Great War 100 Reads

Commemorating the centenary of the First World War in books


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – A Moulder and Girls with a Rail, Canadian War Museum, Ottawa

It’s Labour Day in Canada and the US … a day to celebrate workers. In honour of Labour Day, here are two more of Frances Loring and Florence Wyle’s sculptures of war workers on the home front.

Wyle and Loring were commissioned by the War Memorial Funds Committee to do a series of sculptures of “girl war workers” as part of the project to document Canada’s participation in the war. After touring munitions plants, Wyle decided to include some male workers, too. Continue reading

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My Little Wet Home in the Trench

Yup, it’s three years into the WW1 centenary and three years since the start of Great War 100 Years. In 244 posts, I have documented 68 books read, over 150 monuments each Monday, and more interviews and musings.

My focus for much of this year has been eyewitness accounts of the war – a range of voices from the front lines, the home front and points in between. Male and female authors, they wrote about universal aspects of the soldiers’ experience, the readiness to serve where needed, and the price of acceptance and of dissent.

The books analysing the war from the rear view window show how perspectives can change over time. Continue reading


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Tapestry of War

Sandra Gwyn’s Tapestry of War: A Private View of Canadians in the Great War is a gossipy, luscious social history, seen through the eyes of several Canadians who had ringside seats or a view further back from the action.

Our guides were chosen from a variety of vantage points on the basis of their diaries and letters, not necessarily because their importance in the war effort. Gwyn jumps from one person to another, from Ottawa to London to the Western Front, intricately weaving the tales. Some are more interesting than others, but all have a purpose. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Memorial Windows, City Hall, Kingston, ON … Part 2

A formal assembly room in Kingston City Hall was renamed Memorial Hall in 1921 by Governor General Lord Byng “in everlasting remembrance of those from this city who fought in defence of justice and liberty” and “in honour of Kingston’s sailors, soldiers, airmen and nursing sisters who served overseas.”

This is the second post about the memorial windows … these six windows are on the west wall, to the left as you enter Memorial Hall. Quotations are from the program for the 1921 event. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Memorial Windows, City Hall, Kingston, ON … Part 1

Kingston’s City Hall is a grand 19th century building at 216 Ontario St. One of its formal assembly rooms was renamed Memorial Hall in 1921 by Governor General Lord Byng “in everlasting remembrance of those from this city who fought in defence of justice and liberty” and “in honour of Kingston’s sailors, soldiers, airmen and nursing sisters who served overseas.”

Twelve stained glass windows line the two long walls of the room. Each window marks a battle in which Canadians played a significant role and a group that contributed to the war effort. They were made by the Robert McCausland Ltd of Toronto (which now claims to be the oldest stained glass company in the Western Hemisphere and the longest continuously-owned family company in Canada).

Today’s post features the east windows, to the right as you enter the hall. Quotations are from the program for the 1921 event.  Continue reading


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I Didn’t Raise My Boy to be a Soldier

Hard to believe it has been two years since the start of Great War 100 Years. In 170 posts, I have documented 50 books read (just under the wire!), over 100 monuments on Mondays, and more interviews and musings.

I have the hindsight advantage of knowing I’m not quite half way through this project. In July 1916, the carnage of Verdun and the Somme – respectively the longest battle of the war and the battle starting with worst day of battle casualties in British Army history – was still going on. The war was uppermost in the public mind and its end was nowhere in sight. News of the war was full of propaganda and not entirely truthful. Continue reading


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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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An Interview with Helen Simonson, Author of The Summer Before the War

Helen Simonson’s first novel, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, was a New York Times and international bestseller. Her second novel, The Summer Before the War, is hot off the press and destined for comparable accolades. I am pleased to welcome Helen to Great War 100 Reads today, and honoured that she fit this interview into a busy book launch season.

Why did you write The Summer Before the War?

Helen Simonson: I love the Edwardian era which I think of in terms of advances in technology – the telephone, motor car, invention of electricity and flying machines – and of a loosening of Victorian strictures producing a blossoming of culture and progress. It’s a society rich in writers, poets and women’s movements for social justice and for suffrage. It’s a historical era in which I always thought I could live well. However, that assumes I would be wealthy. Life was hard for folks without money. There were still workhouses for the poor and diseases like rickets and TB were rife. So being not quite the garden party idyll of our imaginations but truly a time of so much potential makes the Edwardian era satisfyingly complicated. And this particular summer, 1914, is all about unfolding the deck chairs while a devastating war looms beyond the horizon. Continue reading


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The Summer Before the War

If you are a fan of Downton Abbey, you know that a comedy of manners can be coupled with serious matters of war. If you’re in Downton withdrawal, Helen Simonson’s The Summer Before the War might be just the cure. Simonson slices a knife through the class, race and gender prejudices in parochial small-town England with humour and gravity in turn.

Beatrice Nash arrives in Rye at the beginning of summer 1914. She is the new Latin teacher, well-qualified, travelled, young and single. Her father recently deceased and her inheritance in trust, she is determined to make her own way as an independent woman. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Furnace Girl and The Rod Turner, Canadian War Museum, Ottawa

Happy International Women’s Day, a day early. For the occasion, we feature two more sculptures by Frances Loring.

Loring and Florence Wyle were born in the US and studied at the Art Institute of Chicago. They moved to Toronto in 1913, where they were collectively known as The Girls. In 1918, they were commissioned to do a series of sculptures of “girl war workers” as part of the project to document Canada’s participation in the war. Continue reading