In Flanders Fields

By John McCrae

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 Advanced Dressing Station where John McCrae was based at Essex Farm

At the beginning of WWI in 1914, Canada, as a Dominion within the British Empire, was at war as well. McCrae was appointed as Medical Officer and Major of the 1st Brigade CFA (Canadian Field Artillery). He treated the wounded during the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915, from a hastily dug, 8 foot by 8 foot bunker dug in the back of the dyke along the Yser Canal about 2 miles north of Ypres. McCrae’s friend and former militia pal, Lt Alexis Helmer, was killed in the battle, and his burial inspired the poem, ‘In Flander’s Fields’, which was written on May 3rd 1915 and was first published in the magazine Punch.

Bunker where McCrae treated the wounded

From June 1st 1915, McCrae was ordered away from the artillery to set up No. 3 Canadian General Hospital at Dannes-Camiers near Boulogne-sur-Mer, northern France. C.L.C. Allinson reported that McCrae “most unmilitarily told [me] what he thought of being transferred to the medicals and being pulled away from his beloved guns. His last words to me were: ‘Allinson, all the goddamn doctors in the world will not win this bloody war: what we need is more and more fighting men.'”

“In Flanders Fields” appeared anonymously in Punch on December 8, 1915, but in the index to that year McCrae was named as the author. The verses swiftly became one of the most popular poems of the war, used in countless fund-raising campaigns and frequently translated. “In Flanders Fields” was also extensively printed in the United States, whose government was contemplating joining the war, alongside a ‘reply’ by R.W.Lillard, “…Fear not that you have died for naught, / The torch ye threw to us we caught…”.

McCrae’s grave at the CWGC Cemetery at Wimereux, France

For eight months the hospital operated in Durbar tents shipped from India, but after suffering from storms, floods, and frosts it was moved in February 1916 into the old Jesuit College in Boulogne-sur-Mer.

Plaque at Essex Farm

McCrae, now “a household name, albeit a frequently misspelt one”, regarded his sudden fame with some amusement, wishing that “they would get to printing ‘In F.F.’ correctly: it never is nowadays”; but (writes his biographer) “he was satisfied if the poem enabled men to see where their duty lay.”

Lt Col John McCrae Pic. Guelph Museum

On January 28, 1918, while still commanding No. 3 Canadian General Hospital (McGill) at Boulogne, McCrae died of pneumonia with “extensive Pneumococcus meningitis” at the British General Hospital in Wimereux, France. He was buried the following day in the CWGC section of Wimereux Cemetery, just a couple of kilometres up the coast from Boulogne, with full military honours.

A plaque with McCrae’s poem ‘In Flander’s Fields’


Cross of Sacrifice at Essex Farm Cemetery

Back to World War One in Flanders, day four of our trip visited one very interesting site before returning to Ieper. The CWGC maintained Essex Farm Cemetery is just north of Ieper near Boezinge. More than 1000 servicemen of the First World War are buried or commemorated here. Of these, 103 burials are unidentified. There are special memorials to commemorate nineteen casualties known or believed to be buried at this site.

Memorial for 49th (West Riding) Division at Essex Farm Cemetery

It was the location of an Advanced Dressing Station during WWI. The concrete buildings used by the dressing stations can still be seen in the cemetery. A project to restore the surviving bunkers at the dressing stations was carried out by the town of Ieper (Ypres).

Close-up of 49th WR Division memorial. Pic. Peter Smith, Leger Battlefield Tours

The bunkers represent the largest number still visible and located together in the Ypres Salient area.

Essex Farm Cemetery seen from the nearby hill (CWGC picture)

The land south of Essex Farm was used as a dressing station cemetery from April 1915 to August 1917. The burials were made without definite plan and some of the divisions which occupied this sector may be traced in almost every part of the cemetery, but the 49th (West Riding) Division buried their dead of 1915 in Plot I, and the 38th (Welsh) Division used Plot III in the autumn of 1916.

Lt Col John McCrae (Guelph Museums picture)

It was here that Canadian doctor Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae wrote the poem In Flanders Fields’ in May 1915, which I will feature separately.


Tom Kettle (Pic. WikiCommons)

The following story by Patricia Killeen is taken from the US website published on September 10th. It details a commemoration held by the Irish in France including our Ambassador commemorating Lt Tom Kettle (former MP), Lance Corporal Francis Ledwidge from Slane and other members of Irish regiments in WWI.

Tom Kettle: Irish War Poet and nationalist was remembered by the Irish in France on the eve of the anniversary of his death.

On Sunday, September 8th 2019 the Irish Embassy Paris and the Irish in France Association invited Irish people living in France to the inauguration of the ‘Irish Peace Garden.’ The garden, located in the grounds of the Château de Péronne, in the heart of the Somme battlefields, pays homage to the WW1 Irish soldiers. The château also houses ‘The Historical Museum of the Great War’.

Our day out also included visiting the museum, the Church and village of Guillemont and the Ulster Tower in Thiepval.

As our Ambassador Patricia O’Brien rendered homage to the Irish WW1 soldiers, complimented the new garden, and spoke of the strong link between Ireland and France, at that moment in time I felt happy to be Irish in France. After the speeches, Peter Donegan led us through the gardens and entertained us with stories of his challenge transforming a 14th-century dried-up moat, constructed to keep people out, into a welcoming garden that drew people in.

The village of Guillemont, a short drive away and the neighboring village Ginchy, are soaked in Irish blood. More than 1,200 men from the 16th (Irish) Division were killed in the liberation of these two villages on 3rd and 9th September 1916. The church is at the very centre of the small village, which has neither a shop nor a café. However, we did locate the ‘Rue de la 16ème Division Irlandaise’!

One again French officials and the Irish Ambassador spoke. I lost the battle of keeping tears in check in the beautifully decorated church, where the dead Irish soldiers are so honored. Plaques on the wall list the different battalions of the 16th Irish Division including the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in which Thomas Kettle and many Irish Volunteers had enlisted. Our Ambassador paid homage to Kettle (economist, journalist, barrister, writer, poet, and former Member of Parliament for John Redmond’s constitutional nationalist party) who died at the Battle of Ginchy on 9th September 1916. She said she hoped that Kettle would be proud of the progress that had been made for peace in Europe and Ireland.

Lt Kettle’s name on WWI memorial at Westminster Hall

Kettle, an ardent Irish nationalist, donned the British uniform knowing many of his fellow countrymen wouldn’t understand why. He enlisted after witnessing the horrors in Belgium after the German invasion and said “while a strong people has its own self for centre, it has the universe for circumference.”

He went to war for European civilization and to fight for the freedom of another small country, fully aware that after Irish independence eventually came he would be seen as one of the ‘foolish dead,’ in contrast with the 1916 Rising ‘heroes’. In the final lines of his poem, ‘To My Daughter Betty, The Gift of God’, Kettle explained his decision: “Know that we fools, … Died not for flag, nor King, nor Emperor, But for a dream, born in a herdsmen shed, And for the secret Scripture of the poor.”

In the lead up to the centenary of the 1916 Rising, the Irish President Michael D. Higgins, acknowledged Kettle’s place in Irish history and said he was “an Irish patriot, a British soldier and a true European and understood that be authentically Irish we must also embrace our European identity’.

Francis Ledwidge, the other Irish WW1 war poet who died at the Battle of Ypres on July 31, 1917, like Kettle is now also considered as an Irish patriot and a WW1 war hero.

More Irish men, many of them members of the Irish Volunteers, died defending France than died creating an Irish republic. Many of them died for European freedom and in the hope that a grateful Britain post-war would pass the shelved Home Rule bill. On the other hand, other brave Irish men from Ulster enlisted in WW1 in the hope that the British would throw out the same Home Rule Bill!

Our final stop was at the Ulster Tower, Northern Ireland’s national war memorial, constructed in 1921 opposite the Thiepval Wood from where the 36th (Ulster) Division made its historic charge on July 1st 1916. The Irish Ambassador, the Mayor of Péronne and the Sous-Préfet de Péronne once again laid wreaths, as they had done at the Celtic cross and French monument outside the Guillemont church.

As I looked at the orange flowers in the green, white and gold Irish wreath, I remembered in ‘Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somne,’ how Frank McGuinness’s had described that Protestant soldiers exchanged their Orange sashes before going into battle.

Over the course of the day, I saw how revered our Irish WW1 soldiers were in France. The men, whose place in Irish history had been a long time enigma, had apparently always been honored in the French villages they defended. Tom Kettle and Francis Ledwidge were friends with many of the 16 men executed in the aftermath of the 1916 Rising. Francis Ledwidge’s poem “The Lament for Thomas MacDonagh” is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful WW1 poems.

When young people are struck down in their prime we can’t help but wonder about the outcome if they had lived. How would the combined talents of Tom Kettle, Tom Redmond and the 16 executed men have impacted the course of Irish history and the 1921 peace terms if they had been spared?

Kettle wrote from the Somme that if he were to live he would “spend the rest of his life working for perpetual peace.” He had enlisted for ‘Liberty’ and after being wounded insisted on returning to the Somme out of ‘Fraternity’, for his Dublin Fusiliers. The WW1 soldiers were denied ‘Equality’ in a world where ‘bumbling’ deciders sacrificed young men as fodder. Kettle described the Great War as ‘an outrage against simple men’.

In the Irish Peace Garden, Ambassador Patricia O’Brien expressed her hope in people’s ability to assemble and discuss. I hope many will have the opportunity to visit the Peace Garden and museum in Péronne, the village of Guillemont and the Ulster Tower for the pleasure of a great day out, and ‘lest we forget’ peace can never be taken for granted.


Bard Cottage Cemetery

For much of the First World war, the village of Boezinge directly faced the German line across the Yser canal. Bard Cottage was a house a little set back from the line, close to a bridge called Bard’s Causeway. The cemetery was made nearby in a sheltered position under a high bank. Burials were made between June 1915 and October 1918 and they reflect the presence of the 49th (West Riding), the 38th (Welsh) and other infantry divisions in the northern sectors of the Ypres Salient, as well as the advance of artillery to the area in the autumn of 1917.

Grave of Lance Corporal Charles H. Smith, South Staffordshire Regiment

Among the graves is that of Lance Corporal Charles H. Smith, South Staffordshire Regiment. He died on 16th August 1917, aged 29, and came from Altrincham near Manchester.

Margaret Nolan, Co. Kilkenny, searching for the graves at Bard Cottage Cemetery

There are now 1,639 Commonwealth casualties of the First World War buried or commemorated in this cemetery. Of these burials, 39 are unidentified but special memorials commemorate three casualties known to be buried among them. The cemetery was designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield.


Grave of Driver P. McKenna from Kilkenny

Driver P. McKenna service number 77374 was from Kilkenny, where his father Michael lived, according to the CWGC records. He served with D Battery 121st Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery.

CWGC memorial book at Bard Cottage cemetery

He died on August 19th 1917, aged 34. He is buried at Bard Cottage cemetery at Boezinge north of Ieper.

Bard Cottage Cemetery


Artillery Wood Military Cemetery

Artillery Wood Military Cemetery at Boezinge near Ieper is the final resting place of the poet Lance Corporal Francis Ledwidgand the Welsh bard Hedd Wyn.

Artillery Wood Military Cemetery

he cemetery was established in 1917 after fighting in the immediate area – the Battle of Picked Ridge – had moved away and was used for burials until March 1918.

At the point of the armistice there were some 141 graves in the cemetery. Concentration from the battlefields and three smaller cemeteries (Boesinghe Chateau Grounds, Brissein House and Captain’s Farm) enlarged this to the present 1307.

Artillery Wood Military Cemetery

Artillery Wood Military Cemetery

Artillery Wood Military Cemetery


Not far from Ieper and just north of Langemark village on Klerkenstraat is the sombre Langemark German Cemetery. There are relatively few German cemeteries on the Western Front battlefields. As they had invaded, the land that France and Belgium was prepared to grant them was limited, in comparison to their British allies.

Although this cemetery is much smaller in area than Tyne Cot, in fact it contains many more burials because they are effectively in the form of several mass graves, although there are headstones (which are laid flat to the ground) as well. There are also occasional clusters of small crosses, but these are not grave markers.

Langemark German Cemetery

On entering the cemetery itself there is an inscription on a flat stone with a sculpted wreath. This records that 44,061 men are buried here. Ahead is the mass grave of nearly 25,000 men. The names of those known to be buried here are recorded on eighty-six upright bronze panels beyond this entrance.

Just to the left of this central inscription, on the edge of the first of the upright bronze panels is a plaque commemorating two British soldiers: Privates Albert Carlill (Loyal North Lancs) and Leonard Lockley (Seaforth Highlanders). Both died late in 1918. Carlill died as a prisoner of war aged 19, just a week before the end of the war.

Plaque to the two British soldiers buried at Langemark

The “Deutscher Soldatenfriedhof” (German Soldier’s Cemetery) in Langemark is particularly poignant because of its strength and simplicity. Over 44,000 Germans are buried behind the monumental gate made of pink Weserberg sandstone and almost 25,000 of these are buried in a mass grave. More than 3,000 student volunteers of the 22nd up to and including the 27th Reserve Corps found their last resting place here. They were killed in battle in October and November 1914 during repeated attacks in the First Battle of Ypres. The name of “Studentenfriedhof” (Student Cemetery) was given to the cemetery because of the large number of students among these volunteers.

toegangspoort Duitse begraafplaats_gecomprimeerd

At the entrance there is a heavy building reminding one of a bunker. It was erected in red Weser/Vesder sandstone and was meant to make the transition from everyday life to the cemetery itself and in that way create some distance.
There are three rooms in the entrance building: the central passage and two side rooms.
On the oak panels of the “room of honour” to the right, are inscribed the known names of 6,313 soldiers killed in battle who were buried in the original (lower part of the) cemetery. Fencing the cemetery, there is a low wide wall made of the same stone as the entrance building. Pollard willows grow on street side (as a guard of honour) and the right part of the former poppy field is surrounded by a wide ditch symbolising the flooding of the Yser front.

Poppy memorial outside Langemark German Cemetery