Great War 100 Reads

Commemorating the centenary of the First World War in books

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Memorial Window, St Bartholomew’s Church, Ottawa

St. Bartholomew’s Anglican Church, on MacKay St overlooking the grounds of Rideau Hall, has long enjoyed an association with its Rideau Hall neighbour, Canada’s Governor General. The most splendid manifestation of vice-regal patronage is the east window, donated by HRH Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught (the third son of Queen Victoria and then Governor General of Canada) in memory of members of his personal staff killed in WW1.

The window was designed and executed by Irish artist, Wilhelmina Geddes – her only work in North America and now widely considered to be her masterpiece. It was unveiled by Edward, Prince of Wales on 9 November 1919. Continue reading


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A God in Every Stone

The parallels of history stretch far in Kamila Shamsie’s novel, A God in Every Stone … a sweep of over 2000 years, from the Persian Empire and the explorations of Scylax in 500 BCE, to the Western Front in WW1, to the strife between Armenians and Turks, to the Indian independence movement and the Qissa Khawani bazaar massacre in the 1930s.

The lesson: “We take from the Empire what it has to give – but in the end, our loyalties are with the people we loved first, love most deeply.” (p 25) Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Mountain View Cemetery, Vancouver

Each soldier tells a story.

Visitors to Mountain View Cemetery, located west of Fraser St between 31st Ave and 43rd Ave in Vancouver, can find some 329 Commonwealth war graves of those who served in WW1, a Cross of Sacrifice, and a spectacular view of the Coast Mountains north of Vancouver. The Jones 45 section of the cemetery has the largest concentration of WW1 war graves. Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Memorial Cup, Hockey Hall of Fame, Toronto

In hockey-obsessed Canada, it was inevitable that someone would decide to honour hockey players killed in WW1. The Memorial Cup was first awarded in 1919. It will be presented for the 100th time in May 2018. Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Newfoundland and Merchant Navy Books of Remembrance, Peace Tower, Ottawa

But now, though the War has almost passed from living memory, these men and women are still remembered: For their lives meant more than the War in which they died, and their deaths more than can be known. (Merchant Navy Book of Remembrance, English dedication page)

The First World War Book of Remembrance takes centre stage in the Memorial Chamber in the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill. But it is not the only book in the room in which one can find names of those who fell in WW1. Continue reading

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Our Horses in Egypt and Bunny the Brave War Horse

Two books this week, looking at the work of horses in WW1 and after. Both a thoughtful commentary on the relationships between humans and other animals. Neither with a happy ending.

Our Horses in Egypt starts a few years after the war. Englishwoman and war widow Griselda Romney discovers that one of her horses, used by the army during the war, may still be alive. She had thought of Philomena fighting and dying on the Western front. Instead, she learns that the horse had been sent to Egypt. Off she goes to Egypt, daughter and nanny in tow, in search of Philomena.

Author Rosalind Belben alternates the adventures of Griselda and entourage with those of Philomena at war. It makes for an interesting perspective on the hierarchies of Empire. While Griselda certainly benefits from the privileges of her class and race, she can just as easily suffer when she steps out of the boundaries of “suitable” female behaviour. While the humans about her question Griselda’s impulse to find a horse (shouldn’t she be grieving her dead husband and caring for her children instead?), she feels a responsibility to a fellow creature – one of her own. And she may hold her own – the horse – in higher regard than “foreign” humans.  Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – War Memorial, Holstein, ON

It would be easy to miss Holstein, let alone its war memorial. The village stretches for about 500 m on Grey County Rd 109 north of Southgate Rd 12. But the war memorial lists 114 names – those from the village and surrounding township who served overseas, 18 of whom died. Continue reading

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The Ghost Road

Ghosts everywhere. Even the living were only ghosts in the making. You learned to ration your commitment to them. (p 46)

Everyone touched wood, crossed fingers, groped for lucky charms: all the small protective devises of men who have no control over their own fate. (p 147)

Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy of WW1 novels have been sitting in my reading pile for years, but always with other books on top of them. The wait has given me the chance to read them in relatively quick succession, interspersed with works by some of the real-life people who feature in them.

The Ghost Road is the last in the trilogy. Regeneration was set in Edinburgh at Craiglockhart Hospital, The Eye in the Door in London and northern England. The Ghost Road moves from London to the Western Front in the last months of the war, with psychiatrist and anthropologist Dr William Rivers and the fictional Billy Prior again in prominent roles. Poet Wilfred Owen (another Craiglockhart patient) returns in a cameo. Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Cenotaph, Grand Valley, ON

At the corner of Main St N (County Road 25) and Amaranth St, the centre of the village in Grand Valley, a cenotaph is dedicated “in honoured memory of the men of Grand Valley and East Luther, Amaranth and East Garafraxa Townships who died in the Great War.” It was erected in 1920, and rededicated in 1949 with the addition of side blocks for those killed in WW2. It was spared when a tornado hit the area in May 1985. Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Royal Canadian Air Force Memorial, Kingston, ON

City Park, a large park just west of downtown Kingston, is home to many monuments that mark the city’s military connections. One park memorial, on Stuart St near Barrie St, is dedicated “to the glory of God and in loving memory of all who gave their lives and served with the Royal Canadian Air Force and Commonwealth Air Forces.”

It was erected by the 416 Wing of the Royal Canadian Air Force Association. City records indicate that it dates from around 1967. The epitaph – “they have slipped the surly bonds of earth” – is the first line of High Flight, a poem by American WW2 pilot John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

Air combat was a new technology in WW1. Pilots could count their life expectancy in minutes, days or weeks. Half were killed in training.

Near the RCAF memorial, two oak trees are dedicated to “Grieving the tragedy of war, committed to the promise of peace.” One peace tree is about 100 years old. The other was planted on 21 September 2013, the UN International Day of Peace. A visit in any season but winter would show the peace trees to greater advantage.

PeaceQuest has recently published a WW1 walking tour of Kingston. You can find the podcast and map here.

Thanks to Vicki, host, driver, guide and chief snow clearer on the Kingston tour.

Welcome to more new followers who have joined this journey. I look forward to your comments.