting Details from the Service Record
- January 23, 1917 – An Officer’s Commission, sent by the personal secretary of King George, conferring the rank of Major upon McCrae.
- October 26, 1951 – A biographical sketch of the late John McCrae stating he has earned the following medals as a result of his service: 1914-15 Star Medal, British War Medal, and Victory Medal.
- September 19, 1966 – A news clipping from The Gazette showing a photo of the shrine dedicated to McCrae, located next door to the house where he was born, in Guelph, Ontario.
The London Gazette
Military Medals, Honours and Awards (1812–1969)
At the time of the 1901 census, John A. McCrae is fighting overseas in the South African war. His family is living in Guelph, Ontario. His father, David (56), and his mother, Janet (53), are farmers, of Scottish descent, and of Presbyterian faith. He has a brother, Thomas (29), and a sister, Geills (22). The family employs a hired hand named Frank Smith who lives in the same house.