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November 11 - Remembering Flanders Fields in Belgium

Text and photography by Evelyn Hannon

When I was in grade school, all students were required to memorize the poem, 'In Flanders Fields' by John McCrae. At that time in the Fifties, to us youngsters they were simply words and we associated them only with the pretty 'scarlet poppies' that people wore on Remembrance Day.

John McCrae was the Brigade Surgeon of the 1st Canadian Field Artillery.


In high school we were taught about The Great War (WW1) of 1914 - 1918. We learned the facts and memorized the dates for our exams but that was as far as the learning went. We were teenagers and not interested in knowing more.

Then in 2014, in commemoration of the Great War Centenary, I was invited to Flanders, Belgium to actually see Flanders Fields, the poppies, and thousands of soldiers graves as far as the eye could see. Now, with a heavy heart I understood the enormity of the senseless suffering and loss.


   

600,000 died in the First World War in Belgium
550,000 fell in West Flanders
At least 300,000 are buried there.
At least 200,000 are missing there.
More than one and a half million were injured.
50 nationalities and cultures were involved in this war.
Boys as young as 15 lied about their age, enlisted and became fodder for the cannons. The unidentified dead had only the words 'Known Un To God' etched on to their grave stones.


Tyne Cot Museum (located nine km from the center of Ieper) is the largest Commonwealth War Graves cemetery in the world. It is also the most important reminder of the Battle of Passchendaele, 1917. All soldiers who died of their injuries were buried on this spot. Later other Commonwealth dead were brought here to be beside their fallen brethren. The rear wall of this enormous cemetery is a poignant memorial to the thousands of missing. Website: www.passchendaele.be/eng/TynecotEN.html


Everywhere we traveled there were the scarlet poppies as reminders. Some actually alive and growing on their own.


Some poppies were created by European school children who came to Flanders to be involved in a living history lesson.

 

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