This Day in Guelph History: January 28, 1918
Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, Canadian Army Medical Corps
Born: November 30, 1872, Guelph Died: January 28, 1918, France
Written by Lindsay Woelfle
On a sheet of stationary with a reserved black border, a mother writes a mournful letter to her friend, enclosing a photograph of her late son Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae. Written ten months after John’s death on January 28, 2018, Janet McCrae’s four-page letter to Nona Gwyn explains the significance of the image and carries news on the rest of the family, including her husband David (referred to as Col. McCrae) and son Tom.
The snapshot shows John (or Jack, as he was called by friends and family) in a three-piece suit leaning casually against a sundial, looking relaxed and carefree. It was taken at the home of Charlotte and Carleton Noyes (a doctor friend) in Cambridge, Massachusetts in June 1914. John was on his way to Atlantic City to proof read the second edition of “A Textbook of Pathology for Students of Medicine.” It was only a month before the outbreak of the First World War and just a year before John would write his famous war poem “In Flanders Fields.” This is his last civilian photograph.
Janet received this picture from Charlotte Noyes, along with two others showing John with his friends and a letter from John himself, written to the Noyes while he was “waiting for their convoy – on the way to England.”
A renowned poet, doctor and soldier, John McCrae is remembered by the world for his words that captured life and death on the front lines of war. But he was also a bright, charming and charismatic “Jay Gatsby” type of man, a welcomed guest at any dinner party who never failed to tell a story or two. L.S. Amery, who along with McCrae was a member of Governor General Earl Grey’s 1910 canoe expedition from Lake Winnipeg to Hudson Bay, wrote that John was the “most loveable of men…As a story teller I have never met his equal, and every night in our mess tent or round the campfire he would pour out his anecdotes – and never repeat himself.”
At a time when the Great War was winding down and countless families were mourning the loss of their brothers, sons and fathers, the McCraes were no different. David and Janet lost a son and Tom and Geills, a brother. In her letter to Gwyn, Janet says “Col. McCrae is feeling better – and out again – but one’s frame of mind is very humble just now.” For this family, the loss of their beloved Jack was also felt by a nation.
Today, 100 years since his death, McCrae’s legacy still resonates — lest we forget.
Images – Top:The first page of Janet McCrae’s letter to Nona Gwyn, October 9, 1918. Bottom: John McCrae with sundial, June 1914