Great War 100 Reads

Commemorating the centenary of the First World War in books


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – 107th Infantry Memorial, Central Park, New York

The 7th Regiment of New York, renamed the 107th Infantry, sailed for Europe when the US joined the war in 1917. A bronze sculpture on a granite pedestal stands on the Fifth Avenue side of Central Park at East 67th Street, in honour of those in the regiment who died in WW1. It was dedicated on 29 September 1927. Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Sir George Halsey Perley, Ottawa, ON

The Right Honourable Sir George Halsey Perley wore many hats during and immediately after WW1. The Member of Parliament was in Prime Minister Robert Borden’s cabinet and served as Canada’s High Commissioner and Minister of the Overseas Military Forces in London. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – War Memorial, Deseronto, ON

The small Ontario town of Deseronto lies on the Bay of Quinte at the mouth of the Napanee River. Its war memorial is at 332 Main St, on the south side, just west of Centre St. The WW1 plaque on a granite stone was dedicated on Labour Day, 3 September 1923, “In gratefulness for the men who gave their lives for their country during the Great War.” Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Bombardement par avions allemands, Paris, France

Most pedestrians on the busy boulevard Saint-Michel likely pass the grand doorway at No. 81 – on their way to or from the Luxembourg RER station, the Jardin de Luxembourg, or a nearby shop, office or university – not noticing the understated plaque above a window to the left:

30 janvier 1918
Bombardement par avions allemands

Translation: 30 January 1918: Bombardment by German planes. Continue reading


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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 in WW1, 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


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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