Great War 100 Reads

Commemorating the centenary of the First World War in books


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My Little Wet Home in the Trench

Yup, it’s three years into the WW1 centenary and three years since the start of Great War 100 Years. In 244 posts, I have documented 68 books read, over 150 monuments each Monday, and more interviews and musings.

My focus for much of this year has been eyewitness accounts of the war – a range of voices from the front lines, the home front and points in between. Male and female authors, they wrote about universal aspects of the soldiers’ experience, the readiness to serve where needed, and the price of acceptance and of dissent.

The books analysing the war from the rear view window show how perspectives can change over time. Continue reading

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I Didn’t Raise My Boy to be a Soldier

Hard to believe it has been two years since the start of Great War 100 Years. In 170 posts, I have documented 50 books read (just under the wire!), over 100 monuments on Mondays, and more interviews and musings.

I have the hindsight advantage of knowing I’m not quite half way through this project. In July 1916, the carnage of Verdun and the Somme – respectively the longest battle of the war and the battle starting with worst day of battle casualties in British Army history – was still going on. The war was uppermost in the public mind and its end was nowhere in sight. News of the war was full of propaganda and not entirely truthful. Continue reading


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Remembrance Whensoever

A comment on last Monday’s memorial to the Broad brothers at Calgary’s Central United Church got me thinking about how communities came together to show respect to those who had served in the war.

It seems that it was many years after the war before plaques were erected. In this case, 1923. Is there any explanation of the delay between the end of the war in 1918 and these expressions of remembrance? Did people, at first, feel their grief so profoundly that they could not think of things like plaques and statues? Was commemoration encouraged by the government or Church in the 1920s and we are seeing the results of that?

Good question. Several reasons, I suspect. Continue reading


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Oh! It’s a Lovely War!

Has it really been a year since I started this folly? Wasn’t this war supposed to be finished by Christmas?

One year and 90 posts on Great War 100 Reads have documented 31 books read and reviewed (33 if you count reading three versions of one book), 53 memorials, some interviews and random musings. Friends and family know the answer to “What are you reading these days.” They have become accustomed to unusual routes and detours to seek out monuments wherever we go.

Thanks to your suggestions, the reading list continues to grow. It’s a safe bet that I will not get through every book on the list by the end of this journey in November 2018. I should surpass the goal of 100 books.

I present this quest as “Mostly fiction. Some memoirs, diaries and non-fiction mixed in.” Yet in the first year, non-fiction edged out novels. Why? I travelled down a trail of books to learn about war memorials and war art, to put the Monday Monuments and Memorials feature in context. And the memoirs and biographies of courageous women are infectious reading. I’m getting to the novels.

While it is not always evident, there is an attempt at some logic to the order of my reads. I try to group two or three books together on a particular theme—soldiers on the Western front, espionage, nursing, civilians near the war zone, on the home front—you get the picture. The plan can be thwarted by the availability of a given book at the library. But I bring it back on track as soon as possible, to make a more cohesive path through this expedition.

The authors approached for interviews have been generous with their time and thoughtful with their replies. The interviews are a popular feature on the blog … especially for me, as they add an interesting dimension to the book reviews.

By far the biggest delight is those of you who follow this madness. Thank you for your engagement, your support and your comments on and offline.

If there is one sweeping lesson to date, it’s that war is not limited to a military view. Soldiers and manoeuvres are important, but so are support jobs behind the lines and civilian roles near and far from the battlefields. Those with no direct involvement in the war may nonetheless have additional responsibilities because of others directly participating. These are all theatres of war. Everyone serves and everything is touched in some way. All merit our remembrance.

 

Oh! Oh! Oh! it’s a lovely war,
Who wouldn’t be a soldier eh?
Oh! It’s a shame to take the pay.
As soon as “reveille” is gone
We feel just as heavy as lead,
But we never get up till the sergeant brings
Our breakfast up to bed.
Oh! Oh! Oh! it’s a lovely war
What do we want with eggs and ham
When we’ve got plum and apple jam?
Form fours! Right turn!
How shall we spend the money we earn?
Oh! Oh! Oh! it’s a lovely war.
Courtland and Jeffries, © 1917, B. Feldman and Co. Ltd, London


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New Year News

Happy New Year!

The paying job is cutting into my leisure reading time these days, so I’ve had fewer book reviews than usual. Please be patient. More to come.

In the meantime …

George Simmers at Great War Fiction has been sleuthing about to solve some mysteries about Evadne Price and Not So Quiet: Stepdaughters of War, which was written by Price under the pseudonym Helen Zenna Smith. You can read his findings here, here, here and here.


A shout out to the Spinecrackers book club, some members of which follow this humble blog. Their reading themes are eclectic, and next on their journey is a book about WW1. Was the short list gleaned from here, by chance? Regardless, they have chosen Laurie Loewenstein’s Unmentionables. I look forward to reading their comments here soon.


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Music for Remembrance and Healing

The National Arts Centre Orchestra, normally at home in Ottawa, toured the UK this fall to mark the centenary of the start of WW1. Their concerts and educational events explored the themes of remembrance and healing through music. A highlight was the concert in Salisbury Cathedral. Not only a beautiful setting … the Cathedral is a significant setting to mark Canada’s role in the war. The Canadian Expeditionary Force was stationed on Salisbury Plain before heading to the Western Front.

The CBC is rebroadcasting Canada in Salisbury: A Concert Event several times on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. If you aren’t in Canada, you can find a webcast of the Salisbury concert on CBC.ca.


Last month, I was privileged to see the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra at its spectacular concert hall in Amsterdam. The concert was part of 1914 One-Hundred Years Later, a festival of music and art.  The program spanned the century, from composers at work around the war years to a new violin concerto by Michel van der Aa. One word … inspiring!

From the orchestra’s website:

One hundred years ago, the First World War was raging. How did composers respond to such unprecedented destruction? Debussy composed the Berceuse héroïque as a tribute to the Belgian soldier–king Albert I. Stravinsky wrote his Symphonies d’instruments à vent in memory of Debussy, who had died in 1918. The Russian composer Anatoly Lyadov died in 1914. His From the Apocalypse was inspired by an excerpt from the Revelation of St John the Divine. A year later, Leoš Janáček would start work on his imposing rhapsody Taras Bulba, based on Nikolai Gogol’s historical novel of the same name. Janáček saw in the heroic Cossack Taras Bulba a model for how the Czechs could cast off the yoke of Austrian oppression.

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to all.


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Cpl Nathan Cirillo, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada

The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada (Princess Louise’s), an Army reserve regiment based in Hamilton, happened to be the honorary ceremonial guard at the National War Memorial when these photos were taken on Sunday. Now Cpl Nathan Cirillo, on the left, is no longer with us. Tragic. My condolences to all of you who held him dear. The country stands with you.


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Canadian Literature of World War One Conference, Part 2

Catching up on my reports of the plenaries at Canadian Literature of World War One, a conference sponsored by U Ottawa, UBC and the Canadian War Museum. Part 1 covered Tim Cook’s presentation, Canada and the Commemoration of The Great War, 1918-2018.

Margaret MacMillan talked about The Great War in Literature, examining the contexts that shaped literature before, during and after the war. She applied many of the contrasting themes from The War That Ended Peace to the writings about the war. Continue reading


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Canadian Literature of World War One Conference, Part 1

The University of Ottawa, University of British Columbia and Canadian War Museum are sponsoring Canadian Literature of World War One this week, a conference well timed to coincide with the anniversary of the outbreak of the war. I am taking in the plenary sessions. I will report on each as time permits. (My day job keeps me from attending the whole conference, but I hope the conference papers will be published.)

Interesting that two of the keynote speakers are historians. Tim Cook and Margaret MacMillan give a broader context to the writings during and after the war. Frances Itani, author of Deafening, will share her reflections as a novelist writing about the war.  

Canada and the Commemoration of The Great War, 1918-2018

In Canada and the Commemoration of The Great War, 1918-2018, Tim Cook talked about the strands of memory about the war in Canada – the terrible losses, a move from colony to nation, the overall impact on all aspects of society, and a legacy of disunity – and how the memory has changed over time. Continue reading


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A Whizz Bang Welcome

A mere one hundred years ago, after a long period of peace, Europe was on the precipice of the “war to end all wars”. The bluffs called and tempers calmed so many times in the past would not work.  So off to war. “Home by Christmas” was far from the outcome.

One hundred years later, the legacy of the First World War lives on.

Welcome to Great War 100 Reads

Welcome to my project to commemorate the centenary of the war. For the duration (until November 11, 2018) my leisure reading will be all about the First World War. I hope to learn more about the context of the war and reflect on its continuing influences. And I hope to share my thoughts through this blog.

Why reading? It’s what I do best!

Why keep reading for more than four years? I want to feel the length of the conflict.

Will I make it to 100 books? Maybe. 

Why this blog? I want to track the journey and hopefully learn from others on the way.

My explorations go from the causes through to the consequences. Honouring soldiers, nurses, ambulance drivers, spies, suffragists, pacifists and propagandists, be they in the war zone or on the home front. Comparing Canadian perspectives with those from other countries. Seeing how perceptions have changed over time. Mostly fiction. Some memoirs, diaries and non-fiction mixed in.

In between the book reviews, watch for my photos of First World War tributes from travels near and far, in Monday Monuments and Memorials. 

I hope you will join me for the journey and share your thoughts along the way.

Hush, here comes a whizzbang
Now you soldiermen get down those stairs
Down in your dugouts and say your prayers.
Hush, here comes a whizzbang
And it’s making right for you.
And you’ll see all the wonders of No-Man’s-Land
If a whizzbang hits you.