A Crown of Life
The World of John McCrae

Dianne Graves

In Flanders fields the poppies blow,
Between the crosses row on row …

The words of the Canadian soldier–doctor–poet John McCrae are called to mind every year on 11 November, for it was his poem “In Flanders Fields,” written amid the suffering of the First World War, that inspired the adoption of the poppy as the symbol of remembrance.

Born in Canada in 1872, John ­McCrae studied medicine and served in the South African War before embarking on a career as a physician. Dianne Graves brings to life McCrae and his world in fascinating detail, setting her narrative against a background of half a century of history. She explores all facets of his life, among them his medical career and capacity for hard work; his love of travel; his popularity in the highest social circles, in Canada and London; his interest in poetry, art and literature; and the connections that led him to meet many notable personalities of his era – among them Rudyard Kipling, Sir William Osler, Roald Amundsen, Lord Northcliffe, Sir Alexander Fleming, Lord Strathcona and Stephen Leacock.

As the story of McCrae’s life unfolds, so do the events that led Europe to war in 1914 and to Dr. John McCrae volunteering for service with the Canadian Field Artillery and the Canadian Army Medical Corps. The years 1914–1918 are seen through McCrae’s eyes and those of his friends and colleagues who volunteered to fight “For King and Country.” The events leading up to the writing of “In Flanders Fields” during the Second Battle of Ypres in May 1915 are explored in detail.

Dianne Graves recounts the impact of John McCrae’s poem on four people who were instrumental in poppies being worn every year to honour the war dead of Britain, Canada, the United States and other Allied nations.

A Crown of Life: The World of John McCrae offers a richly detailed window on a remarkable life, a vanished age and the horrors of the “war to end all wars.”

About the author
A native of Kent, England, Dianne Graves studied languages before embarking on a public relations career in the fields of international education and travel. She began writing some sixteen years ago and is also the author of In the Midst of Alarms: The Untold Story of Women and the War of 1812 and Redcoats and River Pirates: Sam and Ellen’s Adventure at the Windmill, an historical novel for young readers set on the St. Lawrence River in the 1830s. Dianne Graves has acted as a consultant on a number of projects, including the CBC documentary series A People’s History of Canada, and has appeared in several documentary films, notably John McCrae’s War. She continues to research and write and lives in a 19th-century farmhouse in the scenic Mississippi River Valley of eastern Ontario with her husband, Canadian military historian Donald E. Graves. Click here to visit Dianne Graves's website for information on her professional activities and books.

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