John McCrae served in the artillery during the Boer War. He was a lifelong soldier, Ontario’s best cadet at age 14, and a bugler in his father’s artillery unit at 15. By 18 he was a gunner, and 19, a sergeant. At the same time, he won numerous academic awards and was attending U of T studying medicine. He also dabbled in poetry and art; both lifetime hobbies. In 1900 he went to South Africa in command of the right section of D Battery (two 12-pound guns) – the Guelph artillery regiment.
The left section was commanded by Lt. “Dinky” Morrison who later commanded Canada’s artillery in WWI. McCrae saw considerable action in South Africa and was considered the unit’s most popular officer; he had the common touch.
McCrae returned to Canada in 1901 and for the next decade he focused on his medical career. The man was a leader in teaching, innovating, and doctoring. Once the First World War started he was one of the first doctors to enlist. In the spring of 1915 he was helping soldiers in Flanders while operating inside a bunker at Essex farm. It was there that he stepped outside for a much-needed break, saw the poppies and crosses, took out his pencil, and wrote.
To learn about McCrae’s life, check out Veterans Affairs.
Main photo: John McCrae and In Flanders Fields postage stamp (Credit: CanadianPostageStamps.ca)