'Essex Farm', Yser Canal

John Greening

We stop at Flanders Fields

and Owen's Coaches

draw up in the same layby.

Watery sun. A farmhouse

Opposite has gone nowhere

since pnuemonia blew you

away from this hole in

the canal-side and it was

nineteen-eighteen. A factory

smoking silently through bare

pollarded poplars on the

far bank. Here, your poem.

There, parked tankers. The coach

driver is pacing, tie over

beer belly. No larks,

just the passing of traffic.

And no chance of a poppy

that isn't paper or plastic.

The children among the graves

are dressed as if they were

themselves a floral tribute.



During the First World War, the British Army in the Ypres salient had an advanced dressing station at Essex Farm by the Yser Canal, where the war cemetery now lies. It is said that John McCrae was inspired to write his famous poem In Flanders Fields in May 1915. McCrae died of pneumonia in 1918.

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