In Flanders Fields
As terrible (and oftentimes pointless) as most wars are, there have been many occasions in history when freedom, sovereignty and social justice could only be preserved by taking decisive action against aggressive despots, dictators, warlords and other invaders. Many, like Robert James Stobo, made the supreme sacrifice.
I'll be linking to stories of wartime service on this page and I'd like to hear yours. Please email your story to me at the email address on our Contacts page.
World History students are invited to participate in a World History Essay Competition.
One theme that students could follow in their essay is the evolution of the value system of John McCrae, a distant relative of the McCowans of Scarborough. To get started, please refer to these pages:
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In Flanders Fields
Ashley McCowan worked hard in Scarboroughs fields. Farmers were needed on the home front to keep the war-effort support economy going, so he was initially exempted from war service. The letters of his older sister, Ruth, afford us glimpses of the daily and not-so-daily routine on the McCowan farm during the war years. Here are a few extracts from Neigh the Front--Exploring Scarboro Heights.
Evidently aware of other McCowans in Canada, and known to be keen about the family background, perhaps Ruth knew that the McCowans of Banff were no relation. These McCowans had immigrated from Perthshire, Scotland, whereas Ruths great grandfather, James McCowan, had been born in New Cumnock, Ayrshire. The list of casualties several months earlier had indeed included one of her distant McCowan cousins. Did Ruth know that Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae of Guelph, the famous author of "In Flanders Fields", was descended from the McCowans of Cumnock, as was she? Perhaps...
John McCrae was born in Guelph, Ontario, on November 30 1872. His great-great-great grandparents were John McCrae, 1749-1827, and Jean McCowan, possibly daughter (born 1749) of David McCowan, wright in Ochiltree. This godly couple were strong supporters of the early dissenters in the Church -- they frequently opened their New Cumnock home to the preachers of the secession. Their grandson, David McCrae, 1800-1878, came to Guelph in 1849 with his eldest son, Thomas. Born in 1820, Thomas became one of Guelphs leading industrialists and businessmen -- in lumbering, woollen works and beef exports. At one point his mills employed 300 local people. Thomas son, David, later managed the firm, McCrae and Company. David and his wife, Janet Eckford, had three children -- the famous poet, John, being the second son. The values of John McCrae were partly shaped by the impact of the Lowland Clearances on his ancestors.
John McCrae was educated at Guelph Collegiate and the University of Toronto where he received his B.A. in 1894. He was later appointed a Fellow in Pathology at McGill University and wrote several medical texts as well as short stories. This physician and author was also a militarist, commanding a section of the Royal Canadian Artillery during the Boer War, 1900-1901.
Shortly after war was declared in 1914, McCrae enlisted as a surgeon in the Canadian Field Artillery. He was inspired to write "In Flanders Fields" on May 3 1915 after performing the funeral service of a friend.
In January 1918, while second in command of medical services at Number 3 General Hospital in Boulogne, McCrae contracted pneumonia. He died on January 28 1918.
Quoted at hundreds of Remembrance Day services the world over every November 11 at the eleventh hour, "In Flanders Fields" is undeniably the most well-known literary work about war.
In Flanders Fields
In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Take up our quarrel with the foe: