Great War 100 Reads

Commemorating the centenary of the First World War in books

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Remember Flanders, John McCrae, Guelph, ON


John McCrae wrote In Flanders Field in May 1915, inspired by the death of his friend Alexis Helmer. The poem was first published in December 1915. Since then, the poem and its symbolic poppies have become iconic remembrances of sacrifice in war. 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


Monday Monuments and Memorials – Memorial Plaques, Dominion-Chalmers Church, Ottawa, ON

Three WW1-related plaques are found in Dominion-Chalmers United Church, at the corner of O’Connor and Cooper Streets in downtown Ottawa.

Plaques from the Chalmers Presbyterian Church and the Dominion Methodist Church are a clue that two congregations came together after 1919 to form the current one. Each of the original churches honoured all the members of their congregations who served as well as those who died. Women are listed on both plaques—all together in the first column of the Chalmers plaque, mixed alphabetically with the men on the Dominion plaque. Of the women, only Gamble and West from Chalmers, and Eagleson, Kingston and Scott from Dominion are listed (as nursing sisters) in the CEF service files. Were the others VADs or Red Cross volunteers? Did they serve with another country?

The third plaque honours Dominion congregation member Alexis Helmer. Helmer’s death inspired John McCrae’s poem, In Flanders Fields. The text on the plaque is the same as that on the family gravestone in nearby Beechwood Cemetery. From the look of this older photo (click through, then scroll down), the plaque has been repaired and remounted. Helmer’s name is also on the Menin Gate in Belgium.

Dominion-Chalmers is built in a Neo-Byzantine style, unusual for Canadian churches. The building is square, but the pillars, dome and shape of the balcony give the impression inside that it is an octagon. The acoustics make the church a popular concert hall. At this time of year, it is one of the venues for the Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival.

I’ve been housecleaning at Great War 100 Reads … broken links fixed, more cross-references, an easier-to-read serif font, and the like. All to add to your reading pleasure.


Monday Monuments and Memorials – John McCrae, In Flanders Fields, Ottawa

Yesterday marked 100 years since John McCrae wrote In Flanders Fields. Inspired by the death of his friend Alexis Helmer, the poem and its symbolic poppies have become iconic remembrances of sacrifice in war.

This statue of McCrae was unveiled yesterday in Ottawa. It is on Green Island, where the Rideau River flows into the Ottawa River. Sculptor Ruth Abernethy captures him at the moment of writing the poem. Three members of the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery (RCA) inspecting the statue when I took these photos were impressed by the accuracy of details like the buttons and shoe lacing.

An identical sculpture will be unveiled next month in Guelph, ON, McCrae’s birthplace. 

The Guelph Mercury published an interesting feature section about McCrae and the poem last week.


Monday Monuments and Memorials – Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, Ottawa

Helmer inspired In Flanders Fields

Helmer inspired In Flanders Fields

Alexis Helmer enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in 1914 and quickly rose to the rank of Lieutenant. He became good friends with the First Canadian Brigade’s second in command, John McCrae. The brigade was sent to the second Battle of Ypres in 1915. Helmer was killed on May 2 and his remains buried the same day. In the absence of a chaplain, McCrae conducted the service.

Helmer’s death is believed to be the inspiration for McCrae’s poem In Flanders Fields. The grave is now lost. Helmer’s name is on the Menin Gate Memorial and on this family marker in Beechwood Cemetery, Ottawa.

Alexis Hannum Helmer – Lieut 2nd Battery 1st Artillery Brigade – C.E.F. – fell in action near Ypres – May 2nd 1915, aged 22 years – Be God’s gentleman and the King’s gentleman

The same inscription is on a plaque in Dominion-Chalmers Church.

Oops! An errant link in last Monday’s Monuments and Memorials is now fixed.