Great War 100 Reads

Commemorating the centenary of the First World War in books

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In the Company of Sisters and Material Traces of War

Regular visitors to Great War 100 Reads know of my particular interest in the exploits of women in WW1. Two books published in 2021 offer interesting takes on Canadian women’s roles in the war.

In the Company of Sisters: Canada’s Women in the War Zone, 1914-1919

Dianne Graves digs into the personal experiences of nursing sisters and other female medical personnel, as well as civilian volunteers who chose to “do their bit” abroad. Through journals, diaries, letters, records and newspaper accounts, she pieces together the details of their work overseas and the dangers they faced.  

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Recipes for Victory

It started with the Great War Food Symposium at the Fort York National Historic Site in 2014. A day of lectures, displays, demonstrations and tastings. The symposium evolved into Recipes for Victory: Great War Food from the Front and Kitchens Back Home in Canada – a delectable combination of essays, recipes, photos and illustrations that let you experience the war through your eyes and your tastebuds.

The essays explore the politics of food supply during the war, in Canada and on the front. Canadians were entreated to use less of some foods – meat, flour, butter and eggs, for example – so they could be exported for the troops and allied civilians in Britain. There was a tension between the need for farm workers and the need for cannon fodder. Farm and food production fell during the war, as many men who normally worked in agriculture and food processing enlisted. Government programs promoted home gardening and preserving, enabled cultivation of vacant land, and recruited women as farmerettes in the Farm Service Corps. Continue reading


Paris 1919 – The Peacemakers

Well here I am at book 100*, four years and eight months after launching this grand project. In my opening review of Margaret MacMillan’s The War That Ended Peace, I announced my plan to bookend the reading part of the project with her other book about the era.

MacMillan’s book about the end of the war, titled Paris 1919 in North America and The Peacemakers in the UK, is subtitled Six Months that Changed the World. Imagine world leaders gathering in one city for a summit lasting the better part of six months – from January to June, with a break from mid-February to mid-March. First with the Supreme Council (France, Italy, Japan, UK, US), then the Council of Four (remove Japan), then the Big Three (US President Woodrow Wilson, UK Prime Minister David Lloyd George and French PM Georges Clemenceau). Along with their delegations. And countless other delegations petitioning for their people. And civil societies pressing their causes. Continue reading

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Empires of the Dead and Sounding Thunder

Two books – unrelated except for their WW1 connection – offer insights into the mindset of an imperialist or dominant culture.

Empires of the Dead: How One Man’s Vision Led to the Creation of WWI’s War Graves

In Empires of the Dead, David Crane chronicles the life of Fabian Ware, first head of the Imperial War Graves Commission, and Ware’s role in creating over 2000 cemeteries and monuments to commemorate those who died in WW1.

Born in Bristol to a prosperous Plymouth Brethren family, Ware turned away from his religion but remained an idealist. At Oxford, he was taken by Alfred Milner’s ‘New Imperialism’. He proved himself to be a skilled administrator and diplomat early in his career.

As a commander in the Mobile Ambulance Unit in WW1, he saw firsthand the cavalier treatment of the dead. He was appalled. He started to record the graves systematically. This lead to the formation of the Graves Registration Commission. Ware negotiated the expropriation of land to bury the dead from the British Empire, first at the local level, then with the French government. A properly constituted authority of Britain and the Dominions would control the future maintenance of the graves. Continue reading


This Small Army of Women

Shown into his luxurious office, I asked whether he could hurry my departure. I was terrified when this great fat man, who seemed as old as the hills to me, pulled me down on his knee and began kissing me! As I was struggling to get away his secretary came in and showed no surprise whatever at the scene. Apparently there was nothing unusual in this situation! But this was my first experience with a licentious old man, I was overwhelmed! However, he did promise me this: Not another girl will leave Canada before you! And they didn’t. (This Small Army of Women, p 67)

Latest #metoo revelation of sexual harassment? No, a 1916 account of Canadian VAD Violet Wilson. 1916.

Over the years, sensational allegations rise and fade, rise and fade. But until everyone – men as well as women – recognizes sexual harassment and sexual assault as systemic problems of entitlement and power, the culture of acquiescence continues. It’s about time to say #metoo for change.

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Canada’s Dream Shall Be of Them

Is your creativity enriched or curtailed by Twitter’s 140-character limit? Imagine the challenge to families of those killed in WW1, asked to keep an epitaph for their loved one to 66 characters.

The Imperial (now Commonwealth) War Graves Commission decided not to repatriate hundreds of thousands bodies. Rather, the dead were buried with their comrades close to where they fell. A standard stone marks each grave, regardless of rank. But next of kin were invited to add a personal inscription. About half took up the offer. Together, these epitaphs form a striking record of grief and memory. 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



With the centenary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge fast approaching, it seemed to be a good time to delve into Vimy, Pierre Berton’s popular account of the Canadian exploits to capture a strategic spot on the Western Front.

Berton set out “to tell not just what happened but also what it was like.” (Author’s note, p 313) He interviewed survivors and combed through old diaries, memoirs, letters, newspaper accounts and oral histories. The result is a lively account of Easter Monday, 9 April 1917 – when the four divisions of the Canadian Corps fought together for the first (and only) time – the events leading to it and the mopping up afterwards. Continue reading


Tapestry of War

Sandra Gwyn’s Tapestry of War: A Private View of Canadians in the Great War is a gossipy, luscious social history, seen through the eyes of several Canadians who had ringside seats or a view further back from the action.

Our guides were chosen from a variety of vantage points on the basis of their diaries and letters, not necessarily because their importance in the war effort. Gwyn jumps from one person to another, from Ottawa to London to the Western Front, intricately weaving the tales. Some are more interesting than others, but all have a purpose. Continue reading

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Remembered in Bronze and Stone – Canada’s Great War Memorial Statuary

Early in my days of researching monuments for Great War 100 Reads, I discovered Alan Livingstone MacLeod’s albums on Flickr. Beautiful photos documenting WW1 monuments across Canada, and a good source in trying to sort out Emanuel Hahn’s work from the imitations. So I am delighted to find that he has written a book featuring his photos, Remembered in Bronze and Stone, published in November 2016. Continue reading