Tag Archives: Eastern Front

A Play To Remember

Last night I attended a performance of Eastern Front Theatre’s production of ‘Vimy’. Vimy was penned by critically-acclaimed playwright, Vern Thiessen. (FYI The Battle of Vimy Ridge -first wave: April 9, 1917- is considered the turning point of the Great war leading to the victory of the allied forces.  Four Divisions of Canadians fought at Vimy.  97,000 Canadians were assembled to prepare for the Battle of Vimy Ridge. 3598 Canadians died, and a total of 10,602 casualties.  Four Victoria Crosses were awarded to Canadian soldiers who fought at Vimy. One in three Canadian men fought in World war I. 3,100 Canadian women served as nurses in the Canadian Army Nurses Corp during WW I. 46 of them died.)

The special treat of the evening was the audience ‘chat’ after the performance with Mr. Thiessen and the cast. Also present was the niece of the woman who is dramatically portrayed as a character in the play ( Nova Scotian nurse at a WWW 1 field station in France). She brought along a hand-written diary belonging to her Great Aunt, and presented a page of it to Mr. Thiessen, but not before actor, Kate Lavender (played the role of Clare) emotionally read a poem which had been entered into the diary some 90 years before. Her great aunt had allegedly included this poem in her diary,  shortly after it had been  written and discarded by John McRea.

Canadians of my generation have a long history of reciting  in school and elsewhere, “In Flanders Fields”, the poem written in the field by Lt. Col. John McRea  during WW I.  The day before he wrote his famous poem, McRea’s friend had been killed in fighting and had been buried in a makeshift grave marked with a simple wooden cross. Wild poppies were already blooming.  He gave all the dead a voice in his poem. The poem eventually appeared in Punch Magazine in England in 1915.  It quickly came to symbolize the sacrifice of all those fighting in the First World War.  (the poppy became the flower of remembrance for Britain, Canada, The United States, France, and the Commonwealth countries)  This poem found its way into the Canadian identity as the singular most important reflection of Canadian military sacrifice. Here it is, because Remembrance Day is coming up, and no matter what we think about the morality of war, we can never remember enough…

In Flanders Fields, the poppies blow

between the crosses, row on row.

That mark our place; and in the sky,

the larks still bravely singing fly,

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead.

Short days ago, we lived, felt dawn,

saw sunset glow,

loved, and were loved,

and now we lie in Flanders Field.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw the torch,

be yours to hold it high,

If ye break faith with us who die,

we shall not sleep ,

though poppies grow in Flanders Fields.”

John McRea  (1872-1918 )You can visit McRea House in Guelph, Ontario.

John McRea is buried in Wimereaux France, just north of Boulogne near Flanders Fields. At his funeral, McRea’s horse, Bonfire, led the burial procession with McRea’s riding boots reversed in the stirrups.

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