The now iconic Remembrance Day poem In Flanders Fields may never have been published if a Nova Scotia nurse had followed army regulations.                

Clare Gass went to the battlefields of France during the First World War and served with her colleague and friend Lt. Col. John McCrae — author of In Flanders Fields.

Cameron Anderson said his Great Aunt Clare Gass trained as a nurse at McGill University, and served during the First World War at mobile hospitals under canvas.

“She speaks of [treating] hundreds of Canadians a day, and then working sometimes two days in a row without sleep,” he said.

According to a published version of her diary, Gass worked in abysmal conditions where the wounded came already infected from the manure-laden fields, where limbs not taken by shells were often lost to gangrene.    


Lt.-Col. John McCrae, author of the famous poem In Flanders Fields, is shown in this undated photo. (National Archives of Canada/Canadian Press)

Gass listened to wounded boys speak their fears, and what was left of their hopes. Along the way she broke standard rules.

“She did things she wasn’t supposed to do by the rules of the military at the time,” said Anderson.

She was not supposed to take pictures or keep a diary — a legacy that now captures service, loss, and the quiet moments when she would talk with her friend McCrae.  

When McCrae penned the now famous poem In Flanders Fields, he showed it to her.

“He handed her the poem looking for her opinion on it and said, ‘What do you think of this?’ And so she took it and read it,” said Anderson.

“She thought it was marvelous.”

Gass copied the poem in her diary. She told McCrae he should send it to Punch, the troop magazine.

Her family said Gass's words of encouragement may be the reason McCrae's words are now so familiar.

With files from Rob North