Great War 100 Reads

Commemorating the centenary of the First World War in books


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Mothers, Wives and Children, Hamilton, ON

They also serve who only stand and wait.

At Decoration Day services in August 1923, two memorial crosses were unveiled in Hamilton Cemetery. Twenty thousand Hamiltonians, including 8,000 war veterans, attended the ceremonies.

The Cross of Sacrifice erected by the Imperial (now Commonwealth) War Graves Commission honours the war dead. The second cross was funded by the Canadian Patriotic Fund “in memory of mothers, wives and children of soldiers of the Great War,” 214 who died while their loved ones were fighting overseas. Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Hamilton Cemetery, Hamilton, ON

Hamilton Cemetery is a lovely park cemetery, the first owned and operated by a municipality in Canada. Its meandering paths are a great place for a stroll amongst the city’s history. Of its 21500 monuments, about 130 are from the Commonwealth (formerly Imperial) War Graves Commission to mark the graves of those who served in WW1. Most died of illnesses during or right after the war … listed as influenza, phthisis, diphtheria, pneumonia or just sickness.

About 2000 Hamiltonians died in service in WW1, about 2% of the population at the time.

The Cross of Sacrifice was unveiled at a Decoration Day service on 23 August 1923. Twenty thousand Hamiltonians, including 8000 war veterans, attended the ceremony.

Thanks to Robin McKee of Historical Perceptions, who shared some useful information about the cemetery. I wish my visit to Hamilton had coincided with one of his weekly Stories in the Stones tours. Thanks as well to the friendly staff in the cemetery gatehouse.


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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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Silent Witnesses and World War I: A Monumental History

A wise nation preserves its records, gathers up its muniments, decorates the tombs of its illustrious dead, repairs its great public structures, and fosters national pride and love of country, by perpetual reference to the sacrifices and glories of the past.   Joseph Howe

This is the second post of books about Canadian war memorials. You can read the first post here.

Silent Witnesses

The focus of Silent Witnesses by Herbert Fairlie Wood and John Swettenham is the war cemeteries in which Canadians are buried. It was published in 1974 to serve as a comprehensive record and as a guidebook for next-of-kin and other visitors. (It is a good example of a government project trying to be everything to everyone. Was there ever a time when an 8.5×11”, 2.5 lb tome would be a useful guidebook on a European tour?)

More recent travel-friendly volumes have superseded the guidebook aspect of the book. The accounts of battles and their relationship to specific cemeteries stand the test of time.

The value of Silent Witnesses for my purposes is the historical account of how the Commonwealth War Graves Commission came into being, and its work in the cemeteries … the look and feel of the gravestones, landscaping and other details of remembrance. Two prominent monuments grace each Commonwealth cemetery: the Cross of Sacrifice designed by Reginald Blomfield and the Stone of Remembrance designed by Edwin Lutyens. The ubiquitous “Their name liveth for evermore” from Ecclesiasticus was chosen by Rudyard Kipling.

A short chapter at the end visits the main Commonwealth grave sites and war memorials in Canada.

World War I: A Monumental History 

World War I: A Monumental History is the newest of the books I consulted, published by Robert Konduros and Richard Parrish in 2014. Text takes a back seat to photos of statues in Canada and the Vimy Memorial in France. No steles or cairns here … except for the clock towers, the monuments all feature human forms.

The delights:

  • The colour photos are beautiful.
  • Most chapters group monuments by theme to tell interesting stories … of the sculptors, the clock towers, the popular repeats, and so on.
  • The authors carefully document the sculptors of each statue.

More than other books I’ve consulted, this one notes the influence of a few prominent monument companies and the sculptors who worked for them. This accounts for the same statue gracing monuments in several communities.

The disappointments:

  • The layout does not always show the photos to advantage. They often abut each other, either to make them bigger or to fit more on a page. More white space would have given them more distinction.
  • Photos over a two-page spread often lose the focal point in the fold. Is that the Peace Tower on pp 45-46?
  • The text is sometimes oversimplified to the point of inaccuracy.

Chapter 5 starts with the bold statement that “All of Canada’s Great War statues and memorials were built with voluntary donations.” Two sentences later, the authors state that only the National Memorial in Ottawa and the Vimy Memorial were built with government money. The second statement contradicts the first. And both statements are wrong. Local monuments were mostly built with donations. Government money also built the Peace Tower and several Canadian monuments in France and Belgium.


 

The Great War 100 Reads book lists continue to grow as I keep finding more to read. Many thanks to those of you who have made suggestions. New books on the fiction list are in grey for the next while. At some point, I will try to organize that page to make it more useful than a long alphabetical list. I have also added a page on guidebooks … very much a work in progress.


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Cross of Sacrifice, Kingston, Ontario

The Cross of Sacrifice was erected in Kingston in 1925, through the work of local chapters of the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire. It is the site of Kingston Remembrance Day ceremonies, located on the south side of King St at Geroge St near the Lake Ontario waterfront.

The monument is made from granite with a bronze sword fixed on the front. The pattern was designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield for Crosses of Sacrifice in Commonwealth war cemeteries. (You can see one in Ottawa’s Beechwood Cemetery here.) The dedication is “to the glory of God and in proud and loving memory of those Kingston men and women who gave their lives in the Great War.” Unusual, in that it notes women as well as men.

Following WW1, the IODE was responsible for many memorials in Canada. When the local chapter of IODE closed in the 1950s, the Princess of Wales’ Own Regiment became stewards of the monument.   

The memorial was rededicated in 2014 after extensive restoration. From a City of Kingston press release: “The memorial was showing wear and tear from the weather and vandals: mortar between the stones had deteriorated, the granite stones around the base had shifted out of place, the stones were stained from exposure to the elements and pollutants, and the sword was discoloured and had a bend in it from vandals attempting to pry it off.”

 Thanks to Vicki, host, driver, guide and chief snow remover on this tour.


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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.