98 years ago Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae wrote the poem, In Flanders Fields. McCrae was a surgeon with a Canadian artillery regiment in the First World War and a day earlier had buried a close friend on the battlefield near Ypres, Belgium. Poppy seeds lie dormant in the ground until the soil is disturbed by cultivation or some other cause. The soil at Ypres had been thoroughly disturbed by the digging of trenches and graves. As McCrae wrote, the area where his friend and many other soldiers lay buried was covered with red poppy flowers.
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.
Remembrance Day is 12 days away and many people will buy and wear poppy pins in respect for those who have died in war. The last verse of the poem speaks of taking up the quarrel with the foe. This militaristic sentiment might raise the question of whether a non-resistant Christian should wear a poppy.
I was four years old when I first saw my uncle Garry after the Second World War. The scar on his chin was very striking to a young lad; he had been struck by shrapnel and part of his chin blown away. When he was found and carried back to the hospital tent, they placed him on a board laid across two barrels and the wound was cleaned and sewn up without benefit of anaesthetic.
Uncle Norman was my mother’s youngest brother, born when she was 18. She claimed that she was the one who raised him; her mother was busy with all the other responsibilities of caring for her large family. I remember a day when I was nine years old and my father was waiting for me when I got out of school. On the way home, he told me that they had received the news that uncle Norman had been killed in Korea. A few weeks later my mother’s last letters to him were returned unopened.
Not many people who have been involved in war ever glory about what they have done. The memories are too painful. It is not too unusual to hear stories of children going through a trunk of their father’s effects after his death and finding medals and citations for bravery in battle. Dad had never mentioned them, he had been a hero in the war, but when the war was over he just wanted to forget what he had seen.
I have no desire to appear to be unmoved by the suffering of war. I will wear a poppy.