Great War 100 Reads

Commemorating the centenary of the First World War in books

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Royal Bank headquarters, Montreal

In the early 20th century, St James St in Old Montreal was the heart of the city’s financial district. When the Royal Bank of Canada built its new headquarters at 360 St James St W in 1928 (the tallest building in the British Empire at the time), the bank honoured its employees who had died, their names listed on two tablets in the main banking hall. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Canadian Foresters in Windsor Park, Canadian War Museum, Ottawa

The Canadian Forestry Corps was formed in 1916 to provide lumber for the war effort. Recruiting posters soon called for “Bushmen and sawmill hands wanted for the Canadian Forestry Units overseas.”

Lumber was needed for diverse uses like trench construction, railway ties, tent poles, buildings, axe handles and fuel. At first, the thought was that trees would be cut in Canada and shipped overseas. But space on ships was limited, so the Corps went to the wood in the UK and France. The Corps produced about 70% of the lumber used on the Western front. They were occupied in all aspects of the trade – from felling trees and dressing lumber to actual construction. They cleared sites for aerodromes. Some of the wood was fashioned into wooden crosses for graves.

Canadian Foresters in Windsor Park was painted by Gerald Moira around 1917. It is part of the Beaverbrook Collection of War Art at the Canadian War Museum. 

This painting depicts the 224th Canadian Forestry Battalion working below the walls of Windsor Castle. The fluttering flag on the roof indicates that King George V is in residence. In 1922, Moira’s biographer described the painting as “a document of Empire, a record of loyal labour, an epic of strength, with all of which it unites the qualities of highest art and powerful decoration.”

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In Parenthesis and First World War Poems from the Front

Much ink has spilt in the last century on the war poets of WW1 and the authenticity of their work in conveying the war experience. I’ve dipped into some of these when reading other books by or about the poets. (And of course I learned to recite In Flanders Fields at an early age, part of my Canadian birthright.) But I’ve waited until near the end of this project to dive into the deep end.

In Parenthesis

David Jones published In Parenthesis in 1937, a 137-page prose poem in seven parts about his time on the Western Front from December 1915 to July 1916. An artist known for painting, engraving, printmaking and letter design, this made his reputation as a writer. Indeed some consider it the greatest book about WW1. Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Captain Victor McKechnie, Walkerton, ON

Donald McKechnie Ritzenhein has kindly permitted me to publish a photo of the citation presented to his grandfather by the Town of Walkerton Preparedness League in 1920.

My grandfather, Victor McKechnie, left his hometown of Walkerton on 21 June 1916, together with his brother Malcolm, and 1300 volunteer recruits, as part of the 160th “Bruce” Battalion. Malcolm was killed during the war, but my grandfather not only survived but stayed in the army for two more years after the war ended. On 24 September 1920 he became the last soldier to return home to Walkerton. Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Memorial Wall, Memorial Park, Kingston, ON

How communities choose to remember their friends and neighbours who serve in war can evolve over time. In Kingston, one can find many WW1 memorials to the fallen, erected shortly after the war by the city, service clubs, regiments, churches, schools and other organizations. A WW1 bronze tablet at City Hall lists over 250 names.

Fast forward to October 2012. A new memorial wall was dedicated to soldiers and peacekeepers who “called the Kingston area home through birth, residence or work” and who died in war since the South African War in 1899-1902. Over 500 names are listed from WW1. Broader criteria, more names.* Continue reading


Monday Monuments and Memorials – Canadian Pacific Railway Memorial Tablet, Quebec City, QC

’Tis the season of busy travel. Rushed commuters and travellers passing through Gare du Palais, the train and bus terminal in Quebec City, may miss the tribute to 1,116* transportation workers killed in WW1.

The Canadian Pacific Railway – CPR – put its trains, ships, telegraphs, hotels and other resources to use for the Allied forces in WW1. This included its human resources: 11,340 CPR employees enlisted. Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Soldiers Memorial, Wiarton, ON

Wiarton’s claims to fame include being the gateway to the Bruce Peninsula and the home of the world’s only albino weather prognosticator (aka groundhog Wiarton Willie). Travelling through town to either attraction, you are likely to pass the Soldiers Memorial, on the east side of Berford St (Hwy 6) between George and William. Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Memorial Screen, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON

Each day, hundreds of people walk past the Memorial Screen in an arcade west of the Soldiers’ Tower on the University of Toronto’s downtown campus. Those pausing to look see the names, ranks and units of 628 university alumni, faculty, staff and students killed in WW1 – carved in limestone. Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Cenotaph, Memorial Park, Carleton Place, ON

Memorial Park, on Franklin St between Beckwith and Judson in Carleton Place, was originally the Market Square. After WW1, the local chapter of the IODE raised money for the monument to honour locals killed in the war. Dedicated in 1924, the front of the original granite monument is carved with a sword on a cross hanging over a flame and laurel wreath, with the phrase “they gave their to-day for our to-morrow.” Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Palais des Nations/Palace of Nations, Geneva, Switzerland

Here is a great work for peace in which all can participate. The nations must disarm or perish. Be just and fear not. – Robert Cecil, 1865-1958

Formation of the League of Nations/La Société des Nations was a key element of the Paris Peace Conference convened in 1919. The League was conceived as an intergovernmental organization to prevent war through collective security, and to settle disputes between countries through negotiation and diplomacy. Continue reading