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In the Galleries: Frank Nicolet Lucien poster pays homage to poem “In Flanders Fields”

By Gabrielle Inhofe

In the spring of 1915, John McCrae, a young Canadian surgeon, conducted a burial service for a friend, killed by German artillery during the Second Battle of Ypres, in the First World War. Inspired by the friend’s death, McCrae composed a poem, which he discarded, believing it to be no good. An officer retrieved it and convinced McCrae to keep working on it. The poem was published in December of that year.


The poem, “In Flanders Fields,” is an important work in the literature surrounding the First World War. Written in 1915, it did not describe the horrors and brutality of the conflict in the way authors such as Erich Maria Remarque would after the war ended. Rather, “In Flanders Fields” invokes a Romantic vision of the Great War, with its images of soaring larks and blowing poppies. These poppies have become emblematic of those who died during the war.


In the Harry Ransom Center’s exhibition The World at War, 1914-1918, a 1918 propaganda poster by Frank Nicolet Lucien features a Canadian soldier mourning the dead amid a field of the iconic poppies. One of the poster’s aims is to coerce civilians into buying war bonds. It entreats the viewer, “If ye break faith—we shall not sleep,” a reference to the last stanza of McCrae’s poem.


In the poem, the line is delivered by dead soldiers who ask that the living continue the fight so that the sacrifices of the fallen will not be in vain.


The World at War, 1914-1918 is on view through August 3.


Image: Frank Nicolet Lucien “In Flanders Fields” poster, 1918.


Mrs. Menin

John McCrae was not a youth in 1915, he was a middle \-aged veteran of the turn of the century South Africa/Boer campaign, who volunteered for the Canadian Expeditionary Force upon outbreak of the European war in summer 1914. The scene he paints in the first stanza is of nature in comparison with the manmade chaos below – the Guns almost overwhelming birdsong. Hardly a romantic scene for our troops at Ypres death all around and even the first enemy gassing.
As one who was a civilian in the next war -such advertisements for Victory Bonds were appeals to families back home to dig deep for money to support our menfolk fighting overseas and were met with great
enthusiasm. These worked as savings plans, even children buying saving stamps redeemable upon the return of peace.
Surely the US at home stepped up to plate when America joined the allies in spring 1917 and did the same for their doughboys ?
The article is right – the point of the poem was to continue to fight, to make the sacrifice of the Fallen count. In some readings later in the war it is just considered to be telling people to pin a poppy on their bosoms !

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