It’s been 100 years since John McCrae, a doctor and soldier born in Guelph, wrote In Flanders Fields. Inspired by the death of his comrade a day earlier, he is thought to have composed the piece in the back of an ambulance after a battle in Belgium. Though he initially discarded his work, another soldier found and published what would become one of Canada’s most iconic poems.
To celebrate the poem’s centennial, The Vimy Foundation, a charity dedicated to preserving Canada’s First World War history, called upon 100,000 Canadian children to recite it in the week leading up to Remembrance Day. “It’s the idea of passing on the torch of remembrance,” says Jeremy Diamond, executive director of the foundation. “It was written by a Canadian; it’s recited by Canadians, and it’s something we can call our own.”
So far, 95,000 students at 2,000 schools, in every province and territory, have pledged to recite In Flanders Fields. The Vimy Foundation, together with Ipsos Reid, recently found that 18 to 34-year-olds know the stanzas better than their seniors, as just 30 per cent of Canadians overall say they know the first verse. “It’s very encouraging that young people remember,” says Diamond, “and it’s very emotional for 90-year-old veterans to hear six and seven-year-olds reciting it.”
Maclean’s got on board with the project and asked children in Toronto to read the poem. Have a listen to these young bards as they recount a 100-year-old story of remembrance.