John McCrae in Flanders Fields
Stephen Robinson and Tracie Seedhouse Robinson Heritage Consulting and the Guelph Museums

John McCrae is a doctor, military officer and amateur poet whose poem In Flanders Fields would become one of the most widely known of the First World War. When we examine each of McCrae's six medals and the events that led to their issue, we begin to appreciate the great achievements of this Canadian during world conflict in the early 20th century.

John McCrae's Scottish Presbyterian upbringing in Guelph, Ontario, as well as his father's influence, give him a strong sense of pride in military service. The Boer War is McCrae's first combat experience and also Canada's first effort in international military action. All those serving in the Boer War are issued the Queen's South Africa Medal, with bars indicating areas of service. Many also receive the Welcome Home Medallion from the City of Toronto.

After returning from Africa, John McCrae continues his studies in medicine, and becomes a compelling, popular lecturer and a member of the American and British College of Physicians and Surgeons. His burgeoning career is interrupted by the gathering storm of the First World War. Trench warfare and German gas attacks during the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915 constitute some of the most harrowing experiences for all those serving in France and Belgium. The constant fight to prolong the lives of those around him and the violent death of a close friend inspire McCrae to pen his famous poem. After these events, John McCrae begins to deal with the strain of war by often retreating to the companionship of his horse, Bonfire, and his dog, Bonneau. McCrae dies in 1918 of pneumonia and meningitis. He will never know the outcome of the war.

Most WWI veterans (or surviving family members) receive the British War Medal and the Allied Victory Medal, and those who served from August, 1914 to December 31, 1915, receive the 1914-1915 Star. After the War, McCrae's parents are issued his WWI medals as well as the Memorial Medallion. All six of them disappear, however, until they are purchased at auction in 1997 by a Canadian businessman, who immediately donates them to the McCrae House Museum in Guelph, Ontario.