Great War 100 Reads

Commemorating the centenary of the First World War in books


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Wimereux Communal Cemetery, Wimereux, France

Each nurse, VAD and canteen worker tells a story.

Few women who served in WW1 are buried near the Western Front. Those who are can mostly be found in cemeteries near the coast, close to large hospitals or staging centres. They died mostly of disease, although some were certainly caught in the crossfire of war.

On 21 April 1918, Nursing Sister Anna Elizabeth Whitely died at Boulogne of a stomach tumour. She was buried at Wimereux Communal Cemetery, the first Canadian woman in WW1 whose final resting place was in France. Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – War Memorial, Holstein, ON

It would be easy to miss Holstein, let alone its war memorial. The village stretches for about 500 m on Grey County Rd 109 north of Southgate Rd 12. But the war memorial lists 114 names – those from the village and surrounding township who served overseas, 18 of whom died. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Edith Cavell School, Moncton, NB

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. Her name was memorialized in many ways. Continue reading


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The War Diary of Clare Gass

A fine day in spots only. My ward is filled & I am very busy but enjoy my work if it were only possible to forget its cause. (March 2, 1916, p 106)

The dominant memory of WW1 is that of men. Soldiers were, after all, the vast majority on the front lines. But as Susan Mann points out in her introduction to The War Diary of Clare Gass, 1915-1918, wounded soldiers were accompanied and cared for by nurses at every stage of their journey through the military medical system except at the very first points closest to the front lines. Continue reading


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An Interview with Andrea McKenzie, editor of War-Torn Exchanges

Andrea McKenzie brings two WW1 nurses and friends back together in War-Torn Exchanges: The Lives and Letters of Nursing Sisters Laura Holland and Mildred Forbes. Her deft editing and annotations make the book an insightful contribution to understanding the role of nurses in the war. I am so pleased that Andrea has joined me today, to share some thoughts about her work.

What first interested you in Mildred Forbes and Laura Holland?

Andrea McKenzie: I’d been working on Canadian nurses’ First World War diaries and letters for some years, but I’d never come across the letters of two best friends who’d sailed for the war on the same, stayed together throughout four long war years, then sailed home together. Separately, Laura’s and Mildred’s vivid accounts of their individual wars are compelling, but read together, they create a richly textured narrative told by two strong, mature women’s voices. What one omits, the other includes, so we gain a complete story of their time throughout the First World War. They served on almost all the war fronts, too, so their story, told in their own words, runs from the privations of Gallipoli to a casualty clearing station on the Western front during Passchendaele and the German advance of 1918. Continue reading


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War-Torn Exchanges and Your Daughter Fanny

Continuing my explorations of women in the medical services, in War-Torn Exchanges: The Lives and Letters of Nursing Sisters Laura Holland and Mildred Forbes, and Your Daughter Fanny: The War Letters of Frances Cluett, VAD. Both books bring to life women’s war service close to the front. 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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Lights Out!

Firsthand accounts of WW1 from the medical women who served are hard to come by, and in reverse proportion to their position in the hospital hierarchy: practically none from doctors; a few more from nurses; most from VADs.

Lights Out! The Memoir of Nursing Sister Kate Wilson, Canadian Army Medical Corps, 1915-1917, based on Kate’s diaries, started as a souvenir for her family written shortly after the war. Later in life, a frustration with mostly male accounts of the war that “tended to romanticize events” led to “a tremendous desire to tell my story, in my own way.” After all, “I have been there too.” (Foreword) Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials –Edwardsburg Township War Memorial, Spencerville, ON

The war memorial erected by the citizens of the Township of Edwardsburg stands in front of the municipal offices (now the Township of Edwardsburgh/Cardinal) on Centre St in Spencerville. It is dedicated “in loving memory of our heroes who fell in the Great War, 1914—1918. Their names shall never perish. Lest we forget.” A young soldier stands over the 27 names for WW1, listed in mostly chronological order of their death.

Let’s look at the first and last WW1 names. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Victoria College Memorial Tablet, University of Toronto, Toronto

A bronze tablet on the right side of the main entrance to the Old Vic building on the U of T campus is dedicated to the memory of 75 Victoria College students and graduates who gave their lives in the Great War, 1914-1918. An angel mourns on either side of the college crest, under the assurance that “they were valiant in life, triumphant in death.” The tablet, designed by sculptor Alfred Howell, was presented by the Alumni and Alumnae Associations and dedicated on 12 October 1923. Continue reading