Great War 100 Reads

Commemorating the centenary of the First World War in books

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Dancy Cant and Helena MacLaughlin, Beechwood Cemetery, Ottawa ON

This October, in honour of Women’s History Month, I am visiting the graves of WW1 nursing sisters buried in the National Captial Region.

Sisters Dancy Florence and Helena Augustine MacLaughlin were born in Ottawa, daughters of Thomas MacLaughlin and Augustine Desrochers MacLaughlin. The sisters are both buried in the military section of Beechwood Cemetery in Ottawa.

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Gordon and John Carling, Beechwood Cemetery, Ottawa

A Carling family plot in Ottawa’s Beechwood Cemetery includes two war graves. To the left of the stone cross is Capt Gordon Burleigh Carling, Canadian Army Service Corps, who died on 18 June 1918 at age 31. To the right is Lt John Burleigh Carling, Royal Air Force, who died on 5 May 1918 at age 19. Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Veterans Guard of Canada, Beechwood Cemetery, Ottawa

Wandering through the WW1 area of Beechwood Cemetery in Ottawa, paying half attention to details on the grave markers, one might marvel at the number of VCs – Victoria Cross recipients – who lived to a ripe old age. Then one looks closer at the worn engravings: it’s VG of Canada, not VC. Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Sir George Halsey Perley, Ottawa, ON

The Right Honourable Sir George Halsey Perley wore many hats during and immediately after WW1. The Member of Parliament was in Prime Minister Robert Borden’s cabinet and served as Canada’s High Commissioner and Minister of the Overseas Military Forces in London. Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – In Flanders Fields

Tomorrow marks 100 years since John McCrae’s poem In Flanders Fields was first published – anonymously – in Punch magazine. Since then, the poem and its symbolic poppies have been linked to the remembrance of loss and sacrifice in war.

In today’s gallery:

  • The last lines of poem are on the base of the cenotaph in Orangeville, Ontario.
  • Copies of The Grieving Soldier by Emanuel Hahn grace many Canadian communities. This one is in Hanover, Ontario.
  • John McCrae statue by Ruth Abernethy, Green Island, Ottawa. Another cast of the statue is in Guelph, his birthplace.
  • National Military Cemetery, in Beechwood Cemetery, Ottawa
  • Memorial Room, Students’ Memorial Union, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario
  • Memorial Chamber, Peace Tower, Parliament Hill, Ottawa
  • University College Memorial Plaque, Memorial Room, Soldiers Tower, University of Toronto
  • End wall of WW1 Memorial Screen, University of Toronto

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Thomas Langton, Canadian Forestry Corps, Ottawa

Each soldier tells a story.

Some stories are more elusive than others.

Thomas Langton was born on June 23, 1869 in Yorkshire, England. At some point, he came to Canada. Although he lived in Montreal, he joined the CEF in Ottawa on January 29, 1917. He was 47. His attestation papers list his trade as a labourer and teamster.

The Canadian Forestry Corps was formed in 1916 to provide lumber for the war effort. Recruiting posters soon called for “Bushmen and sawmill hands wanted for the Canadian Forestry Units overseas.”

Lumber was needed for such diverse uses as trench construction, railway ties, tent poles, buildings, axe handles and fuel. At first, the thought was that trees would be cut in Canada and shipped overseas. But space on ships was limited, so the Corps went to the wood in the UK and France. The Corps produced about 70% of the lumber used on the Western front. They were occupied in all aspects of the trade – from felling trees and dressing lumber to actual construction. They cleared sites for aerodromes. Some of the wood was fashioned into wooden crosses for graves.

From his attestation papers in 1917, we go to Langton’s grave in Beechwood Cemetery in Ottawa. He died in June 1971 at age 102. What brought him from England to Canada? What did he do after the war?

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Alan Brookman Beddoe, Ottawa, ON

Each soldier tells a story.

LCdr Alan Beddoe served with the Canadian Expeditonary Force during WW1. He was captured in 1915 and spent two and a half years as a prisoner of war. After the war, he studied art in Paris and New York and became a commercial and heraldic artist. One of his post-war achievements honours Canadians killed in the war: he was instrumental in creating the first Books of Remembrance housed in the Peace Tower Memorial Chamber.

Beddoe is buried in Beechwood Cemetery, Ottawa. You can read more about him in the cemetery’s Historical Portraits (click through from here).



Monday Monuments and Memorials – Matron Margaret Heggie Smith, Ottawa

Each nurse has a story.

Matron Margaret Heggie Smith is remembered in three Ottawa venues:

  • In St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, there is a plaque in her memory (above) and her name is on the memorial window
  • The Bytown Museum displays her photo and medals (some seen above, RCC and bar not shown)
  • She is buried in Beechwood Cemetery (gravestone shown below)

The memoriam published in The Canadian Nurse and Hospital Review (June 1920, vol 16, no 6, p 337) tells her story.

In the death of Matron Margaret Heggie Smith, R.R.C. and Bar, of Ottawa, which occurred at Atlantic City on May 12th, there passed away one of the most distinguished of Canadian nurses. Miss Smith, a graduate of the Blockley Hospital, Philadelphia, began her army career in 1900, when she was one of the Nursing Sisters selected for service with the Canadian Forces in South Africa. On her return from that campaign she resumed the private practice of her profession.

At the outbreak of the Great War, by virtue of her previous excellent services, Miss Smith was one of the first nurses to receive an appointment as Nursing Sister with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. With the First Contingent she embarked for Overseas in September, 1914, and did not again see Canada until October, 1919. During the interval Miss Smith served with distinction in France and in England, in 1915 being promoted to Matron. In 1916 she became Matron of the Ontario Military Hospital, the largest of the Overseas Canadian hospitals. Early in 1917 the work of Matron Smith received recognition in the form of the Royal Red Cross; she subsequently received from the Secretary of State for War a “Mention” for valuable services. For continuous and conspicuously meritorious service, Matron Smith, in 1919, was awarded that very limited distinction of a bar to the Royal Red Cross.

But years of steady and strenuous duty had its undermining effect, and it was in somewhat impaired health that Matron Smith returned to Canada. After some months’ treatment, she had seemingly recovered her health: and it was whilst in the enjoyment of a well-merited holiday, with friends, at Atlantic City, that, without warning, she was elected to join those “Whom God has called to His mysterious rest.” The memory of the best of Matrons will ever remain enshrined in the loving remembrance of her associates of the Overseas Military Forces of Canada.


Monday Monuments and Memorials – Wreaths Across Canada, National Military Cemetery, Ottawa

Wreaths Across Canada has the ambitious goal of placing a wreath on the graves of veterans in every military cemetery in Canada on the first Sunday of December each year. The program started modestly at the National Military Cemetery in Ottawa. The dates of death and the fact that the graves are in Canada show that these veterans of the Canadian Expeditionary Force survived and returned home after serving in WW1.

Wreaths Across Canada is based on Wreaths Across America, in operation since 1992. National Wreaths Across America Day is next Saturday, 13 December.


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.