Great War 100 Reads

Commemorating the centenary of the First World War in books


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Ontario Military Hospital Nursing Sisters, Queen’s Park, Toronto

Mary A McKenzie, Sarah Ellen Garbutt, Margaret Lowe, Dorothy Mary Baldwin, Matilda Green. These five women are remembered on a brass tablet in the Ontario Legislative Building (Queen’s Park), on the second floor of the west wing, near the landing outside the Legislative Chamber. They were nursing sisters who had served in the Ontario Military Hospital at Orpington, England, and who died during the war. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Canadian Memorial Church, Vancouver … Part 2

The Canadian Memorial United Church and Centre for Peace, at the corner of W 15th Ave and Burrard St in Vancouver, was built as a memorial to Canadians who fought and died in WW1 … and as a ministry for peace and an end to war. This is the second post about the memorial elements in the church, looking this week at the narthex windows. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Nursing Sister Edith May Allison, Deseronto, ON

Each nurse tells a story.

Edith May Allison was born in Marysville, Ontario on May 14, 1881, the daughter of Sarah Edith Prentice Allison (spelled Prentiss in some records) and Jonathan Greeley Allison. She had four sisters, Olive, Pearl, Helena (Lena) and Florence (Flossie). 

Edith and Florence both became nurses. Around 1912, the family moved to Calgary. Olive may not have moved with them. In city directories (not always an up-to-date source) Pearl is listed as a teacher, Lena as a stenographer; both seem to have moved from the family home before the war. Their father died in 1915, their mother in 1937. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Edith Cavell and Canadian Nurses, Toronto, ON

British nurse Edith Cavell was executed on October 12, 1915 for helping Allied soldiers escape occupied Belgium. Her death became a rallying cry for the Allies.

The Edith Cavell Memorial Society in Toronto raised money for a memorial to Cavell and Canadian nurses, and sought permission from the Toronto General Hospital to place it on the hospital grounds at the SE corner of College and University Avenues. Florence Wyle was chosen to design the sculpture. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Nursing Sisters, Cathedral Place, Vancouver

Built in 1927-29 on the NW corner of W Georgia and Hornby Streets, the Georgia Medical-Dental Building was the first art deco skyscraper built in Vancouver. Amongst the rich ornamentation on the outside of the building were three 11-foot-high terracotta statues of WW1 nursing sisters, gracing the three visible corners from the 10th floor. Architects McCarter and Nairne had served in WW1. McCarter had been wounded and credited the nurses with saving his life. The sculptures, designed by Joseph Francis Watson, were a way to honour them. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Old War Memorial, Markdale, ON

Some war memorials get around. Some get caught up in the changing machinations of remembrance.

This memorial stands in front of the Markdale Hospital of the Grey-Bruce Health Services, at the corner of Main St W and Argyle St. A centre plaque lists those from the Markdale community who gave their lives in the Great War. It is flanked by plaques commemorating those who served. Two nursing sisters are named on the left plaque: Laura Adams and May Devitt. Continue reading


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The Forbidden Zone

Mary Borden’s The Forbidden Zone is a thin volume of vignettes from her experiences in French Army field hospitals during WW1. I’ve dipped into it many times, reading and rereading several stories. But I took over a year to read it from cover to cover. I just didn’t want it to end. And it’s taken a while to write this review since I finished reading it, as I searched for words to do it justice.

Borden was a Chicago heiress born in 1886. She graduated from Vassar College, married and settled in London. In WW1, she volunteered for the French Red Cross, then offered to fund and manage a field hospital for the French Army. For her efforts, she was awarded the Croix de guerre and named Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur. Continue reading


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An Interview with “Maggie’s Choice” author, Susan Taylor Meehan

Maggie’s Choice explores aspects of the socialist and labour movements during and after WW1, through the eyes of a nurse who serves in the Canadian army. I am pleased to welcome author Susan Taylor Meehan to Great War 100 Reads today, to share some thoughts about her work.

Why did you write Maggie’s Choice?

Susan Taylor Meehan: Originally, I wanted to write a non-fiction book about the women who served as nurses at the front during World War I, in part because my great-aunt was one of them. However, I discovered that someone else had beaten me to it! Her book was excellent, and the world didn’t need another one. But there was still a story to tell, so I decided that since we can often convey more truth through fiction than non-fiction, I would write my great-aunt’s personal story as a fictional memoir. Every one of her reminiscences is in Maggie’s Choice, along with material both adapted and imagined from numerous other sources. For more info, check out my website.  Continue reading


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Maggie’s Choice

Finally, I understood, understood it all: Mrs. Orlofsky, taking in laundry, struggling to make ends meet, paying too much for even the most basic necessities; Mrs. MacLaren, entertaining in her palatial hone, living off the deposits of war profiteers, price gougers, and speculators who wouldn’t charge a fair price or pay their employees a living wage if it killed them.

That afternoon, I saw how the economic system worked. And no, it wasn’t right, how these people had to live. (p 78)

Susan Taylor Meehan is of an age to know ‘the personal is political.’ She conveys the concept in her short novel, Maggie’s Choice, following a young nurse to the Western front in WW1 and back to Canada and the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Beatrice Lennie Sculptures, Shaughnessy Hospital, Vancouver

Two friezes by British Columbia sculptor Beatrice Lennie flank the main entrance of the former Shaughnessy Military Hospital, at 4500 Oak Street in Vancouver.

The carved stone panels are about five by eight feet. The left panel shows a nurse helping an injured soldier, with the crest of the Canadian Medical Corps at the bottom. The right panel shows a doctor holding a wounded soldier, over the Latin phrase “on sibi sed omnibus” – not for oneself but for all. The upper corner ornamentation, sunbeams and clouds suit the streamlined art moderne style of the 1940s building. Lennie signed each panel on the bottom right corner. Continue reading