Saturday, November 11, 2006

John McCrae


I walked into Waterstone's on London's Gower Street today, jumping in early for their half-price secondhand book sale - and the shop was silent, everyone standing still. I joined in, marking Armistice Day, the eleventh hour of the eleventh month, honouring the dead and wounded of all wars, but still especially world war one.
Marking that day, here is a photograph I took this summer of the clearing station where John McCrae where John McCrae wrote his poem 'In Flanders Fields'. First published in Punch in December 1915, the poem wrought poppies into the British national symbol of mourning - do other Commonwealth countries share the poppy?:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place


McCrae wrote the poem in the clearing station where many of those wounded in the first gas attacks, very may of those fellow Canadians,were brought for treatment - my own new biographical subject J.S.Haldane the medical scientist first to rush to their examination. The place has been renovated, as Essex Farm Bunker Clearing Station. McCrae witnessed 'the very picture of debacle'. We have a lot to remember.

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