27th September 2017
To mark National Poetry Day on 28 September 2017 we would like to draw your attention to the poem that saw the poppy established as an international symbol of remembrance.
Canadian medical officer John McCrae’s In Flanders Fields originally published in Punch magazine on 8 December 1915, was the inspiration for the poppy, the flower most associated with the First World War, becoming widely recognised as a token of respect for those who have given their lives in conflict.
Described as the most popular poem of its era it was often used for propaganda purposes but has since become synonymous with sacrifice and its reading is now an integral part of most remembrance services.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
McCrae is one of many poets whose work vividly illustrated their experiences of the Great War. Scotland also had its share of poets who contributed to the literature of 1914-18.
Dundonian Joseph Johnson ‘Joe’ Lee worked as a journalist on the People’s Journal and the Dundee Advertiser. When war broke out he joined the 4th ‘City of Dundee’ Battalion, The Black Watch. While less well-known than McCrae, Lee produced a large number of poems and sketches that illustrate his war service.
Joe Lee sketch of a Corporal in the 69th Punjabis
One poem, Tik, Johnnie! published in 1917, was shaped by his interaction with Indian soldiers on the Western Front.
Allah Dad and Hira Singh,
You and I fought for the King!
Hajal Moka, Suba Khan,
You stood with us, man to man –
When we were tottering to our knees
Beneath a barbed cheval-de-frise,
And struggling through the muddy miles,
You’d meet us with a face all smiles
And – Tik, Johnnie!
When we were crouching in the trench,
And choking in the smoke and stench,
The bullets falling like a flail,
You’d pass us with a friendly hail –
And when, on stretchers dripping red,
You bore the dying and the dead,
With pity in your wistful eye,
Your greeting seemed half sob, half sigh –
I’ve seen you leaning on a wall,
Your head smashed by a rifle ball;
You’ve smiled and raised a hand and cried
Then turned upon your side and died.
May Allah, when you go above,
Grant you the heaven you would love;
And if our straying footsteps meet
Then free and friendly-like we’ll greet –
Take the opportunity to discover more poetry inspired by the Great War and subsequent conflicts. Several of Poppyscotland’s learning resources are focused on war poetry and provide materials for various levels.
You can find more information on National Poetry Day by cicking on the following link –
For more information on the history of the poppy, remembrance and Poppyscotland download ‘The Scottish Poppy Appeal’ from our learning materials for a comprehensive overview.