Great War 100 Reads

Commemorating the centenary of the First World War in books

Leave a comment

Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag and Smile, Smile, Smile

Happy seventh anniversary to Great War 100 Reads. And an odd year it has been, with the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to parallel the influenza pandemic at the end of WW1. A year to pack up your troubles. My world travels have shrunk to little more than 100 km from home. It has given me an excuse to explore the many war memorials close at hand.

It has also been a year where statues were a flashpoint of upheaval, as society questioned the legacy of the “great men” they memorialize – be they slave holders, slave traders, or architects of Indian residential schools – no matter their virtues. (Not that this is a new phenomenon. History has always been reassessed – and statues removed or altered – as times and opinions change.)

How have WW1 memorials fared over a century? They tend not to be toppled over for political reasons, perhaps because they tend not to honour individual “great men” whose deeds are re-examined. They are symbolic of the graves of all members of the community who died and are buried far from home. Many take the form of cenotaphs (empty graves), and statuary tends to be of generic persons.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Rosemary, for Remembrance

Happy anniversary to Great War 100 Reads! My modest project is now six years old. Longer than the war itself, not nearly as long as the war’s reach. After all, remembering is not just for milestone years.

The monuments have taken over now that my leisure reading is no longer exclusively about WW1. In some ways, researching the monuments and those they honour is easier now. The centenary gave a reason to gather and publish official and unofficial documentation. Some Canadian examples online: Continue reading

Leave a comment

An Interview with Great War 100 Reads

As the centenary of the Armistice approached last November, friend and Great War 100 Reads follower Vicki Schmolka turned the tables on me: “I have really enjoyed your posts, especially learning more about the role of women in the war and the interviews with authors. Made me think that it might be interesting for your loyal readers for you to answer a few questions.”

An excellent idea. To mark the fifth anniversary of Great War 100 Reads, here is our interview. Continue reading

Leave a comment

A Long, Long Trail

Really? Really. Four years into the WW1 centenary and four years since the start of this reading odyssey. In 317 posts, Great War 100 Years has documented 90 books read, over 200 monuments and memorials each Monday, and more interviews and musings.

Year three ended and year four started with my exploring the growing scholarship on medical women in the war. (Bravo to those bringing these fascinating stories back to life!) Now I’ve turned back to fiction for the most part. Some by authors who lived through the war. Most written from a longer view perspective in the last 30 years. A few with most exquisite prose. A range of voices showing the experiences of war for women, men and beasts. Continue reading

Leave a comment

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 Reads. 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


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

Leave a comment

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


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

Leave a comment

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.

1 Comment

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

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.