Tuesday, 4 November 2008

My 3rd Favorite Holiday

My 3rd favorite holiday is coming up...

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.

That's a poem that probably every Canadian child has memorized at one point or another in their lives. It's written by Lieutenant Colonel John McRae, MD (1872-1918) of the Canadian Army. Here's a little history I found that I thought would be great to share...

I took this from a site (believe it or not) dedicated to the U.S. Arlington National Cemetery. It seems Lieutenant Colonel McRae's poem has touched hearts the world over...

McCrae's "In Flanders Fields" remains to this day one of the most memorable war poems ever written. It is a lasting legacy of the terrible battle in the Ypres salient in the spring of 1915. Here is the story of the making of that poem:

Although he had been a doctor for years and had served in the South African War, it was impossible to get used to the suffering, the screams, and the blood here, and Major John McCrae had seen and heard enough in his dressing station to last him a lifetime.

As a surgeon attached to the 1st Field Artillery Brigade, Major McCrae, who had joined the McGill faculty in 1900 after graduating from the University of Toronto, had spent seventeen days treating injured men -- Canadians, British, Indians, French, and Germans -- in the Ypres salient.

It had been an ordeal that he had hardly thought possible. McCrae later wrote of it:

"I wish I could embody on paper some of the varied sensations of that seventeen days... Seventeen days of Hades! At the end of the first day if anyone had told us we had to spend seventeen days there, we would have folded our hands and said it could not have been done."

One death particularly affected McCrae. A young friend and former student, Lieut. Alexis Helmer of Ottawa, had been killed by a shell burst on 2 May 1915. Lieutenant Helmer was buried later that day in the little cemetery outside McCrae's dressing station, and McCrae had performed the funeral ceremony in the absence of the chaplain.

The next day, sitting on the back of an ambulance parked near the dressing station beside the Canal de l'Yser, just a few hundred yards north of Ypres, McCrae vented his anguish by composing a poem. The major was no stranger to writing, having authored several medical texts besides dabbling in poetry.

In the nearby cemetery, McCrae could see the wild poppies that sprang up in the ditches in that part of Europe, 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 we wrote," Allinson recalled. "He looked around from time to time, his eyes straying to 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. Allinson was moved by what he read:

"The poem was exactly 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."

In fact, it was very nearly not published. Dissatisfied with it, McCrae tossed the poem away, but a fellow officer retrieved it and sent it to newspapers in England. The Spectator, in London, rejected it, but Punch published it on 8 December 1915.

People often think I like Remembrance day for the obvious reason - that someone very important was born that day. However, when I was growing up, never did a Remembrance Day pass where my Mother didn't make us turn on the TV to the CBC and watch the veterans light a flame at a grave and have a moment of silence. I guess it started to sink in after a few years. I don't think we take enough time to think about how our freedom came at a very high price. Many people have died to maintain our freedom in this country; and also the freedom of people around the world. Many brave Canadian soldiers have laid their lives on the line for those freedoms. I had a friend die just a few months (a month?) ago who was fighting to keep the Afghan people free from the clutches of the Taliban. Regardless of whether or not one believes we should or shouldn't be there - the Soldiers' motivation for fighting is pure. I support them.

I had a neighbour down the street when I was growing up - his name was Tom Spear. He was THE friendliest and most sincere man on the planet. He lived to be 103 years old!!! Pretty much up to his 100th year, the man could - seriously - be found shoveling his neighbours' walkway in the middle of winter in -40 degree Celsius weather. I'm not talking - just his immediate neighbours - I mean - all of them - down the street. He also drove a car and maintained his license all that time. When I was a little girl walking on my route to school, I could always see him in his garden working away with a smile, and he always said hello to me. He told me to call him "Mr. Happy Man" hahahahaha. So cute. He knew how to make people feel loved. He was a man who lived his principles. He was also a World War Veteran (1 and 2). For me - growing up down the street from Mr. Happy Man and knowing he was a veteran who had served his country - had an impact on me as a child, and it stuck with me. I know we are safe in this country because of men like Tom Spear.

Anyway, Remembrance Day is very important to me - as it should be to all of us. Take a moment of silence for those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms next Tuesday....

Also - totally unrelated - I made a list of my favorite Holidays - in order from Most favorite to least favorite - simply because I wanted to. For anyone else who's curious, here it is...

Remembrance Day
Dominion Day
St. Patrick's Day
Mother's Day
Father's Day
Grandparents' Day
Daylight Savings Time Ends (fall back)
Cinco de Mayo
New Year's Day
Boxing Day
Family Day
Victoria Day
Labour Day
Civic Holiday
Daylight Savings Time Begins (spring forward)
Valentine's Day

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