On 6th December 1915 an anonymous poem, "In Flanders Fields," was published in Punch. Written by John McCrae, a Canadian medical officer during the second battle of Ypres, it became the best known poem of the First World War, its images becoming part of the collective memory of the war. Its influence is perpetuated in the Annual Festival of Remembrance [in the United States, Veterans Day on November 11] with its numerous poppies and the selling of poppies as a means of raising charitable funds for war disabled. . . .
As Paul Fussell has pointed out in The Great War and Modern Memory, it manages to accumulate the maximum number of established motifs and images, which it mixes in a mood of autumnal pastoralism. Each image accurately triggers off its expected emotional response. We have the red flowers of traditional pastoral elegy--which go back to Milton (and beyond); the crosses which suggest the idea of Calvary and sacrifice; the sky as seen from a trench; the larks singing in the midst of the horrors and terrors of man's greatest folly; the contrast between the song of the larks and the voice of the guns; the special significance of dawn and sunset with the anticipated echoes of Gray's Elegy; the conception of soldiers as lovers; and the antithesis drawn between beds and graves. The poem sails across the imagination laden with literary associations ransacked from the riches of the past.