Great War 100 Reads

Commemorating the centenary of the First World War in books


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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


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The Vimy Trap

The mission of the Vimy Foundation is to preserve and promote Canada’s First World War legacy as symbolized with the victory at Vimy Ridge in April 1917, a milestone where Canada came of age and was then recognized on the world stage. … Inspired by the heroic victory of the Canadian Forces at Vimy Ridge, the Vimy Foundation believes that the key to a successful future lies in knowing one’s past, and that the remarkable story of Vimy should be shared with young people from across the country. (Vimy Foundation website)

Ball cap fronts feature an image of the Vimy Memorial and ‘VIMY’ ‘1917’, while the Royal Canadian Legion Poppy silhouette is embroidered onto the brim. ‘BIRTH OF A NATION’ has been incorporated onto the right side while the Royal Canadian Legion logo and the colours representing the four Canadian Divisions who fought together for the first time complete the design. (Royal Canadian Legion Poppy Store)

Two odd motifs to mark the centenary of Vimy Ridge. Can a country be born or come of age by its men being slaughtered in a faraway land? Can swag keep that country alive?

In The Vimy Trap or, How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Great War, Ian McKay and Jamie Swift ask some bold and uncomfortable questions about WW1 and Canada’s role in it. Continue reading


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An Interview with Katrina Kirkwood, author of The Mystery of Isabella and the String of Beads

Katrina Kirkwood’s book, The Mystery of Isabella and the String of Beads, is two tales in one. She tells about Isabella Stenhouse’s adventures as a doctor in WW1 as well as her own journey of discovery. Katrina joins me today at Great War 100 Reads to discuss her work.

What first interested you in finding your grandmother’s war stories?

Katrina Kirkwood: Romance. Amongst the medical instruments that I inherited from my grandmother Isabella was a strange string of beads. Rumour had it that they had been given to her by a grateful German prisoner of war, an idea that entranced me. As a teenager, I dreamt up a glorious romance in which love trounced international enmity. The fact that Isabella might have been a pioneering woman doctor, fighting fierce male opposition for the right to practise her hard-earned skills in the profession of her choice didn’t cross my mind until years later. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – John Gordon Wardlaw Gibson, Vimy Monument, France

Each soldier tells a story. So does each family left behind.

Cathy Cummings (a GW100R follower) has graciously permitted me to share a post she wrote last month about her great uncle:

Today I am remembering not only my great uncle Gordon Gibson who gave the ultimate sacrifice at Vimy, but his little brother Tom, my grandfather, and what it must have meant to him. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Frederick W Campbell VC and S Lewis Honey VC DCM MM, Mount Forest, ON

Two historical plaques stand guard in front of the Mount Forest Legion , 140 King St W. They honour two Victoria Cross recipients from the area.

Lt Stanley Lewis Honey

Extract from the London Gazette, No. 31108, 3 Jan 1919: For most conspicuous bravery during the Bourlon Wood operations, 27th September to 2nd October, 1918. On 27th September, when his company commander and all other officers of his company had become casualties, Lt Honey took command and skilfully reorganised under very severe fire. He continued the advance with great dash and gained the objective. Then finding that his company was suffering casualties from enfilade machine-gun fire he located the machine-gun nest and rushed it single-handed, capturing the guns and ten prisoners. Subsequently he repelled four enemy counter-attacks and after dark again went out alone, and having located an enemy post, led a party which captured the post and three guns. On the 29th September he led his company against a strong enemy position with great skill and daring and continued in the succeeding days of the battle to display the same high example of valour and self-sacrifice. He died of wounds received during the last day of the attack by his battalion.

Capt Frederick William Campbell

Extract from the London Gazette, No. 29272, 20 Aug 1915: For most conspicuous bravery on 15th June, 1915, during the action at Givenchy. Lt. Campbell took two machine-guns over the parapet, arrived at the German first line with one gun, and maintained his position there, under very heavy rifle, machine-gun and bomb fire, notwithstanding the fact that almost the whole of his detachment had then been killed or wounded. When our supply of bombs had become exhausted, this Officer advanced his gun still further to an exposed position, and, by firing about 1,000 rounds, succeeded in holding back the enemy’s counter-attack. This very gallant Officer was subsequently wounded, and has since died.

Eleven more Ontario historical plaques mark Victoria Crosses from WW1:

  • William Avery Bishop, VC 1894-1956, Owen Sound
  • Lionel Beaumaurice (Leo) Clarke, VC 1892-1916, Waterdown
  • Lance-Corp Fred Fisher, VC 1894-1915, St Catharines
  • Sgt Frederick Hobson, VC 1873-1917, Cambridge
  • Thomas William Holmes, VC 1898-1950, Owen Sound
  • Capt George Fraser Kerr, VC MC MM 1895-1929, Deseronto
  • Col Graham Thomson Lyall, VC 1892-1941, St Catharines
  • Lt-Col Thain Wendell MacDowell, VC DSO 1890-1960, Maitland
  • Corp Harry G.B. Miner, VC 1891-1918, Cedar Springs
  • Claude J.P. Nunney, VC 1892-1918, Lancaster
  • Ellis Wellwood Sifton, VC 1891-1917, Tyrconnell

A long-departed British monarch still lends her birthday for a holiday that marks the unofficial start of summer, and her name to the highest military honour awarded for valour in the face of the enemy. Victoria Day weekend – a good time to remember Campbell, Lewis and other VCs.


Gold-Wing Ranch, on the site of Camp Rathbun, the WW1 Royal Flying Corps training station near Deseronto, Ontario is hosting a centenary celebration on 10 June 2017. Details here and here.


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The Mystery of Isabella and the String of Beads

Scalpels. Forceps. Stethoscope. Other miscellaneous surgical instruments. And an intricately woven string of beads. These were the legacy that Isabella Stenhouse gave to her granddaughter, Katrina Kirkwood. But not the stories to go with them – of serving as a doctor in France, Malta and Egypt in WW1.

There came a point when Kirkwood realized that her grandmother’s war exploits were extraordinary for a woman of the time. In The Mystery of Isabella and the String of Beads, she sets out to learn about her grandmother’s early life. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Soldiers’ Monument, Paisley, ON

The soldiers’ monument in Paisley, Ontario stands in a square bound by Queen, Goldie and Water Streets, close to the confluence of the Saugeen and Teeswater Rivers. The monument, made of grey Stanstead granite, is a 15 ft pedestal on which stands a 7 ft soldier. The same figure from the McIntosh Granite Co is on the cenotaph in Picton, Ontario.

The monument was dedicated in May 1922, “in honored memory of the men of Paisley and adjoining Townships of Bruce, Elderslie, Greenock and Saugeen who gave their lives in the Great War, 1914 – 1919.” The 27 May edition of the Globe reported about 2000 people in attendance: Continue reading