John McCrae (1872-1918)

Lt. Col. John McCrae

Lt. Col. John McCrae and His Dog Bonneau, c. 1914. McCrae had a great love for animals and brought his horse Bonfire from Canada when he enlisted. On the other hand his dog Bonneau, who helped occupy the physician’s time between tending the wounded, was reportedly a stray that McCrae adopted in France. Library and Archives Canada, C-046284

If one poem can be synonymous with the First World War, it is Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae's "In Flanders Fields." John McCrae was born in Guelph, Ontario in 1872. He studied medicine at the University of Toronto and interned with the famous Canadian physician Sir William Osler, at Johns Hopkins University.

In 1899, McCrae postponed his medical studies to answer the imperial call to enlist for the Boer War. After the conflict, where he served in the Royal Canadian Artillery, he returned to medical practice at McGill University in Montreal. Throughout this time McCrae was an avid writer of poetry and was frequently published.

Fervent in the imperial cause, McCrae enlisted in the Canadian Army Medical Corps soon after the declaration of war in 1914. "In Flanders Fields" was written during the Battle of Ypres in 1915 as McCrae was waiting for casualties.

It was at Ypres that the German forces first used poisonous chlorine gas in combat. McCrae would have been one of the first to witness and treat the excruciating painful burns and blisters of the victims.

McCrae died of pneumonia and meningitis brought on from overwork in January 1918.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders Fields. This presentation version of "In Flanders Fields," written in John McCrae’s hand, is found in the E.W.B. Morrison fonds in Library and Archives Canada. Major-General Sir Edward Morrison, was a newspaper journalist, who headed the Royal Canadian Artillery during the First World War. He was a friend of the poet, physician and fellow gunner McCrae. Library and Archives Canada, MG 30 E 81, C-026561

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