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MUHC honours Montreal-based physician and poet who penned ‘In Flanders Fields’

MUHC patients, staff observe moment of silence on Remembrance Day
For the MUHC, Remembrance Day is a day to honor the service of former Royal Victoria and Montreal General staff members who went overseas during the First World War to build a state-of-the-art hospital in France. As Global's Anne Leclair reports, a Montreal-based physician penned the most iconic Remembrance Day poem.

Medical staff and patients at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) observed a moment of silence on Monday to honour former members of the hospital who served our country.

Hundreds of doctors and nurses from the Royal Victoria and Montreal General hospitals crossed the Atlantic ocean during the First World War, to build and operate No. 3 Canadian General Hospital, a state-of-the-art medical facility in France.

One former physician who both worked and died at the hospital was the Montreal-based pathologist who penned the iconic poem In Flanders Fields.

“This is a person (John McCrae) in which we can all take pride,” said Canadian orthopaedic surgeon and academic Dr. Richard Cruess. “He had one of his close friends killed in front of him shortly before he wrote In Flanders Fields.”

READ MORE: Quebecers mark Remembrance Day with ceremonies across province

A plaque honouring John McCrae sits outside the McConnell medical library at the MUHC’s Glen site.

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Patients and staff members lined the halls on Monday, as a Black Watch piper made his way down to the cafeteria to commemorate those who risked their lives to save countless others.

By the end of the war, what became known as the McGill hospital was recognized as one of the best medical units within the armies in France. It treated over 50,000 wounded civilians and soldiers, with over 11,000 surgeries with an infection rate of only one percent.

“The quality of care in that hospital was clearly extraordinary, under unbelievably incredible circumstances, they were being bombed and shot at,” said Dr. Cruess, who is also a Korean War veteran.

Plaque commemorating John McCrae at the MUHC in Montreal.
Plaque commemorating John McCrae at the MUHC in Montreal.
A copy of John McCrae's poem 'In Flanders Fields' at the MUHC in Montreal.
A copy of John McCrae's poem 'In Flanders Fields' at the MUHC in Montreal.
Dr. Maurice McGregor attends MUHC Remembrance Day ceremony on Monday, Nov. 11, 2019.
Dr. Maurice McGregor attends MUHC Remembrance Day ceremony on Monday, Nov. 11, 2019.
Dr. Richard Cruess speaks during a Remembrance Day ceremony at the MUHC on Monday, Nov. 11, 2019.
Dr. Richard Cruess speaks during a Remembrance Day ceremony at the MUHC on Monday, Nov. 11, 2019.
Staff attend Remembrance Day ceremony at the MUHC on Monday, Nov. 11, 2019.
Staff attend Remembrance Day ceremony at the MUHC on Monday, Nov. 11, 2019.

Another former MUHC staff member who served in the Second World War was on hand for the ceremony. Dr. Maurice McGregor served as a doctor to a spitfire squadron before transferring to an infantry regiment. He spent more than three years overseas and was deeply moved by the many people who showed up to pay tribute.

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“I feel at home with these guys, so I’m glad they turned up,” said Dr. McGregor, who at 99 years of age, still sits on the hospital’s Technology Assessment Committee.

READ MORE: MUHC accepting ER patients after it resolves computer systems failure

Dr. Richard Cruess no longer works as a physician at the MUHC but the former Dean of Medicine still teaches full-time at McGill University at the age of 89. He believes the greatest gift from the older generation of doctors, was their strong sense of service.

“They weren’t drafted,” he said. “Those were all volunteers, conscription came much later in Canada.”

John McCrae died of meningitis and pneumonia shortly after writing In Flanders Fields, a work of art that will forever be remembered at home in Montreal and around the world.