The tragedy of war commemorated in stained glass

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The three panes of a stained glass window in the Strathcona Building commemorate three McGill professors who lost their lives in the Great War. The jeweled plaques in the upper section of each pane symbolize their special interests. In the left pane is a plaque with a surgeon’s scissors, scalpel and bandages; in the middle pane a plaque with a quill and book, and in the right pane a microscope.

One hundred years ago, a McGill professor and physician wrote the poem that helped define World War One. The poem was In Flanders Fields, and its author, Dr. John McCrae, taught at McGill, and practiced at the Montreal General Hospital and Royal Victoria Hospital. When war came, McCrae joined the Canadian Army, becoming a Brigade Surgeon and Major in the Canadian Field Artillery. He wrote In Flanders Fields in May, 1915, just after the horrendous second battle of Ypres, in which he lost a close friend.

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Looking down at the commemorative window from the main staircase in the Strathcona Building.

Hospital behind front lines staffed by McGill professors, students and nurses
McCrae continued to serve throughout the war, dying of pneumonia in France in early 1918, while commanding No. 3 Canadian General Hospital (McGill) at Boulogne. The hospital — a 1040-bed unit behind the front lines — was staffed by McGill faculty members, medical students and nurses from  the Royal Victoria and Montreal General hospitals’ schools of nursing.

Today, the centre panel of a memorial stained glass window in the Strathcona Medical and Dental Building Building commemorates McCrae’s achievements. The panel shows a field of poppies and rows of crosses, a reference to his famous poem.

The left panel commemorates Lt. Col. R.P. Campbell,  a demonstrator  and lecturer in surgery at McGill who died of wounds in 1916. The window shows a portion of the Thiepval Front where he was killed. The right panel is dedicated to  Lt. Col. H.B. Yates, a McGill professor of Bacteriology. Yates was 47 years old when he enlisted, over the age limit for military duty. Despite this, he served in No. 3 Canadian General Hospital (McGill). His health broke down due to overwork, and he died of bronchitis in 1916. The panel depicts the town of Boulogne, where his military hospital was located.

World War One is now, for most people, a footnote in a history book. The stories of the McGill professors commemorated by the window are a poignant reminder of the terrible losses sustained in the conflict.

 

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An epitaph in stained glass for Dr. John McCrae, the author of In Flanders Fields, arguably the best known poem of World War One.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

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