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'In Flanders Fields' poet to be honoured with statues

'In Flanders Fields' poet to be honoured with statues

Daniel Bitonti (

In late April of 1915, John McCrae, an experienced Canadian soldier and surgeon, was deep in the trenches near Ypres, Belgium.

It was where some of the worst fighting of the First World War played out, with the Germans using deadly chlorine gas against the allied troops. Canadian forces continued to fight, and McCrae tended to hundreds of wounded soldiers.

In early May, one of McCrae’s closest friends was killed. And there, in a place known for its wild poppies -- flowers that were already blooming between the crosses that marked the graves of dead soldiers -- McCrae penned arguably the most famous Canadian poem about the horrors of war.

“In Flanders fields the poppies blow,/ Between the crosses, row on row,” he wrote.

In Flanders Fields is a poem certainly familiar to most Canadians. And a century after he wrote it, the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery is making plans to pay tribute to McCrae by constructing two statues of him.

“He'd actually originally discarded the poem because he wasn't happy with it,” McCrae’s great-great nephew, John McCrae Kilgour, told CTV’s John Vennavally-Rao on Monday. “But it was picked up by a fellow soldier and published.”

The poem was originally printed in the British magazine Punch in 1915, and quickly grew in popularity. For decades, the poem has been read every Nov. 11 at schools and ceremonies across the country.

The plan now is to construct two larger-than-life versions of McCrae, with one expected to remain in his hometown of Guelph, Ont., and the other to be unveiled in Ottawa.

While money still needs to be raised for the creation of the final statues, a scaled-down model by renowned sculptor Ruth Abernethy shows McRae sitting on a broken tree trunk amid the horrors of war, with his medical bag at his feet.

In 1918, McCrae died of pneumonia and meningitis. He was buried with full military honours in a cemetery not far from the fields in Flanders.

“We want to honour him and acknowledge what he did for all of us, every Canadian,” McCrae Kilgour said. “What he brought to Remembrance Day.”

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