Dr. John McCrae is most famously known for penning one of history’s most evocative war poems, In Flanders Fields. He served first, in Africa, where he was appalled by the inadequate treatment of wounded soldiers on the battlefield, so much so, that he resigned and severed his military relationships for many years.
During WW1, when he shipped overseas to work as a field surgeon, McCrae took his beloved horse, Bonfire, with him, and they would often disappear like ghosts in the night, stealing moments when they could briefly escape the harsh realities of battle.
In his correspondence to his family, McCrae would often write letters to his sister’s children, featuring Bonfire as the author – complete with signatory horseshoe. Yet, he acknowledged the trials of warfare – “we have been through so much together, and some of it bad enough. All the hard spots to which one’s memory turns the old fellow has shared though he says so little about it.”
Bonfire loved blackberries, and they would pick them from the hedges whenever they got the chance. The bond between man and horse was such that it seemed one was an extension of the other. The man served the steed, and the steed served the soldier – until death did them part.
McCrae died of pneumonia and meningitis in 1918, the same year the war ended. Many of the troops succumbed to these conditions after having been weakened and exhausted during their exposure to the inhumane weather and combat conditions.
Loyal to the death, Bonfire carried his master’s empty riding boots, reversed in the stirrups to honour his memory.
It is not known if Bonfire returned home to Canada, however, it is believed he spent his final years in retirement, funded by friends of the man behind the pen.