150 Years Since the Birth of John McCrae

November 16, 2022 | Katherine McG

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Traditionally, November is a time for remembering. On November 11th, Canadians observe Remembrance Day and pause to think about the sacrifices of war and the fight for freedom. And on November 30th, we can stop once again to remember, for on this day, 150 years ago, the man who wrote perhaps the world's most famous words of remembrance was born. 

Sepia poster of In Flanders' Fields by John McCrae. Text of poem on the right. Ink drawing of red poppies on the left, crosses and trees in the background.
In Flanders' Fields, 1918. View on Digital Archive

John McCrae was born in Guelph, Ontario on November 30th, 1872. In his lifetime he was a farm boy, a student, a doctor, a soldier, and a writer. It is the combination of those last two roles that earned him a place in history.

During World War I, John McCrae served with the Canadian army as a medical officer. In May of 1915, as the Second Battle of Ypres was being fought, Lieutenant Colonel McCrae wrote a poem while mourning the death of his friend, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer. And though there is some debate about the specifics of where the poem was written, it is quite clear where the poem takes place - in Flanders Fields. 

With this poem, with these words of John McCrae, the world was gifted a powerful way to reflect on both the horror and honour of war. And it is his powerful words that are still read, in Canada and around the world, every Remembrance Day. 

Learning More About John McCrae and In Flanders Fields

Help kids understand the importance of remembering with the work of this famous Canadian. John McCrae's name is often mentioned in books about both Remembrance Day and World War I. There are also some wonderful books that focus on his life and words, as well as the poppy, the symbol of remembrance that was, in part, inspired by his poem.

Remembering John McCrae

Remembering John McCrae: Soldier, Doctor, Poet by Linda Granfield


In Flanders Fields the story of the poem by John McCrae

In Flanders Fields: The Story of the Poem by John McCrae by Linda Granfield; illustrated by Janet Wilson


A Poppy is to Remember

A Poppy is to Remember by Heather Patterson; illustrated by Ron Lightburn


In Flanders Fields and Other Poems

In Flanders Fields and Other Poems by John McCrae


Other educational resources


In recognizing the 150th anniversary of the birth of John McCrae, we are able to not only learn more about a famous Canadian but are also able to honour and remember the man behind some very well-known words of remembrance.