In 2015, the 100th Anniversary of the writing of “In Flanders Fields” was commemorated with several events:
1) Stamp and Coin Unveiling
An unexpected and special addition to the Clan MacRae Gathering in Ottawa was an invitation for members of the Clan MacRae Society to attend the unveiling of a stamp and coin honouring Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, in the House of Commons on April 30, 2015. This Government event turned out to be a very memorable day. Pierre Lemieux, Member of Parliament for Glengarry-Prescott-Russell was the emcee and in attendance were officials from Canadian Heritage, the Royal Canadian Mint, Canada Post, the National Film Board of Canada; students from Ottawa’s John McCrae Secondary School; veterans; members of the military and the media; as well as, members of Clan MacRae. Allen McRae (Nanaimo, BC) represented the Clan MacRae Society of Canada.
The ceremony was launched with a reading of In Flanders Fields by Allen McRae and student and veteran representatives. This was followed by the unveiling of the commemorative stamp and numismatic (collector) coin with remarks by government officials that highlighted John McCrae’s extraordinary spirit and his contribution to our understanding of the war experience. Allen McRae delivered an excellent speech. He described his Scottish roots and his ancestors’ settlement in Canada; underlined the benefits of being a member of the Clan MacRae Society which “fosters the Clan MacRae spirit, and Highland traditions, history, music and genealogy”; and, described how John McCrae epitomizes the Clan MacRae motto —“fortitude”. Allen also recognized Robert MacRae (Victoria), a founding member of the Clan MacRae Society who was unable to be present at the ceremony.
A reception following the unveiling event included a showing of the NFB documentary on John McCrae. Then, Clan MacRae were given a tour by the House of Commons Curator of the Memorial Chamber which holds the First Book of Remembrance within which are inscribed the names of the 66,655 individuals who lost their lives in the First World War. The book was open to the page that bears the name of Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae. Finally, Clan MacRae members were directed to the Speakers Gallery in the House of Commons where the centenary of In Flanders Fields and the Clan’s presence was publicly acknowledged by the Deputy Speaker during proceedings.
Presenters included Erin O’Toole Minister of Veterans Affairs, Shelly Glover Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, Susan Margles Chairperson of the National Film Board of Canada, Sandra Hanington President and CEO of the Royal Canadian Mint. – Cynthia MacRae, member of Clan MacRae Society of Canada since 2003
Note: The documentary John McCrae’s War – In Flanders Fields can be watched online or a DVD purchased via the NFB website https://www.nfb.ca/film/john_mccraes_war
2) In Flanders Fields Centenary, Peace Tower, Ottawa.
Under a glorious, sunny blue sky, on Sunday 3 May 2015, at precisely noon, members of the Clan MacRae Society of Canada, the Gracious Lady of Eileen Donan Castle and Matriarch of MacRaes worldwide, Marigold MacRae, accompanied by her daughter the Baroness Miranda, and Owen C. MacRae, the Society’s President, assembled on the steps at the foot of the Peace Tower, Ottawa to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the writing of the poem In Flanders Fields by Lt. Col. John McCrae, and to remember and honour those MacRaes who had served the Cause of Peace.
To honour the auspicious occasion, the Meditation on the poetry of John McCrae, Red, White, and Sorrow, composed by Matthew Larkin (Director of Music at Ottawa’s Christ Church Cathedral) and commissioned by the Clan MacRae Society of Canada, was accorded its World Premiere by Dr. Andrea McCrady who played the Red, White, and Sorrow on the Peace Tower Carillon.
Mr. Matthew Larkin had noted in his remarks at the Clan Dinner, the previous evening: “the Carillon of the Peace Tower is the voice of the nation; the complement of its 53 bronze bells, inaugurated on the 1st of July 1927, are used in a manner that represents a musical lament to illustrate the sacrifice of so many combatants, while at the same time expressing the sorrow felt by those who loved them. The musical treatment remains constant throughout Red, White, and Sorrow. The intention is to project an image of timelessness, where the sacrifices of the fallen remain ever-present through the seasons and the passing years.” For everyone present, hearing the Meditation played for the first time was a deeply moving experience.
As part of the program, the Roll of MacRaes who had served the cause of Peace was read by Owen MacRae, Dr. Emerson MacRae, Charles MacRae and Linda MacRae. Master Angus MacRae played a selection of Scottish Aires on the bag-pipes which opened and closed the gathering of Clan MacRae Society of Canada at the Peace Tower Ceremony. – Dr. Allan MacRae, member of Clan MacRae Society of Canada since 2009
3) McCrae Sculpture Unveiling – Ottawa
Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae (1872-1918) was a gunner, a physician and teacher in peacetime, a medical officer in war, and a sometime poet, not infrequently published – a good, dedicated, dutiful, and perhaps otherwise conventional man. That this Canadian from Guelph Ontario is still remembered, and widely celebrated, nearly a hundred years after he died in France months before the end of the Great War is due entirely to this poem.
Drafted in the early days of the Second Battle of Ypres, on May 3rd, 1915, it was a reflection upon the death of McCrae’s good friend Alexis Helmer – obliterated by a German shell just hours before – and upon the deaths of other young men like him.
It’s a well-crafted poem, its lines a thoughtful, pulsing rondeau on sacrifice and death, and the persistence of life in the midst of death. After its publication in December 1915 in Punch, the poem became enormously popular, both in the trenches and among civilian Western Front populations, and it was immediately recruited in support of the war effort. Later, its imagery would cement the place of the red poppy – and the poem itself – as memes in the remembrance of the dead of the Great War and succeeding conflicts.
In fact, In Flanders Fields may even be the most readily recognized of Canadian literary works. Best known, though not always celebrated by academics, the poem’s lines are certainly familiar to millions of Canadians who grew up reading and memorizing them. However, what has been read into In Flanders Fields by some of those who turned the work to their own purposes remains an issue for others. Just over two years after it was written, renowned war poet Wilfrid Owen would pen his anti-war poem Dulce et Decorum Est. But for the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery and the Royal Canadian Medical Service on the afternoon of May 3, 2015, that was a debate for another day. Their gathering at Green Island marked both the 100th anniversary of the Second Battle of Ypres and the culmination of a more than four-year-long effort to establish a lasting Ottawa memorial to fellow soldier and surgeon John McCrae. This would therefore be an occasion for remembrance, and the honouring of the war dead.
By shortly before two o’clock, hundreds had assembled on the grass on the west side of Sussex Drive opposite Ottawa’s Old City Hall where they were presented with messages from the Governor General and Commander-in-Chief the Right Honourable David Johnston, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the Ministers of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, Veterans Affairs, National Defence, the Chief of the Defence Staff and Colonel Commandants of the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery and the Royal Canadian Medical Service.
A parade comprising members of the armed forces and representatives from the 28 units awarded the Battle Honour “Ypres, 1915” – or their modern-day successors – had marched onto the field, accompanied by a contingent of Veterans, the RCA Band and The Army Voices, a ceremonial choir of Canadian servicemen and women.
There followed a general salute, the playing of the National Anthem, the firing of cannon, and an inspection by Minister of Employment and Social Development Pierre Poilievre. A Remembrance Ceremony ensued, with readings, prayers, the Last Post, and after a two-minute silence, the Rouse and a piped Lament.
And then the sculpture was unveiled – next to the National Artillery Memorial and surrounded by live poppies – a larger than life bronze of John McCrae seated amid the destruction of war near the city of Ypres, penning a draft of his famous poem. Sculptor Ruth Abernethy has even included the poem itself in her work.
The choir sang a medley of popular First World War tunes, the assembly was dismissed and the military personnel marched off the parade ground. Immediately the large crowd began to drift across the grass to the edge of the field where John McCrae’s image now rests. Along with Bill MacRae, Larry T. McRae Editor Sgurr Uaran Clan MacRae Society of North America Newsletter, and Owen MacRae President Clan MacRae Society of Canada.
It was a warm sunny afternoon. On such days in Belgium, France and England, the male Asian Skylark hovers 50 to 100 metres above open farmland and heath. Though the bird is a rather dull looking species on the ground, and may appear as no more than a dot in the sky, its call at such heights is said to be the very voice of spring, and the bird has been celebrated by many writers over hundreds of years. Indeed, so remarkable is its song that the collective noun for the skylark is an ‘exaltation.’
Yet who knows precisely of what the skylark sings. And who can say for certain what McCrae was invoking in the call at the close of his remarkable poem. H.G. Wells, widely regarded as the father of science fiction, was also an essayist, and by the spring of 1915, his book The War That Will End War had been on bookshelves for over a year. The idea that the Great War might at last put an end to conflict was already a popular one. Perhaps by the time John McCrae came to reflect on the wages of battle, that was his hope, too. Perhaps ‘the foe’ of In Flanders Fields is really war itself. – Charles MacRae, member of Clan MacRae Society since 2006
4) McCrae Sculpture Unveiling – Guelph
Coinciding with the statue of Lt. Col. John McCrae that was unveiled in Ottawa on May 3, 2015, a similar unveiling of a duplicate statue took place at the Guelph Civic Museum in Guelph, Ontario on June 25, 2015. The public ceremony was attended by hundreds of local residents, families, friends, as well as a number of local and military dignitaries. The citizens of Guelph formed a funding committee to ensure a duplicate statue could be placed in the birth place of John McCrae. The target objective of $300,000 was raised, due to the many generous and enthusiastic donations made in large part by local citizens and businesses; and, the goal was reached well in advance of the June 2015 unveiling of the statue. Special thanks go to Rotary Club of Guelph Charitable Foundation. The location chosen is the highest spot in Guelph which overlooks McCrae’s beloved city.
The statue was unveiled by His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, and Mayor of Guelph, Cam Guthrie, commemorating the 100th anniversary of McCrae’s poem In Flanders Fields. Students from John McCrae Public School recited his famous poem in both French and English.
The committee was headed by Honorary Chairman, Dr. William Winegard, a prominent long time citizen of Guelph.“Anyone who thinks about a military statue immediately thinks of someone in uniform and we didn’t want that,” said former Guelph MP and Second World War veteran Dr. Winegard. “The poem is what matters. It’s talking about people and life and the things John McCrae stood for, so it just seemed right somehow.”
The statue, created by Canadian sculptor Ruth Abernethy and commissioned by The Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery, depicts a thoughtful McCrae leaning against a fallen tree, writing his famous poem in a notebook. – Fay McCrea, member of Clan MacRae Society since 2012