Visiting Lt. John McCrae’s Field Hospital Bunker Outside Ypres

October 29, 2017. Lt. John McCrae (November 30, 1872 – January 28, 1918) is famous as the author of the poem we recite every Remembrance Day, “In Flanders Fields”.  So it was an honour to visit the place where he wrote the poem and have a look at the horrendous conditions in which, as a military surgeon, he had to work in his field hospital bunker (dressing station).

The Canadian government has a memorial to John McCrae that features “In Flanders Fields” at the site of this field hospital bunker located beside the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Essex Farm Cemetery. The Belgian government calls this site the “John McCrae Memorial Site”.

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John McCrae Memorial with the poem “In Flanders Fields” in his handwriting at the far right. (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)

During the Second Battle of Ypres, fought from 22 April – 25 May 1915 for control of Ypres, McCrae treated the wounded from a hastily dug, 8 foot by 8 foot bunker dug in the back of the dyke along the Yser Canal in Boezinge, about 2 miles north of Ypres.

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Pieter at the entrance to the field bunker hospital where Lt. John McCrae worked as a military surgeon during the Second Battle of Ypres. Note that it was built into the dyke. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

After his friend, Lt. Alexis Helmer, was killed in the battle, legend has it that McCrae wrote the poem, “In Flanders Fields”, on May 3, 1915 as he sat upon the back of a medical field ambulance near this bunker at Essex Farm.

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The poem “In Flanders Fields” in his handwriting on the John McCrae Memorial. (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)

In June 1915, McCrae was sent to set up No. 3 Canadian General Hospital at Dannes-Camiers near Boulogne-sur-Mer in northern France.  It was there that he died of pneumonia on January 28, 1918.  We wonder if he was aware that over a hundred years after he wrote the poem, the poppy and his poem remain a symbol of remembrance to the fallen.

We were deeply touched by the visit to the field hospital bunker, and weren’t surprised in the least when it started to rain.  It seemed as though rain was part of the memorial.  No one from the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion was buried at Essex Farm Cemetery, so we went on to Cement House Cemetery, which will feature in the next blog entry.

Have you been to the John McCrae Memorial Site?  Comments or stories?  You can share them by emailing us at or by commenting on this blog.

© Daria Valkenburg


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