Tuesday, August 04, 2009


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.
-- Maj. John McCrea.

Maj. John McCrae, Canadian Army Medical Corp.,
wrote famed war poem "In Flanders Fields" in 1915.

My own late father, Private Thomas W. Allinson, served in the First World War, as a private soldier with The Green Howards, a famous infantry regiment of the British Army. To my eternal regret, I seldom took the opportunity to break through his modest silence about the horrors he faced in the trenches and learn his battlefield experiences. However, I did remember one casual mention by him that our family had a connection with the author of the most famous war poem of all time: “In Flanders Fields.” It did not dawn on me as significant until many years later, when I finally set about learning the background details.
The incident is described in "Welcome to Flanders Fields - The Great Canadian Battle of the Great War: Ypres, 1915", by Daniel G. Dancocks. It recounts:
"On May 3, Maj. McCrae had spent 17 weary days performing surgery on hundreds of wounded soldiers, and took a brief respite on the back of an ambulance near his dressing station beside the Canal de l'Yser. McCrae vented his anguish by composing a poem. In the nearby cemetery, McCrae could see the wild poppies that sprang up in the ditches there, and he spent twenty minutes of precious rest time scribbling fifteen lines of verse in a notebook."
"A young soldier watched him write it. Cyril Allinson, a twenty-two year old sergeant-major, was delivering mail that day when he spotted McCrae. The major looked up as Allinson approached, then went on writing while the sergeant-major stood there quietly. 'His face was very tired but calm as he wrote,' Allinson recalled. 'He looked around from time to time, his eyes straying to Lt. Helmer's grave.' When McCrae finished five minutes later, he took his mail from Allinson and, without saying a word, handed his pad to the young NCO."
"Sgt. Maj. Allinson was moved by what he read, saying later, 'The poem was an exact description of the scene in front of us both. He used the word 'blow' in that line because the poppies actually were being blown that morning by a gentle east wind. It never occurred to me at that time that it would ever be published. It seemed to me just an exact description of the scene.'"
I now feel a quiet pride that an Allinson relative -- Canadian cousin of my father -- was the first person to read the immortal words of "In Flanders Field" moments after it was penned by Major John McCrae.
-- Sidney Allinson.

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