Great War 100 Reads

Commemorating the centenary of the First World War in books


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In Falling Snow

We’re women. We do things. (p 78)

The Scottish Women’s Hospitals were founded during WW1 to help the war effort by offering medical assistance. The founders were committed to promoting women’s rights and believed that contributing to the war effort would help women win those rights.

The British Army refused their help. The women were not daunted, offering hospitals instead to other allied countries. The French were the first to accept. The second Scottish Women’s Hospital was established in the Abbaye de Royaumont, a 13C Cistercian abbey north of Paris, with Dr Frances Ivens as the chief medical officer. The hospital team cared for more than 10,000 wounded soldiers from 1915 to 1919.

Jump forward 70 years. Mary-Rose MacColl found herself in the wrong aisle at the library, having transposed two digits in a call number. She noticed a title, Women of Royaumont: A Scottish Women’s Hospital on the Western Front. Eileen Crofton’s book was the spark of inspiration for MacColl’s novel, In Falling Snow, which pays tribute to the women who served at Royaumont throughout the war. It also explores how the challenges for women in medical service have evolved (or not) from WW1 to the 1970s. Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Nellie Spindler, Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, Belgium

A noble type of good heroic womanhood.

Age 26.

Tomorrow marks the 101st anniversary of the death of Staff Nurse Nellie Spindler of Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service. She was killed in action in No. 44 Casualty Clearing Station, Brandhoek, Belgium, in the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele). 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 – Prince Edward County War Memorial, Picton, ON

Oh, you again! This guy is a popular stalwart on war memorials by the McIntosh Granite Company.*

The war memorial for Prince Edward County is in a park at 118 Picton Main Street (Hwy 33), at the intersection of Ferguson and Chapel. Erected by the County Council, it was unveiled on 21 September 1920. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – War Memorial Park, Walkerton, ON

War Memorial Park, at the corner of Jane and Colborne Streets in Walkerton, Ontario, started with a monument. Several elements have been added over the years. Continue reading


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A Long, Long Trail

Really? Really. Four years into the WW1 centenary and four years since the start of this reading odyssey. In 317 posts, Great War 100 Years has documented 90 books read, over 200 monuments and memorials each Monday, and more interviews and musings.

Year three ended and year four started with my exploring the growing scholarship on medical women in the war. (Bravo to those bringing these fascinating stories back to life!) Now I’ve turned back to fiction for the most part. Some by authors who lived through the war. Most written from a longer view perspective in the last 30 years. A few with most exquisite prose. A range of voices showing the experiences of war for women, men and beasts. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Saugeen First Nation Roll of Honour and Southampton War Memorial

Two similar monuments, less than 5 km apart. Five men honoured on both.

Southampton is a vacation town on Lake Huron at the mouth of the Saugeen River in Bruce County, Ontario. Saugeen First Nation is just northeast of the town, an Ojibway community also bordering Lake Huron and the Saugeen. Young men in both the Ojibway and the settler communities enlisted and fought in WW1. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Sun Life Assurance Company Honour Roll, Montreal

The Sun Life Building* overlooks Dorchester Square (on boul René-Lévesque between rue Metcalfe and rue Mansfield) in Montreal. Step inside the main entrance on Metcalfe into a soaring lobby of marble and brass. Look up between the Corinthian columns to check the time as you move into the elevator lobby – beneath the brass clock, the years of WW1 and WW2 and “we will remember them.” Continue reading


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Alfred and Emily

Even though I was born several decades after WW1, veterans and others who had lived through the war were all around as I was growing up. The influences of the war were woven into the fabric of my life.

Doris Lessing was born in 1919, much closer to the war’s direct impacts. As she says in the introduction to her 2008 book, Alfred and Emily, “The trenches were as present to me as anything I actually saw around me. And here I still am, trying to get out from that monstrous legacy, trying to get free.” (p viii)

Lessing’s parents had come together because of the war – her father an injured soldier, her mother one of his nurses in a London hospital. Lessing came to realize the extent to which their lives had been damaged by it. Her father dreamt of being a country farmer, but lost his leg in the war. Her mother worked at the Royal Free Hospital after her love of her life was killed, showing promise for a career in hospital administration. Continue reading