In Flanders Fields: A Century of Poppies

If Ye Break Faith We Shall Not Sleep, Buy Victory Bonds

The poem, In Flanders Fields—which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year—is considered to be the most popular poem from the First World War. In this episode, we are joined by LAC archivist Emily Monks-Leeson who will guide us through the life of John McCrae, the Canadian soldier who penned the poem. She will help us understand the conditions from which he drew inspiration, how and why the poem became so popular and its role in recognizing the poppy as a symbol of remembrance. We’ll also look into the John McCrae and war poetry resources available at Library and Archives Canada.

Duration: 35:26

File size: 32.6 MB Download MP3

Publish Date: April 30, 2015

  • Transcript of podcast episode 21

    Jessica Ouvrard: Welcome to “Discover Library and Archives Canada: Your History, Your Documentary Heritage.” I’m your host, Jessica Ouvrard. Join us as we showcase treasures from our vaults; guide you through our many services; and introduce you to the people who acquire, safeguard and make known Canada’s documentary heritage.

    The poem, In Flanders Fields—which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year—is considered to be the most popular poem from the First World War. In this episode, we are joined by LAC archivist Emily Monks-Leeson who will guide us through the life of John McCrae, the Canadian soldier who penned the poem. She will help us understand the conditions from which he drew inspiration, how and why the poem became so popular and share the story of its role in recognizing the poppy as a symbol of remembrance. We’ll also look into the John McCrae and war poetry resources available at Library and Archives Canada.

    If you are interested in viewing images associated with this podcast, you can follow along by viewing our Flickr gallery. You can access a direct link at

    Hi Emily.

    Emily Monks-Leeson: Hi Jessica.

    JO: Thank you for being with us today.

    EML: Glad to be here. Thank you for having me.

    JO: When we hear the name John McCrae we immediately think about the poem, In Flanders Fields. Can you tell us about his background?

    EML: Sure. John McCrae was born in Guelph, Ontario in 1872. He was the second of three children born to David McCrae—who was a mill owner and stock breeder and a militia man—and his wife Janet McCrae. John McCrae attended the Guelph Central School and the Guelph Collegiate Institute. He was a bit older when he enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force; he was 42 years old at the time.

    JO: Positively elderly.

    EML: (Laughs) By the standards of the day. You know as such it already meant he had a full career as a writer and as a doctor prior to the First World War. Just to give you a little bit of his background, McCrae won a scholarship to the University of Toronto and he began his coursework in medicine in 1888. He suffered from asthma throughout his entire life and it was this that cause him to briefly leave the university in 1893 and return to Guelph where he actually taught at the Agricultural College, which has since become the University of Guelph. He was back at the University of Toronto that same fall and it was during this period that he joined the militia. He passed a militia artillery officer’s course with The Queen’s Own Rifles, which started a lifelong career in the militia and then in the military. It was also about this time that he began to publish short stories and poems in the University of Toronto newspaper, The Varsity.

    McCrae studied medicine much like his older brother Tom, and in 1894 after winning a fellowship in biology he went on to spend the summer practicing at a children’s convalescent home in Maryland. He visited Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and then later graduated with honours with a medical degree from the University of Toronto. He did his residency at the Toronto General, and you know throughout this period as he is building a career, he continued to write. He had poems that appeared in the Canadian magazines, The Westminster and Massey’s Magazine. In 1894, he won a Saturday Night short story competition. So really building a medical and a literary career.

    JO: As well as military.

    EML: As well as military, yeah, his ongoing service in the militia. We see this too after his work at McGill University. In 1899, he was awarded a fellowship at McGill in the pathology labs of the Royal Victoria Hospital, but this work was cut short almost immediately by the outbreak of the South African War, the Boer War. McCrae decided pretty quickly that he was going to join the second contingent of Canadian soldiers that volunteered to go fight in this war. He held the rank of Lieutenant in the artillery brigade thanks to his prior militia service. He served for one year in the army and came back to Canada after that.

    JO: OK. What was McCrae’s role in the forces?

    EML: Well, like I said, he had joined the militia fairly early and concentrated in the artillery. So in addition to his South African War and First World War service, he remained active in the Canadian militia. In the 13 years between returning from South Africa and enlisting in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, he had attained the rank of Major in the militia. He even served as an expedition physician on Governor General Lord Grey’s 1910 expedition from Norway House up to Hudson’s Bay. This was a voyage, very interestingly, that they did entirely by canoe and then came back to Quebec via Labrador in a steamship. After this little adventure, he continued with his medical career—he was teaching and practicing medicine in Montréal, he conducted research, he generated a number of medical publications and as I said, he continued to write poetry throughout this time. By the outbreak of the First World War, McCrae was well prepared to serve as a physician with the Canadian Expeditionary Force, which he joined as early as September 1914.

    JO: One of the very early recruits.

    EML: He was one of the very early recruits. He was actually on holiday in England in August 1914 when war was declared. He immediately hopped on a ship and came back to Canada so that he could enlist with the First Brigade Canadian Field Artillery. By October of 1914, he was back on a ship heading back for England with the First Canadian Division. That was the first division of Canadian soldiers who had enlisted quite early in the war; they were the first ones to arrive in England and the first to be shipped over to France in March of 1915.

    JO: Can you tell us about the circumstances and inspiration around the writing of the poem?

    EML: Sure. Well, it’s important, I think, that we talk about the Battle of Ypres or the Second Battle of Ypres, properly speaking, to talk about the circumstances around the poem itself because that was really vital to the writing of McCrae’s poem. The Canadians had only arrived to the battlefields of France and Belgium in March of 1915. And that spring saw incredibly brutal fighting; it also saw the first use of poison gas in warfare against French and Canadian troops during the Second Battle of Ypres. So Ypres is a walled city, a medieval city in Belgium and it had been the scene of the war’s earliest and bloodiest battle in 1914. It was of great strategic importance to both the Allies and the Germans. The trench lines had been forged just outside of the city and the allied lines near Ypres bulged out into the German line in a kind of inverted U shape. This effectively means that the Allies had the Germans surrounding them on all 3 sides and on higher ground. In the first week of April 1915, the first members of the first Canadian contingent were moved out of a quiet sector in the Western Front and into the Ypres salient. And it was on April 22nd that the German army unleashed 160 tons of chlorine gas as part of an assault on the town. The French divisions to the left of the Canadians crumbled in the face of what you can imagine is just a horror. The Canadians who have been on the front lines for barely 2 months found themselves desperately trying to defend this 6.5 kilometre gap in the line.

    JO: Right.

    EML: Which if the Germans had pushed through effectively would have meant the end of the war. As chlorine gas filled up the trenches, you know the men would be forced to climb out and into the path of heavy machine gun and artillery fire. I mean you could just imagine how…

    JO: Just bloody…

    EML: Brutal this is. And yeah, it was horrific and it was also somewhat of a defining moment for this new Canadian force. I suppose luckily German troops didn’t have adequate protection against their own gas either, so this held them back from the initial break in the lines. Throughout the following days, Canadian and British men struggled and fought, and you know did everything they could to stop the Germans from breaking through. All the while with their rifles—now infamous Ross rifles—jamming in the mud and soldiers becoming violently sick and gasping for air. Somehow they held on, but the cost of this was terrible. Over 6,000 Canadians—which when you think of it is 1 in 3 of the new troops that had just arrived there—became a casualty by the time the division was relieved on the 3rd of May. Most of these fighting men—again just to think of this—they had been everyday civilians just a few months before this. So McCrae’s famous poem, In Flanders Fields was written in the second week of this battle when McCrae was stationed at what later become known as the Essex Farm Advanced Dressing Station. This is just north of the town of Ypres located right along the canal. McCrae was a Major and a military doctor and at the time he was actually second-in-command of the First Brigade Canadian Field Artillery. It’s interesting actually in a letter that he writes to his mother during this period—he describes the battle itself actually. He says that the general impression in my mind is of a nightmare and behind it all is the constant background of the sights of the dead, the wounded, the maimed and a terrible anxiety less the line should give way. It gives a little bit of a window into the state of mind of him and everybody else who was fighting at that time.

    In terms of the actual origin of the poem itself, you know the Battle of Ypres provides the context, but the origins of the poem are a bit hazy. Many of them centre on McCrae’s grief over the death of his friend Lieutenant Alexis Helmer who was an officer in the 2nd Battery, 1st Brigade Canadian Field Artillery. Lieutenant Helmer was killed by a direct hit from a German shell on the morning of May 2nd as he left his dugout. One account about the writing of the poem says that McCrae was seen writing it that same night sitting on the rear step of an ambulance while looking out at Helmer’s grave and the poppies that had sprung up in the farm cemetery near the dressing station. But another story about the writing of the poem has it that McCrae was so distraught after his friend’s funeral—and actually McCrae himself said the committal service because there was no chaplain present at the time—he was so distraught by this, some legend has it that he composed the poem in 20 minutes as a means of calming himself down. And there is a third story from his commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Morrison, which is that McCrae drafted his poem while just passing the time between the arrival of two groups of wounded soldiers and as a means of experimenting with the poem’s meter. So three very different possibilities about the origins of the poem.

    JO: But it’s all based around the Second Battle of Ypres and the sort of horrors that happened at that time?

    EML: Exactly. You know I think regardless of the precise circumstance, it’s clear that McCrae would have been profoundly affected by the brutality he saw around him. You know he was a front line medical officer, he would have seen the worst of the injuries, of the death happening all around. The dressing station that he worked at was just behind the British front lines and in an area that saw some of the worst fighting during that period. I’ve actually been to Essex Farm Cemetery in Belgium and I’ve seen what’s left of the dressing station there. It’s comprised basically of several dugouts that had been cut originally into the spoil bank of the canal and then they were later formalized as concrete shelters. At the time that McCrae wrote the poem—you know, late April-early May 1915—he was tending to the wounded in these crude earthen dugouts directly behind the field guns that were pounding away. It would have been chaotic; it would have been terrifying.

    JO: How did the poem get to be published?

    EML: Well, how the poem ended up published is yet another kind of speculation. By one account McCrae threw the poem away dissatisfied with what he had written, but it was recovered by another soldier, possibly by Colonel Morrison who I mentioned before, and sent to a London paper. Possibly though, McCrae himself submitted it, which seems more likely to me since we know he made handwritten copies for friends shortly after drafting it, which you know seems to suggest that he didn’t think it was all that bad. It was rejected by the London Spectator and then accepted by Punch magazine.

    JO: I was just going to say it was published in Punch wasn’t it?

    EML: Exactly, yeah. It was published on the 8th of December 1915 and within months it had become the most popular poem of the war.

    JO: Just for clarification, what was Punch magazine?

    EML: Oh, Punch magazine was a satirical paper that had been published throughout the 19th century. Nowhere near as serious I guess as the London Spectator, but it was quite popular with troops throughout the First World War.

    JO: Okay. So what makes the poem so appealing and why did it become so popular?

    EML: Well to be honest, you know many people familiar with the very rich body of poetry and literature that came out of the First World War would say that In Flanders Fields is certainly not the best poem of the war. Other writers, mainly British poets—you know, Siegfried Sassoon, Ivor Gurney, Isaac Rosenberg, Robert Graves, Wilfred Owen—they do a more powerful job at capturing the physical and mental devastation that a war like this one brought on those who found themselves caught up in it. People were fighting in the most inhumane conditions, they were witnessing horrors that had never even been conceived of before. The First World War as we know is the first truly mechanized modern war, and many writers who had begun the war writing with a spirit of optimism and patriotism soon began to document the human response to these conditions. There was a real growing anger and cynicism with their governments and their conflicted relationships with those on the home front, many of whom continued to support the war. They began to write about the hopelessness of their situation and as we can see In Flanders Fields it doesn’t strike this tone. In many ways it’s a lot closer to the earlier more militaristic voices of the first few years of the war, which is indeed when it was written and yet it is undeniably one of, if not the most famous poems of the war. I think very simply that this is partially because it’s a lovely poem to say out loud. McCrae very deliberately invested the poem with this kind of musical quality. It’s written actually in the form of a rondeau, which is a type of medieval French poetry dating back to the 13th century, which was often set to music. The musicality makes it very easy to remember and to recite because of that regular rhythm. You know, it’s almost like a metronome when you say it.

    JO: What is John McCrae’s message in the poem?

    EML: Well McCrae’s poem is often used in Remembrance Day ceremonies because it seems to contain this call for the living not to forget those who had died, to continue their work and in doing so give them rest he says, you know, give some meaning to their deaths. The narrative voice in the poem when you look at it, it’s the totality of those soldiers who have been killed speaking in one voice. So McCrae writes:

    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.

    It has a very strong emotional effect, both for us who read it today—very far removed from the war as we are—but especially for those around the time of its publication who had husbands, fathers, brothers, friends, sons, among the dead who are now speaking with this voice. What I find interesting though in terms of the message of the poem is actually how the poem transitions. You notice it starts with this very mournful scene juxtaposing the poppies blowing between the crosses in a fresh graveyard with the guns that continue to sound with the larks that are flying above it all. Symbols of this natural world that are really a stark contrast to the unnatural death and horror happening below. The second verse moves us to this collective voice describing that abrupt transition that the battle has brought from a life full of sensation and colour and movement, you know—“We lived, we felt dawn, we saw sunset glow”—into the stillness of death, lying in the earth in Flanders far away from home. But it’s in that third and final verse that the poem really takes on the tone of a battle cry. You know it urges the reader:

    Take up our quarrel with the foe:
    To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.

    That’s a really powerful visual image. The passing from the dead to the living this bright burning torch that’s lighting the way forward. Then in the poem comes this promise or even this threat perhaps:

    If ye break faith with us who die
    We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
    In Flanders fields.

    In other words, we the collective dead will not rest if you the living do not take up our quarrel with the foe, so keep on fighting. You know, avenge our deaths and make it mean something because if you don’t you are breaking faith with us who die and we’re not going to be able to have this peaceful rest. Imagine again you’re reading this in 1917 or 1918 or 1919 or whatever, with a very fresh and very real grief. Someone or many people you love are among those dead. Their bodies have never come home for a funeral, their bodies are just gone.

    JO: Some bodies were never found. Many.

    EML: Many bodies were never found. Exactly. Those who were found, they couldn’t ever come home, they were never repatriated, they were buried in France and Belgium. So your country and her allies have won this war, but it’s been at the cost of your loved ones and other millions. It’s been devastating to everyone involved and I think it’s very appealing to have this message. We did it, it was worth something, you didn’t break faith and our death had meaning. In this sense, the poem works as much as an enlistment tool than as a memorial poem. I find it very hard to call this an anti-war poem or to say that there is any kind of anti-war message to the poem, though it is so often now read at ceremonies where we honour the dead and lament all of those wasted lives. I was doing a little reading thinking about this podcast and I went back to a wonderful book called The Great War and Modern Memory by historian Paul Fussell who wrote the first intensive large-scale study of First World War poetry. Fussell really called out the contrast between the poem’s pastoral beginnings and then what he calls the recruiting poster rhetoric of that final stanza. You know, in saying all of this though, I think it’s important to remember that the poem was written early in the war, where there was still a high degree of romanticism and commitment and very strong feelings of patriotism that later turned for many people and for many soldiers to a greater disillusionment. For example Siegfried Sassoon, who many people know and recognize—many people who are interested in war literature—he was a poet and a highly decorated officer, and he very famously published a letter in 1917 refuting the causes of the war and questioning the honesty of the politicians and the leaders who let the war go on. This was a really shocking thing for a decorated officer to do, and it was an act that almost saw him court martialed for treason. Instead, he was sent to Craiglockhart mental hospital and treated for shell shock. But he too had started the war writing very patriotic pro-war verse. A great example, again, is that of Rudyard Kipling—he was one of England’s strongest pro-war voices until he lost his only son John in 1915. He had actually been instrumental in helping John enlist. His son had glasses—he should have never qualified—but he got pushed through on the influence of his father, many say. After John dies—you know, dies very horribly—Kipling’s poems take on a tragic and powerful turn of self-reproach. He places himself as one of those at fault for this whole slaughter of young men.

    JO: A generation.

    EML: A generation of young men. That’s right, you know. At the start of the war, Kipling was writing England must stand up and meet the war, that the Hun is at the gate, and then in 1917 he’s changed his voice completely. He, too, takes on the voice of the fallen soldiers and writes, “If any ask why we died, tell them that our fathers lied,” And as I said, at that time Kipling counted himself among the fathers of England who had lied about the war’s purpose and its glory. I mean, would McCrae’s poetry have changed if he had lived out and seen the fallout of the war—if he had produced another great piece of poetry before the war’s end—you know, who knows? But he certainly had seen enough of the war’s horrors to cause such a change.

    JO: So how did the poem get so well-known and why is it significant to Canadians?

    EML: Well, as I mentioned, the poem was first published in Punch magazine in December 1915 and quickly became one of the most popular poems of the era.

    JO: It went viral.

    EML: It went viral. Totally. McCrae received numerous letters and telegrams praising his work when he was revealed as its author. You could say it was one of Canada’s first big literary hits that was recognized internationally as well as throughout the country. But crucially, it was used in Canada as propaganda, particularly by the Unionist party during the 1917 federal election, which was right in the middle of the conscription crisis. This poem is actually credited as having done more for the cause of war and conscription than all of the speeches of the politicians together. And it may be that McCrae was pleased with the effect his poem had for the war effort; he was a staunch loyalist to the empire.

    JO: So how well-known is the poem outside of Canada?

    EML: It’s very well-known to this day actually. Around the same time that the poem was being used for propaganda in Canada, it was also being put to similar use elsewhere. It was used in Great Britain to encourage men to fight against Germany, and it was widely reprinted in the United States. It got used in recruiting campaigns to sell war bonds and as sort of a response to both pacifists and war profiteers. It was even put to song as early as 1917 by an American composer by the name of Charles Ives, who must have recognized that musicality in the poem. It was also quickly translated into a number of languages, and you know many people say that its appeal was nearly universal. You could say that soldiers were encouraged by it as a statement of their duty while people on the home front may have seen it as defining the cause for which their brothers and sons were fighting as we talked about. Then there is the poem’s legacy, which is so internationally recognized.

    JO: The poppy.

    EML: The poppy, yeah. So poppies have symbolized death in war since at least the Napoleonic wars, but it was McCrae’s poem that helped to popularize that meaning of that flower internationally. They were one of the few flowers that could grow in the churned up battlefields. In Belgium, the shelling had increased the lime content in the soil apparently and this is a little flower that does well in poor soil. I found it interesting that they became the subject of very grim trench legends during the course of the First World War. Soldiers would say that poppies were red because they had soaked up the blood of the dead from the soil. There is a British poet, Isaac Rosenberg—he writes an incredible poem called Break of Day in the Trenches that implicitly contrasts the appearance of the poppy, you know, with its black center and floppy burst of red leaves to a gunshot wound frozen in time. Today though, the poppy is used as a symbol of remembrance of the war dead in Canada obviously, but also in all of the countries still of the British Commonwealth and also in the United States. There is an interesting history of this that links right back to the poem. An American professor named Moina Michael was the first person to ever wear a poppy in this way. She was inspired at the end of the war in 1918 directly by John McCrae’s poem and she distributed silk poppies to her friends and she campaigned to have the poppy adopted as an official symbol of remembrance. She even wrote the response to McCrae’s poem called We Shall Keep the Faith in which she writes, “You who sleep in Flanders Fields, we have caught the torch you threw and holding high we keep the faith with all who died.” Her poem focuses on the poppy, which she, I think, sees as a signal to the skies that the blood of heroes never dies, as she writes. The idea of this poppy to honour the war dead took hold with her; it took hold in France in 1920 and then was encouraged in England in 1921 by Field Marshall Douglas Haig. And we will do it today thanks to this poem.

    JO: How did Library and Archives Canada acquire the original poem?

    EML: Well, we don’t actually have the original poem and as far as we know nobody does. From what I could learn, the whereabouts of that original copy—the one that got delivered to Punch magazine for publication—is unknown. We do have two other manuscript copies of the poem though, we have one written in pencil on yellow paper—it’s dated December the 8th, 1915, and it’s part of a collection donated by Major General Sir Edward W.B. Morrison who was a good friend of McCrae’s and a fellow officer. As I said before, he was possibly the one who submitted the poem to Punch magazine. Our other copy is typed on paper and it’s part of a collection of documents that was donated by James Edward Hervey MacDonald; he’s an original member of the Group of Seven painters. In terms of other copies, we know that there are a few handwritten or signed copies of the poem. There is a copy at the Osler Library at McGill University that was written by McCrae and inscribed to May Metcalfe; she was a nurse at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montréal. The Imperial War Museum in England has a tracing of an original holograph copy of the poem, this written for a Captain Tyndale-Lea by John McCrae. But we do, at Library and Archives Canada, have an incredibly rich collection of the letters and the diaries of John McCrae. The letters are mainly to his mother; she was a very literate and well-read woman with whom McCrae was very close. There are also letters to his father and his friends, siblings and colleagues. These letters span much of his life; they start in childhood and they go up to shortly before his death in 1918. The collection includes letters from his service in the artillery in the Boer War as well as his time in Montréal from 1901 to 1914, which is a really interesting time in his career actually. He’s building up a medical career, he’s building up a publishing career, he’s rubbing shoulders with some of Montréal’s most prominent citizens and literary figures.

    JO: And he’s still involved with the militia at that point?

    EML: He’s still involved with the militia at that point, so we get day-to-day details about his service with them as well. But then in terms of the interest of the poem and his First World War service, Library and Archives Canada has about 330 letters altogether from the First World War that shed a really interesting light on his experiences.

    JO: So he wrote prolifically both personal letters and poetry or literature?

    EML: He did, he certainly did. Yeah, the letters right around that time in May 1915 may give us a bit of a clue as to the things that he was seeing and thinking about as he wrote the poem, In Flanders Fields. There is a letter that he notes the blackbirds that had perched above his head and twitter away, which I kind of thought of as an echo of the larks in the Flanders Fields poem. So these letters are quite rich in detail, and the ones from 1917 in particular talk about the difficult conditions at the Canadian General Hospital, which I think you can universally apply to most hospitals at that time serving the war wounded. He writes about his career, he writes about patients, he writes about his animals, which is particularly charming. He had a horse named Bonfire, which features throughout his war correspondence and a dog named Bonneau. He also comments on his reading and his writing and his publishing, the reception of his most famous poem. All of these are augmented by diaries that give us a really clear idea of his day-to-day activities. Sadly, these letters all end in January of 1918. It was in that month that John McCrae was appointed a consulting physician to the British Armies in the field, but before he could take up that appointment, he contracted pneumonia and died after a short illness. He died on the 28th of January 1918.

    JO: So it was really quite short, quite rapid.

    EML: Yeah.

    JO: Is all of this material available to be consulted?

    EML: Yep, it’s all available to researchers.

    JO: Are there any resources you would recommend for those interested in learning more about John McCrae and wartime poetry?

    EML: Sure! In addition to our McCrae material, researchers may want to take a look at the papers of Edward W,B. Morrison. I spoke about Morrison a few times in the course of this podcast. To give you a little bit more of an idea of who he was, Morrison was a newspaper man with the Hamilton Spectator and the Ottawa Citizen prior to the war. He also served in the Boer war, the South African War, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, and he advanced through the Canadian militia assuming command of the 8th Artillery Brigade in 1909. He became the Director of Artillery in 1913 and by the time the First World War came about he was very prominent in this role. He was in command of the First Artillery Brigade 1914–1915; he then took command of the 2nd Division Artillery from 1915–1916, and from 1916 through 1919 he had command of the entire Canadian corps of artillery. His papers are a really great resource for information on artillery operations throughout the war and all of the major battles and engagements. Those papers do also include that handwritten and signed copy of In Flanders Fields that McCrae had given him. Interestingly, accompanying this is a sketch that Morrison himself did of the cemetery that helped inspire the poem. Another resource that researchers might want to investigate are the Canadian Expeditionary Force attestation papers. Library and Archives Canada has been undergoing quite an extensive process of digitization for all of the service records for First World War soldiers. I found something very interesting, actually, when I was looking up the service papers of my own great-great uncle Stephen Beames who served in the war. When I looked at his attestation paper—this is the enlistment paper that all soldiers signed when they were entering the service—I found the signature of John McCrae very clearly discernable under the line for certificate of medical examination.

    JO: So he was considered fit for service by John McCrae?

    EML: That’s right. So there was a month where John McCrae was at Valcartier Camp, September 1914, and during this time he must have been serving as a medical examiner for the incoming enlistees. Now unfortunately there is no way to search for this specifically, but if there is anybody who knows they had an ancestor who enrolled or enlisted early, they might want to take a look at those service papers because if they enlisted in September and they were at Valcartier, there is a chance that John McCrae signed their attestation paper. I found this a really neat coincidence and it just kind of showed to me maybe how small the country really was back then. You know there is one last resource that I should really mention and that’s the McCrae house in Guelph, Ontario, which is part of the Guelph Civic Museum. This is the original limestone cottage where John McCrae was born in 1872 and it’s now a lovely small museum that displays McCrae’s war medals, items from his medical practice and other examples of his poems and writing. They have permanent and temporary displays and it’s a really nice little resource for those interesting in John McCrae and in the poem, In Flanders Fields.

    JO: Okay. This has been so interesting and thank you so much for being with us today.

    EML: Thank you for giving me this opportunity; it’s been really fun.

    JO: To learn more about John McCrae and First World War related resources available at Library and Archives Canada, please visit us online at On our homepage under the Popular Topics tab, select First World War. On this page you will find links to all of our First World War resources, including databases, virtual exhibitions, thematic guides and more. Also, don’t forget to check our blog,, for more First World War and military content. You can find the content quickly by selecting “Military Heritage”from the category list on the right side of the web page.

    Thank you for joining us. I’m your host, Jessica Ouvrard, and you’ve been listening to “Discover Library and Archives Canada”—where Canadian history, literature and culture await you. A special thanks to our guest today, Emily Monks-Leeson.

    For more information about our podcast, or if you have questions, comments or suggestions, please visit us at


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Canada and the First World War – John McCrae
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In Flanders Fields: A Century of Poppies Flickr Album
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