Great War 100 Reads

Commemorating the centenary of the First World War in books

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Harry Heffer, Cherry Valley Cemetery, Prince Edward County, ON

Each soldier tells a story. Some stories are more elusive than others.

Harry Heffer is buried in Cherry Valley Cemetery – with his paternal grandparents, parents and sister – not far from his birthplace. He was born on 2 Apr 1890 in Athol Township or in Picton (both in Prince Edward County), the oldest son of James Heffer and Emma Wager. By 1911, he had moved to Toronto, where he worked as a printer at Ontario Press Ltd. He married Gertrude Morris in 1913. Continue reading

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A Farewell to Arms

I last read a Hemingway novel in high school. The Old Man and the Sea did not inspire me to pick up another one. As I recall, my adolescent self yawned in boredom.

But that was in another century.

And A Farewell to Arms presents itself as the ultimate American WW1 novel.

So in I dive.

The plot, in 60 words: Frederic Henry meets Catherine Barkley. He, an American serving as an ambulance driver in the Italian army. She, a British nurse serving in a hospital behind the Italian lines. The war draws them together and tears them apart … together, apart … repeat a few times. We are to believe it is love. And then Catherine meets a tragic end. Continue reading


Monday Monuments and Memorials – Ernest J Saunders, St Mark’s Cemetery, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON

Each soldier tells a story.

An elegant gravestone in St Mark’s Cemetery in Niagara-on-the-Lake marks the final resting place of Earnest J Saunders, 109th Battalion in the Canadian Militia. WW1 personnel records show an Ernest John Saunders served with the non-permanent active militia.

Saunders was born in London, England on 4 January 1879. He worked in the canteen at Niagara Camp, and died of pneumonia in the hospital there on 17 February 1919. Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Cenotaph Park, Priceville, ON

Travelling on County Road 4 between Durham and Flesherton in Grey County, turn onto Kincardine St in the village of Priceville to find Cenotaph Park. A soldier stands over a grave marker of logs encircled by a laurel wreath and with poppies growing at the base. The marble statue stands on a granite plinth. Continue reading

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The Crowded Room

War or no war, provincial towns have a habit of sucking the life out of young women. Every generation of young women needs a parable to warn them to escape. Winnifred Holtby’s The Crowded Street could be the parable for her generation.

Muriel Hammond is the eldest daughter of a prominent family in the Yorkshire town of Marshington. Her father makes the money and trusts her mother spend it, and to make wise decisions about their daughters. (He would have taken more interest in a son.) The prominent women make it their duty to know everyone else’s business and to match their daughters in marriage to the best sons. A daughter’s duty is to care for her parents and to marry well. Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Col William Campbell MacDonald, St James Cathedral, Toronto

Each soldier tells a story.

A front page headline in the 22 January 1917 issue of the Toronto Globe declared: “Popular Officer Killed, Four People Injured, at Toronto Station … Col WC MacDonald Killed by Light Engine … Shocking Accident at Union Station after Departure of Troop Train.” Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Cenotaph, Acton ON

The cenotaph in Acton stands on Mill St E between Elgin and John, in front of Trinity United Church. It was unveiled on 11 November 1920, notably on the same day as the Unknown Soldier was interred in Westminster Abbey.

The Acton Citizens Band led 300-400 students in parade from the school grounds to the ceremony. The program, with an impressive list of dignitaries, was printed in the 11 November edition of the Acton Free Press. The newspaper’s 18 November account of the ceremonies includes an impressive list of regrets from many said dignitaries. Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Canadian Legion Calgary (Alberta No. 1) Branch, Calgary AB

The end of WW1 saw a proliferation of veterans groups and regimental associations working to help returned soldiers in Canada. Their fragmented efforts did not lead to great success. Several groups came together to form the Canadian Legion of the British Empire Service League in 1926. This history is evident on the facade of the Canadian Legion Calgary (Alberta No. 1) Branch at 116 – 7 Avenue SE. Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Canadian Memorial Church, Vancouver … Part 2

The Canadian Memorial United Church and Centre for Peace, at the corner of W 15th Ave and Burrard St in Vancouver, was built as a memorial to Canadians who fought and died in WW1 … and as a ministry for peace and an end to war. This is the second post about the memorial elements in the church, looking this week at the narthex windows. Continue reading

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The Enormous Room

I had a notion that E.E. Cummings’ book, The Enormous Room, was about prisoners of war. It is, but not in the usual sense of the phrase. The Enormous Room is an autobiographical novel about Cummings’ time under arrest – not by enemy forces, but by the US allied French government.

First, a brief account of the facts: Edward Estlin Cummings and his friend William Slater Brown were Americans who served with the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps in WW1. In August 1917, the two were arrested by French authorities for suspicion of sedition. Brown expressed anti-war views in letters read by the censors, Cummings stood by his friend, and American functionaires offended by their fraternizing with French colleagues did nothing to help. They were held for four months at La Ferté Macé, a porte de triage, pending charges. Cummings was to be released on suspicion when consular intervention sent him home. Continue reading