Great War 100 Reads

Commemorating the centenary of the First World War in books


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – HMHS Llandovery Castle and Halifax Memorial

The Llandovery Castle served as a hospital ship during WW1, ferrying wounded soldiers from England back to Canada. On 27 June 1918, nearing the end of its voyage from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Liverpool, England, the ship was torpedoed by a German submarine off the Irish coast. The passengers rushed to lifeboats, but the submarine surfaced and destroyed most of the lifeboats. Only 24 survivors lived to tell the tale.

Amongst the 234 dead in Canada’s worst naval disaster of WW1: all 14 of the Canadian nursing sisters on board. Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – War Memorial, Beckwith Township, ON

Beckwith Township, population about 7600, forms the easterly part of Lanark County, just west of Ottawa. The war memorial erected by the township remembers 12 names, nine from WW1. The monument has moved over the years. It now stands in Beckwith Park, on the 9th Line about 2 km east of Hwy 15 and Black’s Corners, surrounded by a vast stretch of baseball diamonds and playing fields. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Nurses Monument, Reims, France

A monument dedicated to all nurses from the allied countries can be found in the centre of Place Aristide Briand, Reims, essentially a traffic circle at the intersection of boul. Lundy, rue Cérès and av. Jean Jaurès. With no pedestrian access, you take your life in your hands and dodge traffic for a close look.

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – No. 1 Canadian General Hospital, Étaples, France

Étaples, a port town south of Boulogne, served as an Allied training base, supply depot, prisoner detention centre, and “Hospital City” during WW1. The next step for wounded soldiers who survived the casualty clearing stations and the stationary hospitals closer to the front could be one of the 16 hospitals or the convalescent depot at Étaples.

In the spring and summer of 1918, several German bombing raids on the Étaples area made their mark. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – No 3 Canadian Stationary Hospital, Doullens, France

In May 1918, No 3 Canadian Stationary Hospital was operating in an old citadel near Doullens, France. On the night of 29-30 May, the hospital was bombed by a German plane, hitting the main building over the operating theatre and one of the wards.

Two surgeons, three nursing sisters, 16 other ranks (including orderlies) and 11 patients were killed. Several others were injured. The operating staff and patients were buried in the ruins of the building. Other staff worked to save the other patients. Continue reading


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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