Elsie Knocker and Mairi Chisholm shared a love for the thrill of motorbikes. When war was declared in 1914, the friends zoomed off to London together to do their bit. ‘Their bit’ was to establish a first-aid nursing post close to the front, give the first line of care to wounded soldiers, and transport them by ambulance to field hospitals. Elsie and Mairi, nicknamed the Angels of Pervyse, were decorated for bravery and sacrifice, and were amongst the most famous women of WW1. Continue reading
“Shop local” was the touchstone for some small communities in Grey County, when it came time to honour their neighbours who had served in WW1. Three similar monuments were erected in three hamlets, all likely from the same company in nearby Collingwood.
It began to seem, after a time, that everyone had something. Had one thing that they’d seen or heard, that they couldn’t shake off, that they carried, would carry forever, like a hard, dull stone in the heart. … We thought if we could gather those things together we would call it ‘The War Book’. And that would be the only way to communicate it, to give someone an idea of how it was. (The Deep, p 40*)
From time to time, I have described my small efforts to put some order into my reading, grouping a few books together by place (the Western front or home front, for example), by person (nurses, perhaps, or civilians in the war zone), by author (a trilogy by one author, or a series of Irish authors let’s say), or by time (eyewitness accounts or modern ones).
Occasionally I come upon a common thread unawares. Like now, I find myself having read a series of the most exquisitely written books, all by authors new to me. In each work, the authors evoke time, place and mood in lovely turns of phrase. The horror of war is conveyed by the beauty of words. Continue reading
Mass-produced poppies are major fundraisers for the British and Canadian Legions, who fervently guard registered trademarks. I much prefer hand-made commemorative poppies – knitted, crocheted, beaded or felted. These seem to be more popular in Australia and New Zealand, where online patterns abound. Look, for example, at the 5000 Poppies campaign in Australia. Amazing! Continue reading
I read the preface, then paused, then read it again. Such is the beauty and feeling in the picture that P. S. Duffy paints to start The Cartographer of No Man’s Land, engaging all the senses in a two-page vignette.
The Cartographer of No Man’s Land captures two stories, moving back and forth between the Western Front and the fictional Nova Scotia fishing village of Snag Harbour. Angus MacGrath is the bond between the two. He leaves behind his wife Hettie Ellen, his son Simon Peter, his father Duncan – enlisting in the hope of finding his brother-in-law and friend Ebbin Hant, who is missing in action. With skills as a painter and drafter, Angus believes he will be a cartographer in London, able to search from the relative safety of a desk job. But mapmakers are plentiful and cannon fodder is in constant need of replenishment. He finds himself instead in the front lines. Continue reading
Each nurse, VAD and canteen worker tells a story.
Few women who served in WW1 are buried near the Western Front. Those who are can mostly be found in cemeteries near the coast, close to large hospitals or staging centres. They died mostly of disease, although some were certainly caught in the crossfire of war.
On 21 April 1918, Nursing Sister Anna Elizabeth Whitely died at Boulogne of a stomach tumour. She was buried at Wimereux Communal Cemetery, the first Canadian woman in WW1 whose final resting place was in France. Continue reading
April 9 marks the 101th anniversary of the start of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, part of the Battle of Arras. On a snowy Easter Monday in 1917, the four divisions of the Canadian Corps fought together for the first (and only) time. Training and tactics won the ridge, but at the cost of about 3,600 Canadian lives.
While opinions differ on the importance of the battle itself, most would agree that Vimy Ridge is an important site of Canadian remembrance: a 250-acre memorial park on the former battleground is the site of the Canadian National Vimy Memorial. Continue reading
The Canadian Memorial at St Julien, commonly known as The Brooding Soldier, stands at Vancouver Corner, 7 km NE of Ieper/Ypres. It marks the battlefield where 18,000 Canadians stood (and 2000 died) against the first German gas attacks, in the second battle of Ypres in April 1915. Continue reading
St. Bartholomew’s Anglican Church, on MacKay St overlooking the grounds of Rideau Hall, has long enjoyed an association with its Rideau Hall neighbour, Canada’s Governor General. The most splendid manifestation of vice-regal patronage is the east window, donated by HRH Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught (the third son of Queen Victoria and then Governor General of Canada) in memory of members of his personal staff killed in WW1.
The window was designed and executed by Irish artist, Wilhelmina Geddes – her only work in North America and now widely considered to be her masterpiece. It was unveiled by Edward, Prince of Wales on 9 November 1919. Continue reading