Great War 100 Reads

Commemorating the centenary of the First World War in books


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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


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An Interview with Katrina Kirkwood, author of The Mystery of Isabella and the String of Beads

Katrina Kirkwood’s book, The Mystery of Isabella and the String of Beads, is two tales in one. She tells about Isabella Stenhouse’s adventures as a doctor in WW1 as well as her own journey of discovery. Katrina joins me today at Great War 100 Reads to discuss her work.

What first interested you in finding your grandmother’s war stories?

Katrina Kirkwood: Romance. Amongst the medical instruments that I inherited from my grandmother Isabella was a strange string of beads. Rumour had it that they had been given to her by a grateful German prisoner of war, an idea that entranced me. As a teenager, I dreamt up a glorious romance in which love trounced international enmity. The fact that Isabella might have been a pioneering woman doctor, fighting fierce male opposition for the right to practise her hard-earned skills in the profession of her choice didn’t cross my mind until years later. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – John Gordon Wardlaw Gibson, Vimy Monument, France

Each soldier tells a story. So does each family left behind.

Cathy Cummings (a GW100R follower) has graciously permitted me to share a post she wrote last month about her great uncle:

Today I am remembering not only my great uncle Gordon Gibson who gave the ultimate sacrifice at Vimy, but his little brother Tom, my grandfather, and what it must have meant to him. Continue reading


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The Mystery of Isabella and the String of Beads

Scalpels. Forceps. Stethoscope. Other miscellaneous surgical instruments. And an intricately woven string of beads. These were the legacy that Isabella Stenhouse gave to her granddaughter, Katrina Kirkwood. But not the stories to go with them – of serving as a doctor in France, Malta and Egypt in WW1.

There came a point when Kirkwood realized that her grandmother’s war exploits were extraordinary for a woman of the time. In The Mystery of Isabella and the String of Beads, she sets out to learn about her grandmother’s early life. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Soldiers’ Monument, Paisley, ON

The soldiers’ monument in Paisley, Ontario stands in a square bound by Queen, Goldie and Water Streets, close to the confluence of the Saugeen and Teeswater Rivers. The monument, made of grey Stanstead granite, is a 15 ft pedestal on which stands a 7 ft soldier. The same figure from the McIntosh Granite Co is on the cenotaph in Picton, Ontario.

The monument was dedicated in May 1922, “in honored memory of the men of Paisley and adjoining Townships of Bruce, Elderslie, Greenock and Saugeen who gave their lives in the Great War, 1914 – 1919.” The 27 May edition of the Globe reported about 2000 people in attendance: Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – War Widow and Recording Angel, Peace Tower, Ottawa

Enter the Memorial Chamber in the Peace Tower in Ottawa, turn around and look up to see two sculptures by Frances Loring. In the gable tympanum is the Recording Angel, inscribing the names of the fallen in the Book of Remembrance. On the finial above is the War Widow and Children, also called Motherhood. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Canadian Bank of Commerce, Toronto

The 34-storey headquarters of the Canadian Bank of Commerce (now known as Commerce Court North) was the tallest building in the Commonwealth from 1931 to 1962. Built at a time when banks were temples, this art deco temple incorporates a memorial to bank staff killed in WW1. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Frank Albert Symons, St Paul’s Church, Halifax

Each surgeon tells a story.

Frank Albert Symons was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia on 28 Apr 1869, the eldest son of John Hughes Symons and Anna Barbara Rudolf. He studied medicine at Edinburgh University and joined the army, rising up the ranks as a surgeon in the Royal Army Medical Corps in South Africa, Malta, Ceylon and ultimately in WW1. He married Dorothy Bennett at Salisbury Cathedral on 9 August 1900. By 1910, they had four daughters. He was killed by a shell on 30 April 1917 and is buried at St Nicolas British War Cemetery, just north of Arras. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – 10th Battalion, Old City Hall, Calgary

The 10th Battalion, created in 1914 as an infantry battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, was amongst the first Canadian contingents to sail for the UK in 1914. Recruits were largely from Calgary and other parts of Alberta. Continue reading