Great War 100 Reads

Commemorating the centenary of the First World War in books


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Canada’s Dream Shall Be of Them

Is your creativity enriched or curtailed by Twitter’s 140-character limit? Imagine the challenge to families of those killed in WW1, asked to keep an epitaph for their loved one to 66 characters.

The Imperial (now Commonwealth) War Graves Commission decided not to repatriate hundreds of thousands bodies. Rather, the dead were buried with their comrades close to where they fell. A standard stone marks each grave, regardless of rank. But next of kin were invited to add a personal inscription. About half took up the offer. Together, these epitaphs form a striking record of grief and memory. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – War Memorial, Durham, ON

Veterans Memorial Park, corner of Mill and Albert Streets, Durham. A bronze statue of a soldier stands atop a red granite monument, “in memory of the men of Durham and vicinity who gave their lives for humanity in the Great War.” They are named on the front and right sides – 36 in all. Ranks other than private are indicated. Continue reading


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Lights Out!

Firsthand accounts of WW1 from the medical women who served are hard to come by, and in reverse proportion to their position in the hospital hierarchy: practically none from doctors; a few more from nurses; most from VADs.

Lights Out! The Memoir of Nursing Sister Kate Wilson, Canadian Army Medical Corps, 1915-1917, based on Kate’s diaries, started as a souvenir for her family written shortly after the war. Later in life, a frustration with mostly male accounts of the war that “tended to romanticize events” led to “a tremendous desire to tell my story, in my own way.” After all, “I have been there too.” (Foreword) Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – War Memorial, Smiths Falls, ON

The war memorial in Smiths Falls War Memorial stands in Veterans Memorial Park on Beckwith St S at Confederation Dr (Canal St on some maps), next to the Rideau River lock station. The grey granite, rough-cut at the bottom, rises into a cross. Torches are carved into the foreshortened crossbar. On the front, a bronze rifle at reverse arms is draped with maple leaves. A peace dove with laurel swoops down above it. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial Park, France

This past Saturday, July 1, marked the 150th anniversary of Canada’s confederation, a day for the country to rejoice, reflect and reconcile. In Newfoundland and Labrador, it was also Memorial Day, a solemn day of remembrance of the single greatest disaster in Newfoundland history. At Beaumont-Hamel, the Newfoundland Regiment was virtually wiped out in half an hour on the first morning of the Somme Offensive, July 1, 1916. Of the 780 men who went forward, 233 were dead, 386 wounded and 91 reported missing (later assumed dead). While the casualty rate for many battalions was over 50%, for the Newfoundland Regiment it was 90%. All the officers were killed or wounded. On one of the bloodiest days of the war, only one other battalion had a higher casualty rate. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Western Canada College Cenotaph, Calgary, AB

This monument commemorates those boys of Western Canada College who, at the dawn of their manhood, died for their country in the Great War.

Western Canada College (now Western Canada High School, and always a secondary school despite its original name) lives on 17th Ave SW at 6th St SW in Calgary. WCC was a founded in 1903 as a British-style private school for boys. After WW1, it was sold to the Calgary Board of Education. While the original WCC buildings were replaced in later decades, the cenotaph remains to commemorate students and graduates who were killed in WW1. Continue reading


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Firing Lines

Beatrice Nasmyth. Mary MacLeod Moore. Elizabeth Montizambert. Three names we likely don’t recognize today. But during WW1, countless Canadian, British and French readers read their war dispatches from London, Paris and points closer to the front. Debbie Marshall brings them back to life in Firing Lines: Three Canadian Women Write the First World War.

We met the three journalists briefly in Marshall’s last book (Give Your Other Vote to the Sister), when they joined Roberta MacAdams on a media tour of the military hospitals at Étaples and the lines of communication behind the front. In Firing Lines, we dig deeper into their backgrounds and how they came to report on the conflict. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials –Edwardsburg Township War Memorial, Spencerville, ON

The war memorial erected by the citizens of the Township of Edwardsburg stands in front of the municipal offices (now the Township of Edwardsburgh/Cardinal) on Centre St in Spencerville. It is dedicated “in loving memory of our heroes who fell in the Great War, 1914—1918. Their names shall never perish. Lest we forget.” A young soldier stands over the 27 names for WW1, listed in mostly chronological order of their death.

Let’s look at the first and last WW1 names. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Victoria College Memorial Tablet, University of Toronto, Toronto

A bronze tablet on the right side of the main entrance to the Old Vic building on the U of T campus is dedicated to the memory of 75 Victoria College students and graduates who gave their lives in the Great War, 1914-1918. An angel mourns on either side of the college crest, under the assurance that “they were valiant in life, triumphant in death.” The tablet, designed by sculptor Alfred Howell, was presented by the Alumni and Alumnae Associations and dedicated on 12 October 1923. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – The Last Post, Collingwood, ON

The Last Post is the name of the statue that tops the WW1 war memorial in Collingwood, Ontario. It stands in front of the old train station (now the Collingwood Museum), at 45 St Paul St. The driveway behind it is Veterans Cres. Continue reading