Canada’s National Identity: History And A Poem

1827 words - 7 pages

Prior to World War I, Canada as a nation had an identity crisis. A key factor in Canada’s pursuit of an identity are the countries that have influenced it.Through the influences that other countries have had upon the nation of Canada, Canada has been able to create a unique identity. The nation was created without one, but it was able to create a unique nation that in turn, went on to influence those who’s influences it drew from originally. Canada’s national identity is attributed to our role in World War I. Due to our British and French Heritage, there was a conflict of interest concerning the nation’s expectations. In the 1920’s, Canada achieved independence from Britain, as seen in the Statute of Westminster in 1931. Even though Canada remains part of the Commonwealth, its independence was starting to be recognized globally, through foreign and economic relations with non-commonwealth countries. When Britain declared war on Germany in 1914, Canada was automatically enlisted in the war as well. Within three week, 45,000 Canadians had been enlisted, and John McCrae was one of them.1 McCrae was a Canadian physician and soldier. On Sunday May 2nd, 1915, Lieutenant John McCrae scribbled a rough poem on the battlefield of Flanders, France. The day before, his closest friend, Alexis Herlmer of Ottawa had been killed by a shell. McCrae performed the ceremony for his friend the night of his death. As the battle of Flanders continued on, wild poppies began blooming between the marked crosses that marked the various makeshift graves.2
As a physician and a solider, John McCrae insisted in sleeping in tents like the regular soldiers did, rather than in officers’ huts. His health began to decline to pneumonia. Through living through the combat and the healing process, this allowed McCrae to comment upon what occurred in Flanders. His poems tended to revolve around central themes, such as the presence and surpassing beauty of death. The glorification of death in a time of war was not solely a patriotic gesture. It was a way to show the world what had occurred, and the true result of war: death. This poem came to be one of the most known poems in English speaking nations. The poem went on to be a symbolic cultural text of reverence for Canada’s war dead. Arguably, In Flanders Fields aims to answer one main question: Is the expenditure worth it?
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.

In Flanders Fields begins with the symbolism of the poppy, and the first verse is one of the most quoted verses. McCrae’s use of the word ‘our’ to reference the dead, and the soon to be dead. John McCrae’s background as a soldier and a physician makes the use of this word more personal, for he has lived and seen both sides of the battle: as a soldier fighting for his nation, and a physician to aid the wounded soldiers. The...

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