When he volunteered at age 41 for service in the First World War, John McCrae wrote to a friend that “I am really rather afraid, but more afraid to stay at home with my conscience.” In April 1915, McCrae and a young friend, Alexis Helmer, joined the 18 000 soldiers of the First Canadian Division in their positions near Ypres, Belgium. The Battle of Ypres commenced on 22 April and lasted for six hellish weeks. It was during this battle that the Germans launched the first gas attacks of the war.
No group of educators ever worked harder than the young women and men who taught in one-room schools in isolated communities all over Canada. Whether boarding in the crowded homes of local families or living alone in primitive teacherages, they were under the constant scrutiny of the entire community. They usually taught seven or eight grades in uncomfortable, ill-equipped schools. With few books and almost no supplies, the pioneer teachers had to rely on their ingenuity and perseverance to survive the school year. The life of the rural teacher has become a part of Canadian folklore.