Great War 100 Reads

Commemorating the centenary of the First World War in books

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Waterlilies – Nymphéas, Le Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris

On 12 November 1918, the day after the Armistice, the painter Claude Monet wrote to his friend, French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, offering two monumental paintings of waterlilies to the French nation as a symbol of peace. Two eventually became eight. In 1927, the panels were installed in two purpose-built oval rooms in the Musée de l’Orangerie. Continue reading


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Armistice Day, 1918 … Remembrance Day, 2018

At the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month, when the guns of the Great War at last fell silent, the fury of conflict was replaced by a deafening silence. In that fragile gap between the sounds of dying and the cries of relief, we were faced with all we had done, all we had lost, all we had sacrificed.

In that silence, we met a truth so obvious and so terrifying we swore we would never take up arms again.

“One owes respect to the living,” said Voltaire. “To the dead, one owes only the truth.”

We vowed never to forget.

Governor General David Johnston, 11 November 2014

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – National War Memorial: The Response, Ottawa

Surmounting the arch, through which the armed forces of the nation are passing forward, are the figures of peace and freedom. To win peace and secure freedom, Canada’s sons and daughters enrolled for service during the Great War. For the cause of peace and freedom 60,000 Canadians gave their lives, and a still larger number suffered impairment of body or mind. This sacrifice the National Memorial holds in remembrance for our own and succeeding generations.

This memorial, however, does more than commemorate a great event in the past. It has a message for all generations and for all countries— the message which called for Canada’s response. Not by chance both the crowning figures of peace and freedom appear side by side. Peace and freedom cannot long be separated. It is well that we have in one of the world’s capitals, a visible reminder of so great a truth. Without freedom there can be no enduring peace, and without peace no enduring freedom.

George VI, dedication of the National War Memorial, 21 May 1939 Continue reading

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The Last Summer of the World

Can a fictionalized story add to our understanding of a famous person whose life is well documented? That is Emily Mitchell’s mission in The Last Summer of the World.

The novel centres on photographer Edward Steichen. At the beginning of the war, he and his family fled from their home in France for the safety of the US, leaving behind his paintings, photos and negatives. Now it is 1918 and he has returned to France as a reconnaissance photographer for the US army. In the interim, his marriage to Clara has fallen apart. Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Terlincthun British Cemetery, Wimille, France

Terlincthun, between Boulogne and Wimereux, was along the line of hospitals and rest camps established near the coast of France during WW1. Terlincthun British Cemetery was begun June 1918. The central path of the cemetery aligns with the nearby Colonne de la Grande Armée, so the statue of Napoleon appears to be keeping watch over those buried there. Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – St Sever Cemeteries, Rouen, France

St Sever Cemetery and St Sever Cemetery Extension are located in a large communal cemetery in the southern Rouen suburbs, near the sites of several WW1 Allied hospitals and camps.* WW1 burials from Commonwealth forces number 11430 in the cemetery and cemetery extension.

Looking for clusters of women’s war graves? Look no further than the hospital sites. The seven women buried in St Sever Cemetery and the six buried in St Sever Cemetery Extension all died of illness or illness-related accident. Two were nursing sisters, six were VADs, three worked with Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps, one with the YMCA, and one was a civilian volunteer. Continue reading


Monday Monuments and Memorials – Abbeville Communal Cemetery Extension, Abbeville, France

Abbeville, on the Somme River northwest of Amiens, was a strategic Allied communications and hospital centre in WW1. In spring and summer 1918, Abbeville was the target of German air raids. In the early morning of 30 May 1918, Abbeville and Doullens were hit. At Abbeville, a bomb hit a protection trench, killing nine women in Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps (QMAAC). The victims were buried with military honours in Abbeville Communal Cemetery Extension. Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Edith Cavell figurine, Canadian War Museum, Ottawa

British nurse Edith Cavell was executed on October 12, 1915 for helping Allied soldiers escape occupied Belgium. Her death became a rallying cry for the Allies. Her name was memorialized in many ways. Continue reading

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The Great Swindle – Au revoir là-haut

With war comes profiteering, and opportunities for graft, corruption and exploitation can continue after the end of hostilities.

Starting in 1915, the French government banned exhumation of dead bodies, saying soldiers would be buried near where they fell. After the war, many bereaved family members ignored the law and clandestinely claimed the remains of their loved ones. They bribed undertakers or appealed to unscrupulous entrepreneurs.

The government decided to identify the countless bodies that had been quickly buried or left on the killing fields, and to repatriate them or consolidate them in large military cemeteries. Contracts were tendered with private companies to undertake the immense task of exhuming and identifying the remains, placing them in coffins, transporting and reburying them. With contract payments per corpse, fraud and cutting corners were an attractive way to make the profits more lucrative. The press broke the scandale des exhumations militaires in 1922, and the government could no longer look the other way. Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Houghton brothers, St. Mark’s Anglican Church, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON

For a church established in 1792 in Niagara-on-the-Lake, the War of 1812 looms larger in its history than WW1. Yet St Mark’s Church, at 41 Byron St, has several WW1 markers to honour its parishioners who served. The name Houghton figures again and again – all sons of Emma Hadley and Joseph Houghton. Continue reading