January 28: In Flanders Fields

In Flanders Fields
by Rev. David T. Myers

Few, if any of our subscribers, were alive during the closing days of World War One. Yet some of them would still recognize, if only from history books, the defining poem which summed up the horrors of that war to end all wars, namely, “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 you break faith with us who die We shall not sleep, though poppies grow in Flanders fields.”

The author of this poem, John MaCrae, a medical doctor on the battlefield that day, had just experienced the death of a beloved friend in a battle. He sat down in the back of a ambulance to pen these words in grief over the loss of his friend. After writing it, he threw it away as unimportant. An officer friend retrieved it and sent it to an English newspaper publisher who printed it. It went on to become the famous poem describing all wars. And the “poppy” flower was adopted as the Flower of Remembrance for the war dead of Canada, Britain, the United States, and other Commonwealth countries.

John McCrae would not make it home to Canada however. He became ill with pneumonia which was soon complicated by meningitis. He died on this day, January 28, 1918 and buried with military honors in France.

What many of our readers may not know, however, is that John MaCrae was by both sides of his ancestry a Scotch Presbyterian. He was reared in a home where the Bible was read and studied ever day. He was taught to obey its every precept by his godly parents. He attended St. Paul Presbyterian Church in Montreal, Canada. A statue can be found there as well on the field in France, which reminds everyone who sees it as the extraordinary life of a soldier-physician who made the extreme sacrifice.

Words to Live By: In this series of biographies on This Day in Presbyterian History, we try as your editors to bring you characters of Presbyterian conviction and conduct who made the world, even the war world, brighter by their self-denying life and yes, their death. We shall behold them again at the resurrection of the dead in glory. For now, we can remember their life and yes, their demise, and behold their place in Presbyterian history. We can thank God as the giver of both life and death that it was not lived in vain, but accomplished what the Sovereign God decreed was their place in history. And we can give thanks to that God of the Bible for His leading in our lives. Take time today to thank God for that very fact.

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