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Museum group holds memorial, lays wreaths on John McCrae's grave in France

The memorial was part of the 'In the Footsteps of John McCrae' tour, organized by Guelph Museums
Wreaths from the city of Guelph, MP Lloyd Longfield, Veteran's Affairs Canada, St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, the Guelph Legion, Remembrance Lodge and Guelph Museums are laid on the grave of Lt. Col. John McCrae on Wednesday. Photo courtesy Tammy Adkin

An overseas trip to memorialize Lt.-Col. John McCrae after the one-hundredth anniversary of his death has been a memorable one, says the manager of Guelph Museums.

A group of about 30 Canadians is currently on a tour of France in honour of the centenary of McCrae’s death and following in the footsteps of the doctor, soldier and poet.

On Wednesday, the group laid a wreath on the grave of McCrae at Wimereux Communal Cemetery in France.

“It was a really moving experience and an opportunity to —100 years later — remember the significance of John McCrae to his community, his family, to Canada and, in fact, to the world,” said Tammy Adkin, manager of Guelph Museums — which includes McCrae House in Guelph.

Adkin and the group are still overseas. She was reached Thursday by telephone.

The wreath was made up of hand-written messages written over the last four months at McCrae House.

About 30 additional people joined the group for the memorial — including local dignitaries and members of the Royal British Legion.

Born in Guelph, McCrae is best known for penning the seminal poem In Flanders Fields while serving in France during World War I.

It was surprising to some on the trip how revered McCrae is worldwide, said Adkin.

The Canadian tour group includes people of all ages, including Adkin’s 17-year-old son. The similarity of her son’s age and that of many of the soldiers buried in the many World War I graveyards was not lost on Adkin.

She can’t help but wonder what the world would have been like if those men and women not had to fight and die on those battlefields a century ago.

“I guess what I have been thinking about — travelling with my son — it’s heightened that, the loss of potential when you look around and see all of those headstones,” said Adkin.

The ‘In the Footsteps of John McCrae’ tour has been exploring a number of sites, including battlefields, a number of cemeteries and the memorial at Vimy Ridge. 

Adkin said she was not prepared for her reaction to the monument at Vimy Ridge, with craters and trenches preserved nearby.

“You look around you and see the impact. All of these years later — that war had due to the trenching and the craters and so on, said Adkin. “Then you see this magnificent monument in the distance and then you see the names of thousands of soldiers — boys and other sons that were lost and never found. It was extraordinary.”

In January, Guelph Museums celebrated the one-hundredth anniversary on the actual date of McCrae’s death. Adkin said for a number of reasons, including weather, the tour was planned for May.

About five Canadians on the tour made the trip because they have a direct family connection to war dead from World War I.

“Today we are visiting graves of great uncles that never met their nieces and nephews, and yet the tears flow pretty freely. I think that’s an indication that the loss is still felt, even generations after,”


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Kenneth Armstrong

About the Author: Kenneth Armstrong

Kenneth Armstrong is a news reporter and photojournalist who regularly covers municipal government, business and politics and photographs events, sports and features.
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