Wednesday, April 22, 2009

In Flanders Fields

We visited Ypres (now Iper) in Belgium a few years ago when I was doing research on book 1 of The Muskoka Novels, The Summer Before The Storm, set during WW1. The first thing that struck me, besides the fact that the city had been beautifully restored from the rubble of war, was that John McCrae’s famous poem, “In Flanders Fields” was plastered everywhere about the town, even in our Novotel lobby. The WW1 museum, housed in the rebuilt Cloth Hall, is called “In Flanders Fields”. How surprised I was when I boasted to the owner of the English bookstore that I came from John McCrae’s hometown, only to have him casually reply, “Oh, you’re from Guelph, Ontario.”

I know that the small museum in Guelph honouring John McCrae regularly has visitors from Europe, so their respect for this famous doctor-poet is more than lip service for tourists.

The Belgians still pay homage to all the fallen. Every evening at sunset, the people of Iper commemorate those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the liberation of Belgium. A parade leads to the Menin Gate where 55,000 names of those Allied troops who have no known grave - nearly 7000 Canadians among them - are inscribed. The moving ceremony includes the playing of The Last Post. Aside from a few years during WW2, this has been taking place every evening since 1928! Would that we all gave even a modicum of this kind of tribute to the men who, as poet Rupert Brooke so aptly said, “poured out the red sweet wine of youth”.

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