Great War 100 Reads

Commemorating the centenary of the First World War in books


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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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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Terlincthun British Cemetery, Wimille, France

Terlincthun, between Boulogne and Wimereux, was along the line of hospitals and rest camps established near the coast of France during WW1. Terlincthun British Cemetery was begun June 1918. The central path of the cemetery aligns with the nearby Colonne de la Grande Armée, so the statue of Napoleon appears to be keeping watch over those buried there. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – St Sever Cemeteries, Rouen, France

St Sever Cemetery and St Sever Cemetery Extension are located in a large communal cemetery in the southern Rouen suburbs, near the sites of several WW1 Allied hospitals and camps.* WW1 burials from Commonwealth forces number 11430 in the cemetery and cemetery extension.

Looking for clusters of women’s war graves? Look no further than the hospital sites. The seven women buried in St Sever Cemetery and the six buried in St Sever Cemetery Extension all died of illness or illness-related accident. Two were nursing sisters, six were VADs, three worked with Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps, one with the YMCA, and one was a civilian volunteer. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Abbeville Communal Cemetery Extension, Abbeville, France

Abbeville, on the Somme River northwest of Amiens, was a strategic Allied communications and hospital centre in WW1. In spring and summer 1918, Abbeville was the target of German air raids. In the early morning of 30 May 1918, Abbeville and Doullens were hit. At Abbeville, a bomb hit a protection trench, killing nine women in Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps (QMAAC). The victims were buried with military honours in Abbeville Communal Cemetery Extension. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Sun Quarry Cemetery, Chérisy, France

Every soldier tells a story. Some stories end the same way.

Sun Quarry Cemetery is 1.5 km SE of the village of Chérisy (near Arras) on the NE side of D38, the road to Hendecourt-lès-Cagnicourt. Of 191 WW1 burials, eight unidentified, 161 are Canadian. According to Commonwealth War Grave Commission records, the cemetery was made by the fighting units and most of those buried there were killed between 26 Aug and 28 Sep 1918. In other words, they are buried close to where they fell.

Five headstones in Row A mark the graves of five men from the 15th Battalion of the Canadian Infantry who died on 30 Aug 1918.  Continue reading


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Empires of the Dead and Sounding Thunder

Two books – unrelated except for their WW1 connection – offer insights into the mindset of an imperialist or dominant culture.

Empires of the Dead: How One Man’s Vision Led to the Creation of WWI’s War Graves

In Empires of the Dead, David Crane chronicles the life of Fabian Ware, first head of the Imperial War Graves Commission, and Ware’s role in creating over 2000 cemeteries and monuments to commemorate those who died in WW1.

Born in Bristol to a prosperous Plymouth Brethren family, Ware turned away from his religion but remained an idealist. At Oxford, he was taken by Alfred Milner’s ‘New Imperialism’. He proved himself to be a skilled administrator and diplomat early in his career.

As a commander in the Mobile Ambulance Unit in WW1, he saw firsthand the cavalier treatment of the dead. He was appalled. He started to record the graves systematically. This lead to the formation of the Graves Registration Commission. Ware negotiated the expropriation of land to bury the dead from the British Empire, first at the local level, then with the French government. A properly constituted authority of Britain and the Dominions would control the future maintenance of the graves. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – No. 1 Canadian General Hospital, Étaples, France

Étaples, a port town south of Boulogne, served as an Allied training base, supply depot, prisoner detention centre, and “Hospital City” during WW1. The next step for wounded soldiers who survived the casualty clearing stations and the stationary hospitals closer to the front could be one of the 16 hospitals or the convalescent depot at Étaples.

In the spring and summer of 1918, several German bombing raids on the Étaples area made their mark. 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 – Cambrai Monument to the Missing, Louverval, France

On 20 November 1917, the British Army launched an attack toward Cambrai, an important German supply point, using about 400 tanks to great success … initially. Then the German army regrouped. By the end of the battle on 3 December, they had reclaimed almost all of the territory. The back-and-forth took a high toll, with over 40,000 casualties on each side.   Continue reading


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An Interview with Eric McGeer, author of Canada’s Dream Will Be of Them

Eric McGeer has studied epitaphs from WW1 graves in Canada’s Dream Will Be of Them,* and from WW2 in Words of Valediction and Remembrance. Eric joins me on Great War 100 Reads today to discuss his work.

What first interested you in the epitaphs on Commonwealth war graves?

Eric McGeer: About twenty years ago I made a long desired trip to the Canadian battlefields of both world wars in France and Flanders. It was one of the most profound and moving experiences of my life, and it stirred the wish to write something about what I had seen and learned. It was about this time that I read Jonathan Vance’s Death So Noble, a study of the myth and memory of the Great War that took shape in Canada during the 1920s and 1930s, which triggered my interest in the epitaphs as an overlooked source for the effect of both wars on the Canadian population. The value of an epitaphs book really hit me while I was walking through the Canadian war cemetery at Beny-sur-Mer (near the D-Day landing zones). There was one in ancient Greek, a quotation from the Iliad, which I recognized from my background in classics. It made me wonder who else would understand it, not just the words but the context of the quotation and the ennobling farewell it conveyed from a father who had served in the First World War to a son who was killed in the Second. The more I examined the epitaphs, the more I came to see how they were the most powerful and authentic responses to the tragedy of the wars from the people, mothers, wives, children, who used these farewells to express so many things — sorrow, consolation, gratitude, love and loss. What occurred to me was that the cemeteries and memorials attest to the courage of the battlefield, whereas the epitaphs record a different kind of courage, the kind it takes to accept and endure such devastating loss and to leave a lasting record of the moral fortitude with which two generations of Canadians faced the ordeal of the wars. Continue reading