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.