In Flanders Fields And Other Poems by John McCrae

In Flanders Fields by John McCrae In Flanders Fields by John McCrae With an Essay in Character by Sir Andrew Macphail ======== John McCrae, physician, soldier, and poet, died in France a Lieutenant-Colonel with the Canadian forces. The poem which gives this collection of his lovely verse its name has been extensively reprinted, and received
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  • 1915
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In Flanders Fields
by John McCrae [Canadian Poet, 1872-1918]

[Note on text: Italicized stanzas are indented 5 spaces. Italicized words or phrases are capitalized. Some slight errors have been corrected.]

In Flanders Fields
by John McCrae

With an Essay in Character by Sir Andrew Macphail


John McCrae, physician, soldier, and poet, died in France a Lieutenant-Colonel with the Canadian forces.

The poem which gives this collection of his lovely verse its name has been extensively reprinted, and received with unusual enthusiasm.

The volume contains, as well, a striking essay in character by his friend, Sir Andrew Macphail.


In Flanders Fields
And Other Poems

By Lieut.-Col. John McCrae, M.D.

With An Essay in Character
By Sir Andrew Macphail

[This text is taken from the New York edition of 1919.]

{Although the poem itself is included shortly, this next section is included for completeness, and to show John McCrae’s punctuation — also to show that I’m not the only one who forgets lines. — A. L.}

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies grow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place: and in the sky The larks still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The Torch: be yours to hold it high! If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields.

John McCrae

{From a} Facsimile of an autograph copy of the poem “In Flanders Fields”

This was probably written from memory as “grow” is used in place of “blow” in the first line.


In Flanders Fields

The Anxious Dead

The Warrior


The Unconquered Dead

The Captain

The Song of the Derelict


Then and Now


The Hope of My Heart


Slumber Songs

The Oldest Drama


Mine Host




The Dead Master

The Harvest of the Sea

The Dying of Pere Pierre


Upon Watts’ Picture “Sic Transit”

A Song of Comfort

The Pilgrims

The Shadow of the Cross

The Night Cometh

In Due Season

John McCrae
An Essay in Character by Sir Andrew Macphail

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields.

The Anxious Dead

O guns, fall silent till the dead men hear Above their heads the legions pressing on: (These fought their fight in time of bitter fear, And died not knowing how the day had gone.)

O flashing muzzles, pause, and let them see The coming dawn that streaks the sky afar; Then let your mighty chorus witness be
To them, and Caesar, that we still make war.

Tell them, O guns, that we have heard their call, That we have sworn, and will not turn aside, That we will onward till we win or fall, That we will keep the faith for which they died.

Bid them be patient, and some day, anon, They shall feel earth enwrapt in silence deep; Shall greet, in wonderment, the quiet dawn, And in content may turn them to their sleep.

The Warrior

He wrought in poverty, the dull grey days, But with the night his little lamp-lit room Was bright with battle flame, or through a haze Of smoke that stung his eyes he heard the boom Of Bluecher’s guns; he shared Almeida’s scars, And from the close-packed deck, about to die, Looked up and saw the “Birkenhead”‘s tall spars Weave wavering lines across the Southern sky:

Or in the stifling ‘tween decks, row on row, At Aboukir, saw how the dead men lay;
Charged with the fiercest in Busaco’s strife, Brave dreams are his — the flick’ring lamp burns low — Yet couraged for the battles of the day He goes to stand full face to face with life.


Scarlet coats, and crash o’ the band, The grey of a pauper’s gown,
A soldier’s grave in Zululand,
And a woman in Brecon Town.

My little lad for a soldier boy,
(Mothers o’ Brecon Town!)
My eyes for tears and his for joy
When he went from Brecon Town,
His for the flags and the gallant sights His for the medals and his for the fights, And mine for the dreary, rainy nights
At home in Brecon Town.

They say he’s laid beneath a tree,
(Come back to Brecon Town!)
Shouldn’t I know? — I was there to see: (It’s far to Brecon Town!)
It’s me that keeps it trim and drest With a briar there and a rose by his breast — The English flowers he likes the best
That I bring from Brecon Town.

And I sit beside him — him and me,
(We’re back to Brecon Town.)
To talk of the things that used to be (Grey ghosts of Brecon Town);
I know the look o’ the land and sky, And the bird that builds in the tree near by, And times I hear the jackals cry,
And me in Brecon Town.

Golden grey on miles of sand
The dawn comes creeping down;
It’s day in far off Zululand
And night in Brecon Town.

The Unconquered Dead

“. . . defeated, with great loss.”

Not we the conquered! Not to us the blame Of them that flee, of them that basely yield; Nor ours the shout of victory, the fame
Of them that vanquish in a stricken field.

That day of battle in the dusty heat
We lay and heard the bullets swish and sing Like scythes amid the over-ripened wheat, And we the harvest of their garnering.

Some yielded, No, not we! Not we, we swear By these our wounds; this trench upon the hill Where all the shell-strewn earth is seamed and bare, Was ours to keep; and lo! we have it still.

We might have yielded, even we, but death Came for our helper; like a sudden flood The crashing darkness fell; our painful breath We drew with gasps amid the choking blood.

The roar fell faint and farther off, and soon Sank to a foolish humming in our ears,
Like crickets in the long, hot afternoon Among the wheat fields of the olden years.

Before our eyes a boundless wall of red Shot through by sudden streaks of jagged pain! Then a slow-gathering darkness overhead
And rest came on us like a quiet rain.

Not we the conquered! Not to us the shame, Who hold our earthen ramparts, nor shall cease To hold them ever; victors we, who came
In that fierce moment to our honoured peace.

The Captain


Here all the day she swings from tide to tide, Here all night long she tugs a rusted chain, A masterless hulk that was a ship of pride, Yet unashamed: her memories remain.

It was Nelson in the `Captain’, Cape St. Vincent far alee, With the `Vanguard’ leading s’uth’ard in the haze — Little Jervis and the Spaniards and the fight that was to be, Twenty-seven Spanish battleships, great bullies of the sea, And the `Captain’ there to find her day of days.

Right into them the `Vanguard’ leads, but with a sudden tack The Spaniards double swiftly on their trail; Now Jervis overshoots his mark, like some too eager pack, He will not overtake them, haste he e’er so greatly back, But Nelson and the `Captain’ will not fail.

Like a tigress on her quarry leaps the `Captain’ from her place, To lie across the fleeing squadron’s way: Heavy odds and heavy onslaught, gun to gun and face to face, Win the ship a name of glory, win the men a death of grace, For a little hold the Spanish fleet in play.

Ended now the “Captain”‘s battle, stricken sore she falls aside Holding still her foemen, beaten to the knee: As the `Vanguard’ drifted past her, “Well done, `Captain’,” Jervis cried, Rang the cheers of men that conquered, ran the blood of men that died, And the ship had won her immortality.

Lo! here her progeny of steel and steam, A funnelled monster at her mooring swings: Still, in our hearts, we see her pennant stream, And “Well done, `Captain’,” like a trumpet rings.

The Song of the Derelict

Ye have sung me your songs, ye have chanted your rimes (I scorn your beguiling, O sea!)
Ye fondle me now, but to strike me betimes. (A treacherous lover, the sea!)
Once I saw as I lay, half-awash in the night A hull in the gloom — a quick hail — and a light And I lurched o’er to leeward and saved her for spite From the doom that ye meted to me.

I was sister to `Terrible’, seventy-four, (Yo ho! for the swing of the sea!)
And ye sank her in fathoms a thousand or more (Alas! for the might of the sea!)
Ye taunt me and sing me her fate for a sign! What harm can ye wreak more on me or on mine? Ho braggart! I care not for boasting of thine — A fig for the wrath of the sea!

Some night to the lee of the land I shall steal, (Heigh-ho to be home from the sea!)
No pilot but Death at the rudderless wheel, (None knoweth the harbor as he!)
To lie where the slow tide creeps hither and fro And the shifting sand laps me around, for I know That my gallant old crew are in Port long ago — For ever at peace with the sea!



Of old, like Helen, guerdon of the strong — Like Helen fair, like Helen light of word, — “The spoils unto the conquerors belong.
Who winneth me must win me by the sword.”

Grown old, like Helen, once the jealous prize That strong men battled for in savage hate, Can she look forth with unregretful eyes, Where sleep Montcalm and Wolfe beside her gate?

Then and Now

Beneath her window in the fragrant night I half forget how truant years have flown Since I looked up to see her chamber-light, Or catch, perchance, her slender shadow thrown Upon the casement; but the nodding leaves Sweep lazily across the unlit pane,
And to and fro beneath the shadowy eaves, Like restless birds, the breath of coming rain Creeps, lilac-laden, up the village street When all is still, as if the very trees Were listening for the coming of her feet That come no more; yet, lest I weep, the breeze Sings some forgotten song of those old years Until my heart grows far too glad for tears.


Amid my books I lived the hurrying years, Disdaining kinship with my fellow man;
Alike to me were human smiles and tears, I cared not whither Earth’s great life-stream ran, Till as I knelt before my mouldered shrine, God made me look into a woman’s eyes;
And I, who thought all earthly wisdom mine, Knew in a moment that the eternal skies Were measured but in inches, to the quest That lay before me in that mystic gaze. “Surely I have been errant: it is best
That I should tread, with men their human ways.” God took the teacher, ere the task was learned, And to my lonely books again I turned.

The Hope of My Heart

“Delicta juventutis et ignorantius ejus, quoesumus ne memineris, Domine.”

I left, to earth, a little maiden fair, With locks of gold, and eyes that shamed the light; I prayed that God might have her in His care And sight.

Earth’s love was false; her voice, a siren’s song; (Sweet mother-earth was but a lying name) The path she showed was but the path of wrong And shame.

“Cast her not out!” I cry. God’s kind words come — “Her future is with Me, as was her past; It shall be My good will to bring her home At last.”


My lover died a century ago,
Her dear heart stricken by my sland’rous breath, Wherefore the Gods forbade that I should know The peace of death.

Men pass my grave, and say, “‘Twere well to sleep, Like such an one, amid the uncaring dead!” How should they know the vigils that I keep, The tears I shed?

Upon the grave, I count with lifeless breath, Each night, each year, the flowers that bloom and die, Deeming the leaves, that fall to dreamless death, More blest than I.

‘Twas just last year — I heard two lovers pass So near, I caught the tender words he said: To-night the rain-drenched breezes sway the grass Above his head.

That night full envious of his life was I, That youth and love should stand at his behest; To-night, I envy him, that he should lie At utter rest.

Slumber Songs


Sleep, little eyes
That brim with childish tears amid thy play, Be comforted! No grief of night can weigh Against the joys that throng thy coming day.

Sleep, little heart!
There is no place in Slumberland for tears: Life soon enough will bring its chilling fears And sorrows that will dim the after years. Sleep, little heart!


Ah, little eyes
Dead blossoms of a springtime long ago, That life’s storm crushed and left to lie below The benediction of the falling snow!

Sleep, little heart
That ceased so long ago its frantic beat! The years that come and go with silent feet Have naught to tell save this — that rest is sweet. Dear little heart.

The Oldest Drama

“It fell on a day, that he went out to his father to the reapers. And he said unto his father, My head, my head. And he said to a lad, Carry him to his mother. And . . . he sat on her knees till noon, and then died. And she went up, and laid him on the bed. . . . And shut the door upon him and went out.”

Immortal story that no mother’s heart Ev’n yet can read, nor feel the biting pain That rent her soul! Immortal not by art
Which makes a long past sorrow sting again

Like grief of yesterday: but since it said In simplest word the truth which all may see, Where any mother sobs above her dead
And plays anew the silent tragedy.


I saw two sowers in Life’s field at morn, To whom came one in angel guise and said, “Is it for labour that a man is born?
Lo: I am Ease. Come ye and eat my bread!” Then gladly one forsook his task undone
And with the Tempter went his slothful way, The other toiled until the setting sun
With stealing shadows blurred the dusty day.

Ere harvest time, upon earth’s peaceful breast Each laid him down among the unreaping dead. “Labour hath other recompense than rest, Else were the toiler like the fool,” I said; “God meteth him not less, but rather more Because he sowed and others reaped his store.”

Mine Host

There stands a hostel by a travelled way; Life is the road and Death the worthy host; Each guest he greets, nor ever lacks to say, “How have ye fared?” They answer him, the most, “This lodging place is other than we sought; We had intended farther, but the gloom
Came on apace, and found us ere we thought: Yet will we lodge. Thou hast abundant room.”

Within sit haggard men that speak no word, No fire gleams their cheerful welcome shed; No voice of fellowship or strife is heard But silence of a multitude of dead.
“Naught can I offer ye,” quoth Death, “but rest!” And to his chamber leads each tired guest.


I saw a King, who spent his life to weave Into a nation all his great heart thought, Unsatisfied until he should achieve
The grand ideal that his manhood sought; Yet as he saw the end within his reach,
Death took the sceptre from his failing hand, And all men said, “He gave his life to teach The task of honour to a sordid land!”
Within his gates I saw, through all those years, One at his humble toil with cheery face, Whom (being dead) the children, half in tears, Remembered oft, and missed him from his place. If he be greater that his people blessed Than he the children loved, God knoweth best.


I saw a city filled with lust and shame, Where men, like wolves, slunk through the grim half-light; And sudden, in the midst of it, there came One who spoke boldly for the cause of Right.

And speaking, fell before that brutish race Like some poor wren that shrieking eagles tear, While brute Dishonour, with her bloodless face Stood by and smote his lips that moved in prayer.

“Speak not of God! In centuries that word Hath not been uttered! Our own king are we.” And God stretched forth his finger as He heard And o’er it cast a thousand leagues of sea.


One spake amid the nations, “Let us cease From darkening with strife the fair World’s light, We who are great in war be great in peace. No longer let us plead the cause by might.”

But from a million British graves took birth A silent voice — the million spake as one — “If ye have righted all the wrongs of earth Lay by the sword! Its work and ours is done.”

The Dead Master

Amid earth’s vagrant noises, he caught the note sublime: To-day around him surges from the silences of Time A flood of nobler music, like a river deep and broad, Fit song for heroes gathered in the banquet-hall of God.

The Harvest of the Sea

The earth grows white with harvest; all day long The sickles gleam, until the darkness weaves Her web of silence o’er the thankful song Of reapers bringing home the golden sheaves.

The wave tops whiten on the sea fields drear, And men go forth at haggard dawn to reap; But ever ‘mid the gleaners’ song we hear The half-hushed sobbing of the hearts that weep.

The Dying of Pere Pierre

“. . . with two other priests; the same night he died, and was buried by the shores of the lake that bears his name.” Chronicle.

“Nay, grieve not that ye can no honour give To these poor bones that presently must be But carrion; since I have sought to live Upon God’s earth, as He hath guided me, I shall not lack! Where would ye have me lie? High heaven is higher than cathedral nave: Do men paint chancels fairer than the sky?” Beside the darkened lake they made his grave, Below the altar of the hills; and night
Swung incense clouds of mist in creeping lines That twisted through the tree-trunks, where the light Groped through the arches of the silent pines: And he, beside the lonely path he trod,
Lay, tombed in splendour, in the House of God.


The day is past and the toilers cease; The land grows dim ‘mid the shadows grey, And hearts are glad, for the dark brings peace At the close of day.

Each weary toiler, with lingering pace, As he homeward turns, with the long day done, Looks out to the west, with the light on his face Of the setting sun.

Yet some see not (with their sin-dimmed eyes) The promise of rest in the fading light; But the clouds loom dark in the angry skies At the fall of night.

And some see only a golden sky
Where the elms their welcoming arms stretch wide To the calling rooks, as they homeward fly At the eventide.

It speaks of peace that comes after strife, Of the rest He sends to the hearts He tried, Of the calm that follows the stormiest life — God’s eventide.

Upon Watts’ Picture “Sic Transit”

“What I spent I had; what I saved, I lost; what I gave, I have.”

But yesterday the tourney, all the eager joy of life, The waving of the banners, and the rattle of the spears, The clash of sword and harness, and the madness of the strife; To-night begin the silence and the peace of endless years.

(One sings within.)

But yesterday the glory and the prize, And best of all, to lay it at her feet, To find my guerdon in her speaking eyes: I grudge them not, — they pass, albeit sweet.

The ring of spears, the winning of the fight, The careless song, the cup, the love of friends, The earth in spring — to live, to feel the light — ‘Twas good the while it lasted: here it ends.

Remain the well-wrought deed in honour done, The dole for Christ’s dear sake, the words that fall In kindliness upon some outcast one, —
They seemed so little: now they are my All.

A Song of Comfort

“Sleep, weary ones, while ye may — Sleep, oh, sleep!”
Eugene Field.

Thro’ May time blossoms, with whisper low, The soft wind sang to the dead below:
“Think not with regret on the Springtime’s song And the task ye left while your hands were strong. The song would have ceased when the Spring was past, And the task that was joyous be weary at last.”

To the winter sky when the nights were long The tree-tops tossed with a ceaseless song: “Do ye think with regret on the sunny days And the path ye left, with its untrod ways? The sun might sink in a storm cloud’s frown And the path grow rough when the night came down.”

In the grey twilight of the autumn eves, It sighed as it sang through the dying leaves: “Ye think with regret that the world was bright, That your path was short and your task was light; The path, though short, was perhaps the best And the toil was sweet, that it led to rest.”

The Pilgrims

An uphill path, sun-gleams between the showers, Where every beam that broke the leaden sky Lit other hills with fairer ways than ours; Some clustered graves where half our memories lie; And one grim Shadow creeping ever nigh:
And this was Life.

Wherein we did another’s burden seek, The tired feet we helped upon the road, The hand we gave the weary and the weak, The miles we lightened one another’s load, When, faint to falling, onward yet we strode: This too was Life.

Till, at the upland, as we turned to go Amid fair meadows, dusky in the night,
The mists fell back upon the road below; Broke on our tired eyes the western light; The very graves were for a moment bright: And this was Death.

The Shadow of the Cross

At the drowsy dusk when the shadows creep From the golden west, where the sunbeams sleep,

An angel mused: “Is there good or ill In the mad world’s heart, since on Calvary’s hill

‘Round the cross a mid-day twilight fell That darkened earth and o’ershadowed hell?”

Through the streets of a city the angel sped; Like an open scroll men’s hearts he read.

In a monarch’s ear his courtiers lied And humble faces hid hearts of pride.

Men’s hate waxed hot, and their hearts grew cold, As they haggled and fought for the lust of gold.

Despairing, he cried, “After all these years Is there naught but hatred and strife and tears?”

He found two waifs in an attic bare;
— A single crust was their meagre fare —

One strove to quiet the other’s cries, And the love-light dawned in her famished eyes

As she kissed the child with a motherly air: “I don’t need mine, you can have my share.”

Then the angel knew that the earthly cross And the sorrow and shame were not wholly loss.

At dawn, when hushed was earth’s busy hum And men looked not for their Christ to come,

From the attic poor to the palace grand, The King and the beggar went hand in hand.

The Night Cometh

Cometh the night. The wind falls low, The trees swing slowly to and fro:
Around the church the headstones grey Cluster, like children strayed away
But found again, and folded so.

No chiding look doth she bestow:
If she is glad, they cannot know;
If ill or well they spend their day, Cometh the night.

Singing or sad, intent they go;
They do not see the shadows grow;
“There yet is time,” they lightly say, “Before our work aside we lay”;
Their task is but half-done, and lo! Cometh the night.

In Due Season

If night should come and find me at my toil, When all Life’s day I had, tho’ faintly, wrought, And shallow furrows, cleft in stony soil Were all my labour: Shall I count it naught

If only one poor gleaner, weak of hand, Shall pick a scanty sheaf where I have sown? “Nay, for of thee the Master doth demand Thy work: the harvest rests with Him alone.”

John McCrae

An Essay in Character by Sir Andrew Macphail


In Flanders Fields

“In Flanders Fields”, the piece of verse from which this little book takes its title, first appeared in `Punch’ in the issue of December 8th, 1915. At the time I was living in Flanders at a convent in front of Locre, in shelter of Kemmel Hill, which lies seven miles south and slightly west of Ypres. The piece bore no signature, but it was unmistakably from the hand of John McCrae.

From this convent of women which was the headquarters of the 6th Canadian Field Ambulance, I wrote to John McCrae, who was then at Boulogne, accusing him of the authorship, and furnished him with evidence. From memory — since at the front one carries one book only — I quoted to him another piece of his own verse, entitled “The Night Cometh”:

“Cometh the night. The wind falls low, The trees swing slowly to and fro;
Around the church the headstones grey Cluster, like children stray’d away,
But found again, and folded so.”

It will be observed at once by reference to the text that in form the two poems are identical. They contain the same number of lines and feet as surely as all sonnets do. Each travels upon two rhymes with the members of a broken couplet in widely separated refrain. To the casual reader this much is obvious, but there are many subtleties in the verse which made the authorship inevitable. It was a form upon which he had worked for years, and made his own. When the moment arrived the medium was ready. No other medium could have so well conveyed the thought.

This familiarity with his verse was not a matter of accident. For many years I was editor of the `University Magazine’, and those who are curious about such things may discover that one half of the poems contained in this little book were first published upon its pages. This magazine had its origin in McGill University, Montreal, in the year 1902. Four years later its borders were enlarged to the wider term, and it strove to express an educated opinion upon questions immediately concerning Canada, and to treat freely in a literary way all matters which have to do with politics, industry, philosophy, science, and art.

To this magazine during those years John McCrae contributed all his verse. It was therefore not unseemly that I should have written to him, when “In Flanders Fields” appeared in `Punch’. Amongst his papers I find my poor letter, and many others of which something more might be made if one were concerned merely with the literary side of his life rather than with his life itself. Two references will be enough. Early in 1905 he offered “The Pilgrims” for publication. I notified him of the place assigned to it in the magazine, and added a few words of appreciation, and after all these years it has come back to me.

The letter is dated February 9th, 1905, and reads: “I place the poem next to my own buffoonery. It is the real stuff of poetry. How did you make it? What have you to do with medicine? I was charmed with it: the thought high, the image perfect, the expression complete; not too reticent, not too full. Videntes autem stellam gavisi sunt gaudio magno valde. In our own tongue, — `slainte filidh’.” To his mother he wrote, “the Latin is translatable as, `seeing the star they rejoiced with exceeding gladness’.” For the benefit of those whose education has proceeded no further than the Latin, it may be explained that the two last words mean, “Hail to the poet”.

To the inexperienced there is something portentous about an appearance in print and something mysterious about the business of an editor. A legend has already grown up around the publication of “In Flanders Fields” in `Punch’. The truth is, “that the poem was offered in the usual way and accepted; that is all.” The usual way of offering a piece to an editor is to put it in an envelope with a postage stamp outside to carry it there, and a stamp inside to carry it back. Nothing else helps.

An editor is merely a man who knows his right hand from his left, good from evil, having the honesty of a kitchen cook who will not spoil his confection by favour for a friend. Fear of a foe is not a temptation, since editors are too humble and harmless to have any. There are of course certain slight offices which an editor can render, especially to those whose writings he does not intend to print, but John McCrae required none of these. His work was finished to the last point. He would bring his piece in his hand and put it on the table. A wise editor knows when to keep his mouth shut; but now I am free to say that he never understood the nicety of the semi-colon, and his writing was too heavily stopped.

He was not of those who might say, — take it or leave it; but rather, — look how perfect it is; and it was so. Also he was the first to recognize that an editor has some rights and prejudices, that certain words make him sick; that certain other words he reserves for his own use, — “meticulous” once a year, “adscititious” once in a life time. This explains why editors write so little. In the end, out of mere good nature, or seeing the futility of it all, they contribute their words to contributors and write no more.

The volume of verse as here printed is small. The volume might be enlarged; it would not be improved. To estimate the value and institute a comparison of those herein set forth would be a congenial but useless task, which may well be left to those whose profession it is to offer instruction to the young. To say that “In Flanders Fields” is not the best would involve one in controversy. It did give expression to a mood which at the time was universal, and will remain as a permanent record when the mood is passed away.

The poem was first called to my attention by a Sapper officer, then Major, now Brigadier. He brought the paper in his hand from his billet in Dranoutre. It was printed on page 468, and Mr. `Punch’ will be glad to be told that, in his annual index, in the issue of December 29th, 1915, he has mispelled the author’s name, which is perhaps the only mistake he ever made. This officer could himself weave the sonnet with deft fingers, and he pointed out many deep things. It is to the sappers the army always goes for “technical material”.

The poem, he explained, consists of thirteen lines in iambic tetrameter and two lines of two iambics each; in all, one line more than the sonnet’s count. There are two rhymes only, since the short lines must be considered blank, and are, in fact, identical. But it is a difficult mode. It is true, he allowed, that the octet of the sonnet has only two rhymes, but these recur only four times, and the liberty of the sestet tempers its despotism, — which I thought a pretty phrase. He pointed out the dangers inherent in a restricted rhyme, and cited the case of Browning, the great rhymster, who was prone to resort to any rhyme, and frequently ended in absurdity, finding it easier to make a new verse than to make an end.

At great length — but the December evenings in Flanders are long, how long, O Lord! — this Sapper officer demonstrated the skill with which the rhymes are chosen. They are vocalized. Consonant endings would spoil the whole effect. They reiterate O and I, not the O of pain and the Ay of assent, but the O of wonder, of hope, of aspiration; and the I of personal pride, of jealous immortality, of the Ego against the Universe. They are, he went on to expound, a recurrence of the ancient question: “How are the dead raised, and with what body do they come?” “How shall I bear my light across?” and of the defiant cry: “If Christ be not raised, then is our faith vain.”

The theme has three phases: the first a calm, a deadly calm, opening statement in five lines; the second in four lines, an explanation, a regret, a reiteration of the first; the third, without preliminary crescendo, breaking out into passionate adjuration in vivid metaphor, a poignant appeal which is at once a blessing and a curse. In the closing line is a satisfying return to the first phase, — and the thing is done. One is so often reminded of the poverty of men’s invention, their best being so incomplete, their greatest so trivial, that one welcomes what — this Sapper officer surmised — may become a new and fixed mode of expression in verse.

As to the theme itself — I am using his words: what is his is mine; what is mine is his — the interest is universal. The dead, still conscious, fallen in a noble cause, see their graves overblown in a riot of poppy bloom. The poppy is the emblem of sleep. The dead desire to sleep undisturbed, but yet curiously take an interest in passing events. They regret that they have not been permitted to live out their life to its normal end. They call on the living to finish their task, else they shall not sink into that complete repose which they desire, in spite of the balm of the poppy. Formalists may protest that the poet is not sincere, since it is the seed and not the flower that produces sleep. They might as well object that the poet has no right to impersonate the dead. We common folk know better. We know that in personating the dear dead, and calling in bell-like tones on the inarticulate living, the poet shall be enabled to break the lightnings of the Beast, and thereby he, being himself, alas! dead, yet speaketh; and shall speak, to ones and twos and a host. As it is written in resonant bronze: VIVOS . VOCO . MORTUOS . PLANGO . FULGURA . FRANGO: words cast by this officer upon a church bell which still rings in far away Orwell in memory of his father — and of mine.

By this time the little room was cold. For some reason the guns had awakened in the Salient. An Indian trooper who had just come up, and did not yet know the orders, blew “Lights out”, — on a cavalry trumpet. The sappers work by night. The officer turned and went his way to his accursed trenches, leaving the verse with me.

John McCrae witnessed only once the raw earth of Flanders hide its shame in the warm scarlet glory of the poppy. Others have watched this resurrection of the flowers in four successive seasons, a fresh miracle every time it occurs. Also they have observed the rows of crosses lengthen, the torch thrown, caught, and carried to victory. The dead may sleep. We have not broken faith with them.

It is little wonder then that “In Flanders Fields” has become the poem of the army. The soldiers have learned it with their hearts, which is quite a different thing from committing it to memory. It circulates, as a song should circulate, by the living word of mouth, not by printed characters. That is the true test of poetry, — its insistence on making itself learnt by heart. The army has varied the text; but each variation only serves to reveal more clearly the mind of the maker. The army says, “AMONG the crosses”; “felt dawn AND sunset glow”; “LIVED and were loved”. The army may be right: it usually is.

Nor has any piece of verse in recent years been more widely known in the civilian world. It was used on every platform from which men were being adjured to adventure their lives or their riches in the great trial through which the present generation has passed. Many “replies” have been made. The best I have seen was written in the `New York Evening Post’. None but those who were prepared to die before Vimy Ridge that early April day of 1916 will ever feel fully the great truth of Mr. Lillard’s opening lines, as they speak for all Americans:

“Rest ye in peace, ye Flanders dead. The fight that ye so bravely led
We’ve taken up.”

They did — and bravely. They heard the cry — “If ye break faith, we shall not sleep.”


With the Guns

If there was nothing remarkable about the publication of “In Flanders Fields”, there was something momentous in the moment of writing it. And yet it was a sure instinct which prompted the writer to send it to `Punch’. A rational man wishes to know the news of the world in which he lives; and if he is interested in life, he is eager to know how men feel and comport themselves amongst the events which are passing. For this purpose `Punch’ is the great newspaper of the world, and these lines describe better than any other how men felt in that great moment.

It was in April, 1915. The enemy was in the full cry of victory. All that remained for him was to occupy Paris, as once he did before, and to seize the Channel ports. Then France, England, and the world were doomed. All winter the German had spent in repairing his plans, which had gone somewhat awry on the Marne. He had devised his final stroke, and it fell upon the Canadians at Ypres. This battle, known as the second battle of Ypres, culminated on April 22nd, but it really extended over the whole month.

The inner history of war is written from the recorded impressions of men who have endured it. John McCrae in a series of letters to his mother, cast in the form of a diary, has set down in words the impressions which this event of the war made upon a peculiarly sensitive mind. The account is here transcribed without any attempt at “amplification”, or “clarifying” by notes upon incidents or references to places. These are only too well known.

Friday, April 23rd, 1915.

As we moved up last evening, there was heavy firing about 4.30 on our left, the hour at which the general attack with gas was made when the French line broke. We could see the shells bursting over Ypres, and in a small village to our left, meeting General —-, C.R.A., of one of the divisions, he ordered us to halt for orders. We sent forward notifications to our Headquarters, and sent out orderlies to get in touch with the batteries of the farther forward brigades already in action. The story of these guns will be read elsewhere. They had a tough time, but got away safely, and did wonderful service. One battery fired in two opposite directions at once, and both batteries fired at point blank, open sights, at Germans in the open. They were at times quite without infantry on their front, for their position was behind the French to the left of the British line.

As we sat on the road we began to see the French stragglers — men without arms, wounded men, teams, wagons, civilians, refugees — some by the roads, some across country, all talking, shouting — the very picture of debacle. I must say they were the “tag enders” of a fighting line rather than the line itself. They streamed on, and shouted to us scraps of not too inspiriting information while we stood and took our medicine, and picked out gun positions in the fields in case we had to go in there and then. The men were splendid; not a word; not a shake, and it was a terrific test. Traffic whizzed by — ambulances, transport, ammunition, supplies, despatch riders — and the shells thundered into the town, or burst high in the air nearer us, and the refugees streamed. Women, old men, little children, hopeless, tearful, quiet or excited, tired, dodging the traffic, — and the wounded in singles or in groups. Here and there I could give a momentary help, and the ambulances picked up as they could. So the cold moonlight night wore on — no change save that the towers of Ypres showed up against the glare of the city burning; and the shells still sailed in.

At 9.30 our ammunition column (the part that had been “in”) appeared. Major —- had waited, like Casabianca, for orders until the Germans were 500 yards away; then he started, getting safely away save for one wagon lost, and some casualties in men and horses. He found our column, and we prepared to send forward ammunition as soon as we could learn where the batteries had taken up position in retiring, for retire they had to. Eleven, twelve, and finally grey day broke, and we still waited. At 3.45 word came to go in and support a French counterattack at 4.30 A.M. Hastily we got the order spread; it was 4 A.M. and three miles to go.

Of one’s feelings all this night — of the asphyxiated French soldiers — of the women and children — of the cheery, steady British reinforcements that moved up quietly past us, going up, not back — I could write, but you can imagine.

We took the road at once, and went up at the gallop. The Colonel rode ahead to scout a position (we had only four guns, part of the ammunition column, and the brigade staff; the 1st and 4th batteries were back in reserve at our last billet). Along the roads we went, and made our place on time, pulled up for ten minutes just short of the position, where I put Bonfire [his horse] with my groom in a farmyard, and went forward on foot — only a quarter of a mile or so — then we advanced. Bonfire had soon to move; a shell killed a horse about four yards away from him, and he wisely took other ground. Meantime we went on into the position we were to occupy for seventeen days, though we could not guess that. I can hardly say more than that it was near the Yser Canal.

We got into action at once, under heavy gunfire. We were to the left entirely of the British line, and behind French troops, and so we remained for eight days. A Colonel of the R.A., known to fame, joined us and camped with us; he was our link with the French Headquarters, and was in local command of the guns in this locality. When he left us eight days later he said, “I am glad to get out of this hell-hole.” He was a great comfort to us, for he is very capable, and the entire battle was largely fought “on our own”, following the requests of the Infantry on our front, and scarcely guided by our own staff at all. We at once set out to register our targets, and almost at once had to get into steady firing on quite a large sector of front. We dug in the guns as quickly as we could, and took as Headquarters some infantry trenches already sunk on a ridge near the canal. We were subject from the first to a steady and accurate shelling, for we were all but in sight, as were the German trenches about 2000 yards to our front. At times the fire would come in salvos quickly repeated. Bursts of fire would be made for ten or fifteen minutes at a time. We got all varieties of projectile, from 3 inch to 8 inch, or perhaps 10 inch; the small ones usually as air bursts, the larger percussion and air, and the heaviest percussion only.

My work began almost from the start — steady but never overwhelming, except perhaps once for a few minutes. A little cottage behind our ridge served as a cook-house, but was so heavily hit the second day that we had to be chary of it. During bursts of fire I usually took the back slope of the sharply crested ridge for what shelter it offered. At 3 our 1st and 4th arrived, and went into action at once a few hundred yards in our rear. Wires were at once put out, to be cut by shells hundreds and hundreds of times, but always repaired by our indefatigable linemen. So the day wore on; in the night the shelling still kept up: three different German attacks were made and repulsed. If we suffered by being close up, the Germans suffered from us, for already tales of good shooting came down to us. I got some sleep despite the constant firing, for we had none last night.

Saturday, April 24th, 1915.

Behold us now anything less than two miles north of Ypres on the west side of the canal; this runs north, each bank flanked with high elms, with bare trunks of the familiar Netherlands type. A few yards to the West a main road runs, likewise bordered; the Censor will allow me to say that on the high bank between these we had our headquarters; the ridge is perhaps fifteen to twenty feet high, and slopes forward fifty yards to the water, the back is more steep, and slopes quickly to a little subsidiary water way, deep but dirty. Where the guns were I shall not say; but they were not far, and the German aeroplanes that viewed us daily with all but impunity knew very well. A road crossed over the canal, and interrupted the ridge; across the road from us was our billet — the place we cooked in, at least, and where we usually took our meals. Looking to the south between the trees, we could see the ruins of the city: to the front on the sky line, with rolling ground in the front, pitted by French trenches, the German lines; to the left front, several farms and a windmill, and farther left, again near the canal, thicker trees and more farms. The farms and windmills were soon burnt. Several farms we used for observing posts were also quickly burnt during the next three or four days. All along behind us at varying distances French and British guns; the flashes at night lit up the sky.

These high trees were at once a protection and a danger. Shells that struck them were usually destructive. When we came in the foliage was still very thin. Along the road, which was constantly shelled “on spec” by the Germans, one saw all the sights of war: wounded men limping or carried, ambulances, trains of supply, troops, army mules, and tragedies. I saw one bicycle orderly: a shell exploded and he seemed to pedal on for eight or ten revolutions and then collapsed in a heap — dead. Straggling soldiers would be killed or wounded, horses also, until it got to be a nightmare. I used to shudder every time I saw wagons or troops on that road. My dugout looked out on it. I got a square hole, 8 by 8, dug in the side of the hill (west), roofed over with remnants to keep out the rain, and a little sandbag parapet on the back to prevent pieces of “back-kick shells” from coming in, or prematures from our own or the French guns for that matter. Some straw on the floor completed it. The ground was treacherous and a slip the first night nearly buried —-. So we had to be content with walls straight up and down, and trust to the height of the bank for safety. All places along the bank were more or less alike, all squirrel holes.

This morning we supported a heavy French attack at 4.30; there had been three German attacks in the night, and everyone was tired. We got heavily shelled. In all eight or ten of our trees were cut by shells — cut right off, the upper part of the tree subsiding heavily and straight down, as a usual thing. One would think a piece a foot long was just instantly cut out; and these trees were about 18 inches in diameter. The gas fumes came very heavily: some blew down from the infantry trenches, some came from the shells: one’s eyes smarted, and breathing was very laboured. Up to noon to-day we fired 2500 rounds. Last night Col. Morrison and I slept at a French Colonel’s headquarters near by, and in the night our room was filled up with wounded. I woke up and shared my bed with a chap with “a wounded leg and a chill”. Probably thirty wounded were brought into the one little room.

Col. —-, R.A., kept us in communication with the French General in whose command we were. I bunked down in the trench on the top of the ridge: the sky was red with the glare of the city still burning, and we could hear the almost constant procession of large shells sailing over from our left front into the city: the crashes of their explosion shook the ground where we were. After a terribly hard day, professionally and otherwise, I slept well, but it rained and the trench was awfully muddy and wet.

Sunday, April 25th, 1915.

The weather brightened up, and we got at it again. This day we had several heavy attacks, prefaced by heavy artillery fire; these bursts of fire would result in our getting 100 to 150 rounds right on us or nearby: the heavier our fire (which was on the trenches entirely) the heavier theirs.

Our food supply came up at dusk in wagons, and the water was any we could get, but of course treated with chloride of lime. The ammunition had to be brought down the roads at the gallop, and the more firing the more wagons. The men would quickly carry the rounds to the guns, as the wagons had to halt behind our hill. The good old horses would swing around at the gallop, pull up in an instant, and stand puffing and blowing, but with their heads up, as if to say, “Wasn’t that well done?” It makes you want to kiss their dear old noses, and assure them of a peaceful pasture once more. To-day we got our dressing station dugout complete, and slept there at night.

Three farms in succession burned on our front — colour in the otherwise dark. The flashes of shells over the front and rear in all directions. The city still burning and the procession still going on. I dressed a number of French wounded; one Turco prayed to Allah and Mohammed all the time I was dressing his wound. On the front field one can see the dead lying here and there, and in places where an assault has been they lie very thick on the front slopes of the German trenches. Our telephone wagon team hit by a shell; two horses killed and another wounded. I did what I could for the wounded one, and he subsequently got well. This night, beginning after dark, we got a terrible shelling, which kept up till 2 or 3 in the morning. Finally I got to sleep, though it was still going on. We must have got a couple of hundred rounds, in single or pairs. Every one burst over us, would light up the dugout, and every hit in front would shake the ground and bring down small bits of earth on us, or else the earth thrown into the air by the explosion would come spattering down on our roof, and into the front of the dugout. Col. Morrison tried the mess house, but the shelling was too heavy, and he and the adjutant joined Cosgrave and me, and we four spent an anxious night there in the dark. One officer was on watch “on the bridge” (as we called the trench at the top of the ridge) with the telephones.

Monday, April 26th, 1915.

Another day of heavy actions, but last night much French and British artillery has come in, and the place is thick with Germans. There are many prematures (with so much firing) but the pieces are usually spread before they get to us. It is disquieting, however, I must say. And all the time the birds sing in the trees over our heads. Yesterday up to noon we fired 3000 rounds for the twenty-four hours; to-day we have fired much less, but we have registered fresh fronts, and burned some farms behind the German trenches. About six the fire died down, and we had a peaceful evening and night, and Cosgrave and I in the dugout made good use of it. The Colonel has an individual dugout, and Dodds sleeps “topside” in the trench. To all this, put in a background of anxiety lest the line break, for we are just where it broke before.

Tuesday, April 27th, 1915.

This morning again registering batteries on new points. At 1.30 a heavy attack was prepared by the French and ourselves. The fire was very heavy for half an hour and the enemy got busy too. I had to cross over to the batteries during it, an unpleasant journey. More gas attacks in the afternoon. The French did not appear to press the attack hard, but in the light of subsequent events it probably was only a feint. It seems likely that about this time our people began to thin out the artillery again for use elsewhere; but this did not at once become apparent. At night usually the heavies farther back take up the story, and there is a duel. The Germans fire on our roads after dark to catch reliefs and transport. I suppose ours do the same.

Wednesday, April 28th, 1915.

I have to confess to an excellent sleep last night. At times anxiety says, “I don’t want a meal,” but experience says “you need your food,” so I attend regularly to that. The billet is not too safe either. Much German air reconnaissance over us, and heavy firing from both sides during the day. At 6.45 we again prepared a heavy artillery attack, but the infantry made little attempt to go on. We are perhaps the “chopping block”, and our “preparations” may be chiefly designed to prevent detachments of troops being sent from our front elsewhere.

I have said nothing of what goes on on our right and left; but it is equally part and parcel of the whole game; this eight mile front is constantly heavily engaged. At intervals, too, they bombard Ypres. Our back lines, too, have to be constantly shifted on account of shell fire, and we have desultory but constant losses there. In the evening rifle fire gets more frequent, and bullets are constantly singing over us. Some of them are probably ricochets, for we are 1800 yards, or nearly, from the nearest German trench.

Thursday, April 29th, 1915.

This morning our billet was hit. We fire less these days, but still a good deal. There was a heavy French attack on our left. The “gas” attacks can be seen from here. The yellow cloud rising up is for us a signal to open, and we do. The wind is from our side to-day, and a good thing it is. Several days ago during the firing a big Oxford-grey dog, with beautiful brown eyes, came to us in a panic. He ran to me, and pressed his head HARD against my leg. So I got him a safe place and he sticks by us. We call him Fleabag, for he looks like it.

This night they shelled us again heavily for some hours — the same shorts, hits, overs on percussion, and great yellow-green air bursts. One feels awfully irritated by the constant din — a mixture of anger and apprehension.

Friday, April 30th, 1915.

Thick mist this morning, and relative quietness; but before it cleared the Germans started again to shell us. At 10 it cleared, and from 10 to 2 we fired constantly. The French advanced, and took some ground on our left front and a batch of prisoners. This was at a place we call Twin Farms. Our men looked curiously at the Boches as they were marched through. Some better activity in the afternoon by the Allies’ aeroplanes. The German planes have had it too much their way lately. Many of to-day’s shells have been very large — 10 or 12 inch; a lot of tremendous holes dug in the fields just behind us.

Saturday, May 1st, 1915.

May day! Heavy bombardment at intervals through the day. Another heavy artillery preparation at 3.25, but no French advance. We fail to understand why, but orders go. We suffered somewhat during the day. Through the evening and night heavy firing at intervals.

Sunday, May 2nd, 1915.

Heavy gunfire again this morning. Lieut. H—- was killed at the guns. His diary’s last words were, “It has quieted a little and I shall try to get a good sleep.” I said the Committal Service over him, as well as I could from memory. A soldier’s death! Batteries again registering barrages or barriers of fire at set ranges. At 3 the Germans attacked, preceded by gas clouds. Fighting went on for an hour and a half, during which their guns hammered heavily with some loss to us. The French lines are very uneasy, and we are correspondingly anxious. The infantry fire was very heavy, and we fired incessantly, keeping on into the night. Despite the heavy fire I got asleep at 12, and slept until daylight which comes at 3.

Monday, May 3rd, 1915.

A clear morning, and the accursed German aeroplanes over our positions again. They are usually fired at, but no luck. To-day a shell on our hill dug out a cannon ball about six inches in diameter — probably of Napoleon’s or earlier times — heavily rusted. A German attack began, but half an hour of artillery fire drove it back. Major —-, R.A., was up forward, and could see the German reserves. Our 4th was turned on: first round 100 over; shortened and went into gunfire, and his report was that the effect was perfect. The same occurred again in the evening, and again at midnight. The Germans were reported to be constantly massing for attack, and we as constantly “went to them”. The German guns shelled us as usual at intervals. This must get very tiresome to read; but through it all, it must be mentioned that the constantly broken communications have to be mended, rations and ammunition brought up, the wounded to be dressed and got away. Our dugouts have the French Engineers and French Infantry next door by turns. They march in and out. The back of the hill is a network of wires, so that one has to go carefully.

Tuesday, May 4th, 1915.

Despite intermittent shelling and some casualties the quietest day yet; but we live in an uneasy atmosphere as German attacks are constantly being projected, and our communications are interrupted and scrappy. We get no news of any sort and have just to sit tight and hold on. Evening closed in rainy and dark. Our dugout is very slenderly provided against it, and we get pretty wet and very dirty. In the quieter morning hours we get a chance of a wash and occasionally a shave.

Wednesday, May 5th, 1915.

Heavily hammered in the morning from 7 to 9, but at 9 it let up; the sun came out and things looked better. Evidently our line has again been thinned of artillery and the requisite minimum to hold is left. There were German attacks to our right, just out of our area. Later on we and they both fired heavily, the first battery getting it especially hot. The planes over us again and again, to coach the guns. An attack expected at dusk, but it turned only to heavy night shelling, so that with our fire, theirs, and the infantry cracking away constantly, we got sleep in small quantity all night; bullets whizzing over us constantly. Heavy rain from 5 to 8, and everything wet except the far-in corner of the dugout, where we mass our things to keep them as dry as we may.

Thursday, May 6th, 1915.

After the rain a bright morning; the leaves and blossoms are coming out. We ascribe our quietude to a welcome flock of allied planes which are over this morning. The Germans attacked at eleven, and again at six in the afternoon, each meaning a waking up of heavy artillery on the whole front. In the evening we had a little rain at intervals, but it was light.

Friday, May 7th, 1915.

A bright morning early, but clouded over later. The Germans gave it to us very heavily. There was heavy fighting to the south-east of us. Two attacks or threats, and we went in again.

Saturday, May 8th, 1915.

For the last three days we have been under British divisional control, and supporting our own men who have been put farther to the left, till they are almost in front of us. It is an added comfort. We have four officers out with various infantry regiments for observation and co-operation; they have to stick it in trenches, as all the houses and barns are burned. The whole front is constantly ablaze with big gunfire; the racket never ceases. We have now to do most of the work for our left, as our line appears to be much thinner than it was. A German attack followed the shelling at 7; we were fighting hard till 12, and less regularly all the afternoon. We suffered much, and at one time were down to seven guns. Of these two were smoking at every joint, and the levers were so hot that the gunners used sacking for their hands. The pace is now much hotter, and the needs of the infantry for fire more insistent. The guns are in bad shape by reason of dirt, injuries, and heat. The wind fortunately blows from us, so there is no gas, but the attacks are still very heavy. Evening brought a little quiet, but very disquieting news (which afterwards proved untrue); and we had to face a possible retirement. You may imagine our state of mind, unable to get anything sure in the uncertainty, except that we should stick out as long as the guns would fire, and we could fire them. That sort of night brings a man down to his “bare skin”, I promise you. The night was very cold, and not a cheerful one.

Sunday, May 9th, 1915.

At 4 we were ordered to get ready to move, and the Adjutant picked out new retirement positions; but a little later better news came, and the daylight and sun revived us a bit. As I sat in my dugout a little white and black dog with tan spots bolted in over the parapet, during heavy firing, and going to the farthest corner began to dig furiously. Having scraped out a pathetic little hole two inches deep, she sat down and shook, looking most plaintively at me. A few minutes later, her owner came along, a French soldier. Bissac was her name, but she would not leave me at the time. When I sat down a little later, she stole out and shyly crawled in between me and the wall; she stayed by me all day, and I hope got later on to safe quarters.

Firing kept up all day. In thirty hours we had fired 3600 rounds, and at times with seven, eight, or nine guns; our wire cut and repaired eighteen times. Orders came to move, and we got ready. At dusk we got the guns out by hand, and all batteries assembled at a given spot in comparative safety. We were much afraid they would open on us, for at 10 o’clock they gave us 100 or 150 rounds, hitting the trench parapet again and again. However, we were up the road, the last wagon half a mile away before they opened. One burst near me, and splattered some pieces around, but we got clear, and by 12 were out of the usual fire zone. Marched all night, tired as could be, but happy to be clear.

I was glad to get on dear old Bonfire again. We made about sixteen miles, and got to our billets at dawn. I had three or four hours’ sleep, and arose to a peaceful breakfast. We shall go back to the line elsewhere very soon, but it is a present relief, and the next place is sure to be better, for it cannot be worse. Much of this narrative is bald and plain, but it tells our part in a really great battle. I have only had hasty notes to go by; in conversation there is much one could say that would be of greater interest. Heard of the `Lusitania’ disaster on our road out. A terrible affair! ==

Here ends the account of his part in this memorable battle, and here follow some general observations upon the experience:

Northern France, May 10th, 1915.

We got here to refit and rest this morning at 4, having marched last night at 10. The general impression in my mind is of a nightmare. We have been in the most bitter of fights. For seventeen days and seventeen nights none of us have had our clothes off, nor our boots even, except occasionally. In all that time while I was awake, gunfire and rifle fire never ceased for sixty seconds, and it was sticking to our utmost by a weak line all but ready to break, knowing nothing of what was going on, and depressed by reports of anxious infantry. The men and the divisions are worthy of all praise that can be given. It did not end in four days when many of our infantry were taken out. It kept on at fever heat till yesterday.

This, of course, is the second battle of Ypres, or the battle of the Yser, I do not know which. At one time we were down to seven guns, but those guns were smoking at every joint, the gunners using cloth to handle the breech levers because of the heat. We had three batteries in action with four guns added from the other units. Our casualties were half the number of men in the firing line. The horse lines and the wagon lines farther back suffered less, but the Brigade list has gone far higher than any artillery normal. I know one brigade R.A. that was in the Mons retreat and had about the same. I have done what fell to hand. My clothes, boots, kit, and dugout at various times were sadly bloody. Two of our batteries are reduced to two officers each. We have had constant accurate shell-fire, but we have given back no less. And behind it all was the constant background of the sights of the dead, the wounded, the maimed, and a terrible anxiety lest the line should give way.

During all this time, we have been behind French troops, and only helping our own people by oblique fire when necessary. Our horses have suffered heavily too. Bonfire had a light wound from a piece of shell; it is healing and the dear old fellow is very fit. Had my first ride for seventeen days last night. We never saw horses but with the wagons bringing up the ammunition. When fire was hottest they had to come two miles on a road terribly swept, and they did it magnificently. But how tired we are! Weary in body and wearier in mind. None of our men went off their heads but men in units nearby did — and no wonder.

France, May 12th, 1915.

I am glad you had your mind at rest by the rumour that we were in reserve. What newspaper work! The poor old artillery never gets any mention, and the whole show is the infantry. It may interest you to note on your map a spot on the west bank of the canal, a mile and a half north of Ypres, as the scene of our labours. There can be no harm in saying so, now that we are out of it. The unit was the most advanced of all the Allies’ guns by a good deal except one French battery which stayed in a position yet more advanced for two days, and then had to be taken out. I think it may be said that we saw the show from the soup to the coffee.

France, May 17th, 1915.

The farther we get away from Ypres the more we learn of the enormous power the Germans put in to push us over. Lord only knows how many men they had, and how many they lost. I wish I could embody on paper some of the varied sensations of that seventeen days. All the gunners down this way passed us all sorts of `kudos’ over it. Our guns — those behind us, from which we had to dodge occasional prematures — have a peculiar bang-sound added to the sharp crack of discharge. The French 75 has a sharp wood-block-chop sound, and the shell goes over with a peculiar whine — not unlike a cat, but beginning with n — thus, — n-eouw. The big fellows, 3000 yards or more behind, sounded exactly like our own, but the flash came three or four seconds before the sound. Of the German shells — the field guns come with a great velocity — no warning — just whizz-bang; white smoke, nearly always air bursts. The next size, probably 5 inch howitzers, have a perceptible time of approach, an increasing whine, and a great burst on the percussion — dirt in all directions. And even if a shell hit on the front of the canal bank, and one were on the back of the bank, five, eight, or ten seconds later one would hear a belated WHIRR, and curved pieces of shell would light — probably parabolic curves or boomerangs. These shells have a great back kick; from the field gun shrapnel we got nothing BEHIND the shell — all the pieces go forward. From the howitzers, the danger is almost as great behind as in front if they burst on percussion. Then the large shrapnel — air-burst — have a double explosion, as if a giant shook a wet sail for two flaps; first a dark green burst of smoke; then a lighter yellow burst goes out from the centre, forwards. I do not understand the why of it.

Then the 10-inch shells: a deliberate whirring course — a deafening explosion — black smoke, and earth 70 or 80 feet in the air. These always burst on percussion. The constant noise of our own guns is really worse on the nerves than the shell; there is the deafening noise, and the constant whirr of shells going overhead. The earth shakes with every nearby gun and every close shell. I think I may safely enclose a cross section of our position. The left is the front: a slope down of 20 feet in 100 yards to the canal, a high row of trees on each bank, then a short 40 yards slope up to the summit of the trench, where the brain of the outfit was; then a telephone wired slope, and on the sharp slope, the dugouts, including my own. The nondescript affair on the low slope is the gun position, behind it the men’s shelter pits. Behind my dugout was a rapid small stream, on its far bank a row of pollard willows, then 30 yards of field, then a road with two parallel rows of high trees. Behind this again, several hundred yards of fields to cross before the main gun positions are reached.

More often fire came from three quarters left, and because our ridge died away there was a low spot over which they could come pretty dangerously. The road thirty yards behind us was a nightmare to me. I saw all the tragedies of war enacted there. A wagon, or a bunch of horses, or a stray man, or a couple of men, would get there just in time for a shell. One would see the absolute knock-out, and the obviously lightly wounded crawling off on hands and knees; or worse yet, at night, one would hear the tragedy — “that horse scream” — or the man’s moan. All our own wagons had to come there (one every half hour in smart action), be emptied, and the ammunition carried over by hand. Do you wonder that the road got on our nerves? On this road, too, was the house where we took our meals. It was hit several times, windows all blown in by nearby shells, but one end remained for us.

Seventeen days of Hades! At the end of the first day if anyone had told us we had to spend seventeen days there, we would have folded our hands and said it could not be done. On the fifteenth day we got orders to go out, but that was countermanded in two hours. To the last we could scarcely believe we were actually to get out. The real audacity of the position was its safety; the Germans knew to a foot where we were. I think I told you of some of the “you must stick it out” messages we got from our [French] General, — they put it up to us. It is a wonder to me that we slept when, and how, we did. If we had not slept and eaten as well as possible we could not have lasted. And while we were doing this, the London office of a Canadian newspaper cabled home “Canadian Artillery in reserve.” Such is fame!

Thursday, May 27th, 1915.

Day cloudy and chilly. We wore our greatcoats most of the afternoon, and looked for bits of sunlight to get warm. About two o’clock the heavy guns gave us a regular “black-smithing”. Every time we fired we drew a perfect hornet’s nest about our heads. While attending to a casualty, a shell broke through both sides of the trench, front and back, about twelve feet away. The zigzag of the trench was between it and us, and we escaped. From my bunk the moon looks down at me, and the wind whistles along the trench like a corridor. As the trenches run in all directions they catch the wind however it blows, so one is always sure of a good draught. We have not had our clothes off since last Saturday, and there is no near prospect of getting them off.

Friday, May 28th, 1915.

Warmer this morning and sunny, a quiet morning, as far as we were concerned. One battery fired twenty rounds and the rest “sat tight”. Newspapers which arrive show that up to May 7th, the Canadian public has made no guess at the extent of the battle of Ypres. The Canadian papers seem to have lost interest in it after the first four days; this regardless of the fact that the artillery, numerically a quarter of the division, was in all the time. One correspondent writes from the Canadian rest camp, and never mentions Ypres. Others say they hear heavy bombarding which appears to come from Armentieres. ==

A few strokes will complete the picture:

Wednesday, April 29th*, 1915.

This morning is the sixth day of this fight; it has been constant, except that we got good chance to sleep for the last two nights. Our men have fought beyond praise. Canadian soldiers have set a standard for themselves which will keep posterity busy to surpass. And the War Office published that the 4.1 guns captured were Canadian. They were not: the division has not lost a gun so far by capture. We will make a good job of it — if we can.

* [sic] This should read April 28th. — A. L., 1995. —

May 1st, 1915.

This is the ninth day that we have stuck to the ridge, and the batteries have fought with a steadiness which is beyond all praise. If I could say what our casualties in men, guns, and horses were, you would see at a glance it has been a hot corner; but we have given better than we got, for the German casualties from this front have been largely from artillery, except for the French attack of yesterday and the day before, when they advanced appreciably on our left. The front, however, just here remains where it was, and the artillery fire is very heavy — I think as heavy here as on any part of the line, with the exception of certain cross-roads which are the particular object of fire. The first four days the anxiety was wearing, for we did not know at what minute the German army corps would come for us. We lie out in support of the French troops entirely, and are working with them. Since that time evidently great reinforcements have come in, and now we have a most formidable force of artillery to turn on them.

Fortunately the weather has been good; the days are hot and summerlike. Yesterday in the press of bad smells I got a whiff of a hedgerow in bloom. The birds perch on the trees over our heads and twitter away as if there was nothing to worry about. Bonfire is still well. I do hope he gets through all right.

Flanders, March 30th, 1915.

The Brigade is actually in twelve different places. The ammunition column and the horse and wagon lines are back, and my corporal visits them every day. I attend the gun lines; any casualty is reported by telephone, and I go to it. The wounded and sick stay where they are till dark, when the field ambulances go over certain grounds and collect. A good deal of suffering is entailed by the delay till night, but it is useless for vehicles to go on the roads within 1500 yards of the trenches. They are willing enough to go. Most of the trench injuries are of the head, and therefore there is a high proportion of killed in the daily warfare as opposed to an attack. Our Canadian plots fill up rapidly.

And here is one last note to his mother:

On the eve of the battle of Ypres I was indebted to you for a letter which said “take good care of my son Jack, but I would not have you unmindful that, sometimes, when we save we lose.” I have that last happy phrase to thank. Often when I had to go out over the areas that were being shelled, it came into my mind. I would shoulder the box, and “go to it”. ==

At this time the Canadian division was moving south to take its share in the events that happened in the La Bassee sector. Here is the record:

Tuesday, June 1st, 1915. 1-1/2 miles northeast of Festubert, near La Bassee.

Last night a 15 pr. and a 4-inch howitzer fired at intervals of five minutes from 8 till 4; most of them within 500 or 600 yards — a very tiresome procedure; much of it is on registered roads. In the morning I walked out to Le Touret to the wagon lines, got Bonfire, and rode to the headquarters at Vendin-lez-Bethune, a little village a mile past Bethune. Left the horse at the lines and walked back again. An unfortunate shell in the 1st killed a sergeant and wounded two men; thanks to the strong emplacements the rest of the crew escaped. In the evening went around the batteries and said good-bye. We stood by while they laid away the sergeant who was killed. Kind hands have made two pathetic little wreaths of roses; the grave under an apple-tree, and the moon rising over the horizon; a siege-lamp held for the book. Of the last 41 days the guns have been in action 33. Captain Lockhart, late with Fort Garry Horse, arrived to relieve me. I handed over, came up to the horse lines, and slept in a covered wagon in a courtyard. We were all sorry to part — the four of us have been very intimate and had agreed perfectly — and friendships under these circumstances are apt to be the real thing. I am sorry to leave them in such a hot corner, but cannot choose and must obey orders. It is a great relief from strain, I must admit, to be out, but I could wish that they all were. ==

This phase of the war lasted two months precisely, and to John McCrae it must have seemed a lifetime since he went into this memorable action. The events preceding the second battle of Ypres received scant mention in his letters; but one remains, which brings into relief one of the many moves of that tumultuous time.

April 1st, 1915.

We moved out in the late afternoon, getting on the road a little after dark. Such a move is not unattended by danger, for to bring horses and limbers down the roads in the shell zone in daylight renders them liable to observation, aerial or otherwise. More than that, the roads are now beginning to be dusty, and at all times there is the noise which carries far. The roads are nearly all registered in their battery books, so if they suspect a move, it is the natural thing to loose off a few rounds. However, our anxiety was not borne out, and we got out of the danger zone by 8.30 — a not too long march in the dark, and then for the last of the march a glorious full moon. The houses everywhere are as dark as possible, and on the roads noises but no lights. One goes on by the long rows of trees that are so numerous in this country, on cobblestones and country roads, watching one’s horses’ ears wagging, and seeing not much else. Our maps are well studied before we start, and this time we are not far out of familiar territory. We got to our new billet about 10 — quite a good farmhouse; and almost at once one feels the relief of the strain of being in the shell zone. I cannot say I had noticed it when there; but one is distinctly relieved when out of it. ==