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Ypres Salient Tour Descriptor Notes  Back to Tour Map

1. Essex Farm Cemetery:

It was here in 1915 that the events which inspired the famous poem “In Flanders fields the poppies blow” occurred, when a Canadian doctor, John McCrae, composed the lines on the 3rd May 1915, the day after he had buried one of his junior officers.
It was first published anonymously in December 1915 by Punch magazine when its emotions and uncomplicated syntax resulted in a poem that at that time captured the public mood. That mood, reflected in the final verse “...We throw the torch; be yours to hold it high” is the moral high ground felt by soldiers fighting to free Belgian from German occupation. In the early years of the war soldiers believed their involvement was just and McCrae demands from us not to “break faith with us who die” when soldiers were sacrificing themselves for such an honourable cause. The political reality for the Empire going to war was inevitably very different.

Subsequently – through the efforts of Moina Michael – an American who worked for the YMCA - the Poppy has become an international symbol and now represents an annual time to pause and reflect on the sheer human loss war brings. The then newly formed British Legion used the Poppy as a symbol for fund raising and the first Poppy Day was held on the 11th November 1921.

Today, where McCrae worked, you can view the Advance Dressing Station – built 1917 circa. - situated on the same spot where he cared for the wounded during the 2nd battle of Ypres. At the end of May 1915 he was moved to Boulogne-sur-Mer where McGill University established their own hospital.

McCrae died in January 1918 from pneumonia, probably exhausted and saddened by all the suffering he had seen as the horrendous casualties from the battles of the Somme, Arras, Vimy and Passchendaele were brought to him for treatment. He is buried in the CWGC communal cemetery at Wimereux.

Buried in Essex Farm cemetery is Valentine Joe Strudwick; a boy from Dorking in Surrey who at 15 years is one of the two youngest verifiable British casualties in WW1. The other is Robert Barnett, also 15 years, and is buried in Rifle House cemetery.

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