Written by: Catherine Sampson – Trillium Equine Complex
THE POPPY SYMBOL MADE FAMOUS BY DR. JOHN MCCRAE’S poem “In Flanders Fields” was written as he sat on the step of a horse drawn ambulance wagon after performing a burial service for his good friend and former student, 22 year old Alexis Helmer. Helmer died the previous day during the Second Battle of Ypres. Dr. McCrae, the Canadian soldier and surgeon whose love of animals and his dedication to medicine, evokes strong emotion from those words written so long ago on the battlefield while honouring the sacrifice of his fallen friend.
Dr. McCrae was born in Guelph, Ontario on November 30, 1872 and served in the Second Boer War in South Africa and subsequently World War I. His letters home to nieces and nephews were signed using his faithful mount’s hoof print and written in his horse’s name. Bonfire, the grand chestnut, carried him throughout the war; a gift to Dr. McCrae by his friend John Todd.
John McCrae died on January 28, 1918 from a combination of pneumonia and meningitis. His funeral was led by his steed Bonfire in the traditional manner of fallen mounted soldiers. Dr. McCrae’s boots were placed in the stirrups backwards.
So next time you place that poppy on your lapel, think of John McCrae whose poem inspired its symbol of remembrance worldwide.
*Of interest, read the story of Bonfire in the book “Bonfire – The Chestnut Gentleman” by Susan Raby-Dunne