The remains of a German observation position on April 22, 1915. By this time, the countryside was devastated by millions of artillery shells fired by both sides near Ypres since 1914. Human losses were also staggering on both sides. Canadian John McCrae wrote "In Flanders Fields" on May 3. (Photo Credit: Archives Canada MIKAN no. 3397986)

Remembering the horror that led to ‘In Flanders Fields’

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Over 104 years ago, as the First World War raged around him, a Canadian surgeon sat in an ambulance in a part of Belgium that had already seen more than its fair share of carnage and fighting and would see a whole lot more through the rest of the 20th Century.

Poppies surround a newly unveiled statue of Lt.-Col. John McCrae to commemorate the Second Battle of Ypres and his poem ‘In Flanders Fields,’ during a ceremony in Ottawa on Sunday, May 3, 2015, 100 years to the day that he wrote his famous poem.
(Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Taking a brief respite from the horror he had just witnessed, the surgeon, a Canadian named John McCrae, wrote a poem that lives to this day–in elementary schools where young Canadians recite it, to the poppies that people around the world wear to commemorate those who died in the so-called Great War.

Born out of heartache, written in the midst of insanity in the spring of 1915, In Flanders Fields may be the most famous poem ever written by a Canadian.

David Calderisi (courtesy of David Calderisi)

For Remembrance Day, I asked a friend, noted Canadian actor David Calderisi, to share both the poem and the history of its origins.

Be forewarned: like the war from which is sprang, it is not a pretty history.

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