Great War 100 Reads

Commemorating the centenary of the First World War in books


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Soldiers Memorial, Wiarton, ON

Wiarton’s claims to fame include being the gateway to the Bruce Peninsula and the home of the world’s only albino weather prognosticator (aka groundhog Wiarton Willie). Travelling through town to either attraction, you are likely to pass the Soldiers Memorial, on the east side of Berford St (Hwy 6) between George and William. Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Memorial Screen, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON

Each day, hundreds of people walk past the Memorial Screen in an arcade west of the Soldiers’ Tower on the University of Toronto’s downtown campus. Those pausing to look see the names, ranks and units of 628 university alumni, faculty, staff and students killed in WW1 – carved in limestone. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Cenotaph, Memorial Park, Carleton Place, ON

Memorial Park, on Franklin St between Beckwith and Judson in Carleton Place, was originally the Market Square. After WW1, the local chapter of the IODE raised money for the monument to honour locals killed in the war. Dedicated in 1924, the front of the original granite monument is carved with a sword on a cross hanging over a flame and laurel wreath, with the phrase “they gave their to-day for our to-morrow.” Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Palais des Nations/Palace of Nations, Geneva, Switzerland

Here is a great work for peace in which all can participate. The nations must disarm or perish. Be just and fear not. – Robert Cecil, 1865-1958

Formation of the League of Nations/La Société des Nations was a key element of the Paris Peace Conference convened in 1919. The League was conceived as an intergovernmental organization to prevent war through collective security, and to settle disputes between countries through negotiation and diplomacy. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Commonwealth Memorial Tablets, France

Starting in 1923 and 1936, the Imperial (now Commonwealth) War Graves Commission erected memorial tablets in several French and Belgian cathedrals, in memory of the British Empire dead of WW1.

The first of these was placed in Amiens Cathedral, bearing the Royal Coat of Arms and dedicated to the 600,000 men of the armies of Great Britain and Ireland. Subsequent tablets incorporated the arms or insignia of Australia, Canada, India, Newfoundland, New Zealand and South Africa. Continue reading


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Bolsheviki and Motherhouse

Bolsheviki and Motherhouse, two plays by David Fennario, recollect class struggles during and following WW1.

In Bolsheviki, a Montreal Gazette reporter wanders into a bar on Remembrance Day, in search of a human interest story. There he finds Harry “Rosie” Rollins, a veteran with a blistering view of the war and its aftermath. Rosie is based on Fennario’s 1979 interview with WW1 veteran Harry “Rosie” Rowbottom, who lost a finger in the Battle of Loos and was wounded at Vimy Ridge. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Waterlilies – Nymphéas, Le Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris

On 12 November 1918, the day after the Armistice, the painter Claude Monet wrote to his friend, French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, offering two monumental paintings of waterlilies to the French nation as a symbol of peace. Two eventually became eight. In 1927, the panels were installed in two purpose-built oval rooms in the Musée de l’Orangerie. Continue reading


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Armistice Day, 1918 … Remembrance Day, 2018

At the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month, when the guns of the Great War at last fell silent, the fury of conflict was replaced by a deafening silence. In that fragile gap between the sounds of dying and the cries of relief, we were faced with all we had done, all we had lost, all we had sacrificed.

In that silence, we met a truth so obvious and so terrifying we swore we would never take up arms again.

“One owes respect to the living,” said Voltaire. “To the dead, one owes only the truth.”

We vowed never to forget.

Governor General David Johnston, 11 November 2014

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – National War Memorial: The Response, Ottawa

Surmounting the arch, through which the armed forces of the nation are passing forward, are the figures of peace and freedom. To win peace and secure freedom, Canada’s sons and daughters enrolled for service during the Great War. For the cause of peace and freedom 60,000 Canadians gave their lives, and a still larger number suffered impairment of body or mind. This sacrifice the National Memorial holds in remembrance for our own and succeeding generations.

This memorial, however, does more than commemorate a great event in the past. It has a message for all generations and for all countries— the message which called for Canada’s response. Not by chance both the crowning figures of peace and freedom appear side by side. Peace and freedom cannot long be separated. It is well that we have in one of the world’s capitals, a visible reminder of so great a truth. Without freedom there can be no enduring peace, and without peace no enduring freedom.

George VI, dedication of the National War Memorial, 21 May 1939 Continue reading


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The Last Summer of the World

Can a fictionalized story add to our understanding of a famous person whose life is well documented? That is Emily Mitchell’s mission in The Last Summer of the World.

The novel centres on photographer Edward Steichen. At the beginning of the war, he and his family fled from their home in France for the safety of the US, leaving behind his paintings, photos and negatives. Now it is 1918 and he has returned to France as a reconnaissance photographer for the US army. In the interim, his marriage to Clara has fallen apart. Continue reading