Great War 100 Reads

Commemorating the centenary of the First World War in books

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The Great Swindle – Au revoir là-haut

With war comes profiteering, and opportunities for graft, corruption and exploitation can continue after the end of hostilities.

Starting in 1915, the French government banned exhumation of dead bodies, saying soldiers would be buried near where they fell. After the war, many bereaved family members ignored the law and clandestinely claimed the remains of their loved ones. They bribed undertakers or appealed to unscrupulous entrepreneurs.

The government decided to identify the countless bodies that had been quickly buried or left on the killing fields, and to repatriate them or consolidate them in large military cemeteries. Contracts were tendered with private companies to undertake the immense task of exhuming and identifying the remains, placing them in coffins, transporting and reburying them. With contract payments per corpse, fraud and cutting corners were an attractive way to make the profits more lucrative. The press broke the scandale des exhumations militaires in 1922, and the government could no longer look the other way. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Houghton brothers, St. Mark’s Anglican Church, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON

For a church established in 1792 in Niagara-on-the-Lake, the War of 1812 looms larger in its history than WW1. Yet St Mark’s Church, at 41 Byron St, has several WW1 markers to honour its parishioners who served. The name Houghton figures again and again – all sons of Emma Hadley and Joseph Houghton. Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Cenotaph, Arnprior, ON

To keep forever living the freedom for which they died.

Arnprior was late to erect a cenotaph, by Ontario standards. The monument on John St N near Ewan St, in front of the Arnprior and District Memorial Hospital, was the site of Remembrance Day ceremonies on 11 November 1952, and was officially dedicated in July 1953. On the front of the cenotaph are 60 names of local men who died in WW1. WW2 and Korean War names are on the reverse. Swords decorate the sides. Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Conscription Riots, Spring 1918, Quebec City

Québec, Printemps 1918 marks the place of one of the demonstrations in Quebec City protesting the Canadian government’s 1917 decision to conscript men into the army. The creation of sculptor Aline Martineau, it was unveiled on 4 September 1998 at the intersection of Saint-Vallier, Saint-Joseph and Bagot in Quebec City. Continue reading

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Fields of Glory – Les champs d’honneur

Every younger generation views their elders as comic, mundane, absurd. Every older generation strives to impart the lessons of history on those who follow.

In Les champs d’honneurFields of Glory in English translation – Jean Rouaud revisits childhood in Loire-Atlantique in the 1960’s. The eccentricities of grandparents and countless other relatives who surround the family are seen through the eyes of a young narrator and two siblings. Continue reading


Monday Monuments and Memorials – Lisgar Collegiate Institute, Ottawa

Lisgar Collegiate Institute has a history in Ottawa longer than Canada itself: founded in 1843, it just celebrated its 175th anniversary. Students entering the main doors of the school at 29 Lisgar St cannot help but turn their minds to WW1. In Memorial Hall they are surrounded by reminders of alumni and alumnae who served in the war. Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Bell Telephone, Montreal

It’s Labour Day in Canada and the US … a day to celebrate workers.

The entrance to the Bell Canada Building at 1050, Côte du Beaver-Hall, Montréal (between rue Belmont and rue de la Gauchetière O) is flanked by the bell logo of the Bell Telephone Company of Canada. Completed in 1929, it was once the company headquarters. Enter the brass doors into the entry staircase, flanked by bronze plaques to Bell’s Montreal employees who served and died in two world wars.   Continue reading


Monday Monuments and Memorials – Sun Quarry Cemetery, Chérisy, France

Every soldier tells a story. Some stories end the same way.

Sun Quarry Cemetery is 1.5 km SE of the village of Chérisy (near Arras) on the NE side of D38, the road to Hendecourt-lès-Cagnicourt. Of 191 WW1 burials, eight unidentified, 161 are Canadian. According to Commonwealth War Grave Commission records, the cemetery was made by the fighting units and most of those buried there were killed between 26 Aug and 28 Sep 1918. In other words, they are buried close to where they fell.

Five headstones in Row A mark the graves of five men from the 15th Battalion of the Canadian Infantry who died on 30 Aug 1918.  Continue reading

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In Falling Snow

We’re women. We do things. (p 78)

The Scottish Women’s Hospitals were founded during WW1 to help the war effort by offering medical assistance. The founders were committed to promoting women’s rights and believed that contributing to the war effort would help women win those rights.

The British Army refused their help. The women were not daunted, offering hospitals instead to other allied countries. The French were the first to accept. The second Scottish Women’s Hospital was established in the Abbaye de Royaumont, a 13C Cistercian abbey north of Paris, with Dr Frances Ivens as the chief medical officer. The hospital team cared for more than 10,000 wounded soldiers from 1915 to 1919.

Jump forward 70 years. Mary-Rose MacColl found herself in the wrong aisle at the library, having transposed two digits in a call number. She noticed a title, Women of Royaumont: A Scottish Women’s Hospital on the Western Front. Eileen Crofton’s book was the spark of inspiration for MacColl’s novel, In Falling Snow, which pays tribute to the women who served at Royaumont throughout the war. It also explores how the challenges for women in medical service have evolved (or not) from WW1 to the 1970s. Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Nellie Spindler, Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, Belgium

A noble type of good heroic womanhood.

Age 26.

Tomorrow marks the 101st anniversary of the death of Staff Nurse Nellie Spindler of Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service. She was killed in action in No. 44 Casualty Clearing Station, Brandhoek, Belgium, in the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele). Continue reading