Great War 100 Reads

Commemorating the centenary of the First World War in books

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – War Widow and Recording Angel, Peace Tower, Ottawa

Enter the Memorial Chamber in the Peace Tower in Ottawa, turn around and look up to see two sculptures by Frances Loring. In the gable tympanum is the Recording Angel, inscribing the names of the fallen in the Book of Remembrance. On the finial above is the War Widow and Children, also called Motherhood. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Peace Tower, Parliament Hill, Ottawa

Only a peace between equals can last. Only a peace the very principle of which is equality and a common participation in a common benefit.

The world can be at peace only if its life is stable, and there can be no stability where the will is in rebellion, where there is not tranquillity of spirit and a sense of justice, of freedom, and of right.
Woodrow Wilson, January 22, 1917

In this week of remembrance, may we learn from war as we strive for peace … and freedom and democracy and equality and justice.

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – The Ghosts of Vimy Ridge, Parliament Buildings, Ottawa

April 9 is a national day of remembrance in Canada marking the anniversary of the 1917 Battle of Vimy Ridge. The battle was the first time in WW1 when all four Canadian divisions fought as a united group. The victory is seen by many as a defining moment of Canadian national identity. The ridge is the site of Canada’s largest WW1 monument in France. Continue reading

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Remembrance Whensoever

A comment on last Monday’s memorial to the Broad brothers at Calgary’s Central United Church got me thinking about how communities came together to show respect to those who had served in the war.

It seems that it was many years after the war before plaques were erected. In this case, 1923. Is there any explanation of the delay between the end of the war in 1918 and these expressions of remembrance? Did people, at first, feel their grief so profoundly that they could not think of things like plaques and statues? Was commemoration encouraged by the government or Church in the 1920s and we are seeing the results of that?

Good question. Several reasons, I suspect. Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Drummer Boy, Canadian War Museum, Ottawa

Lionel Fosbery’s sculpture, Drummer Boy, is part of a display of small sculptures at the Canadian War Museum depicting WW1 jobs at home and in the field. The museum tag says: “This sculpture portrays a boy in full military uniform beating a drum. Military bands overseas employed boys as young as 10 or 12 years old as drummers, a role often performed by cadets in Canada.” Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Parliament Hill, Ottawa, ON

The Peace Tower and the Centre Block on Parliament Hill in Ottawa have a prominent place on Great War 100 Reads. An iconic symbol of Canada, the seat of government is in fact a war memorial. The dedication is carved on the central pillar supporting the fan vaulting in the rotunda, just inside the main entrance of the Centre Block:

1867 July 1917:  On the fiftieth anniversary of the Confederation of British Colonies in North America as the Dominion of Canada, the Parliament and people dedicate this building in process of reconstruction after damage by fire as a memorial of the deeds of their Forefathers and of the valour of those Canadians who in the Great War fought for the liberties of Canada, of the Empire and of humanity.

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – In Flanders Fields

Tomorrow marks 100 years since John McCrae’s poem In Flanders Fields was first published – anonymously – in Punch magazine. Since then, the poem and its symbolic poppies have been linked to the remembrance of loss and sacrifice in war.

In today’s gallery:

  • The last lines of poem are on the base of the cenotaph in Orangeville, Ontario.
  • Copies of The Grieving Soldier by Emanuel Hahn grace many Canadian communities. This one is in Hanover, Ontario.
  • John McCrae statue by Ruth Abernethy, Green Island, Ottawa. Another cast of the statue is in Guelph, his birthplace.
  • National Military Cemetery, in Beechwood Cemetery, Ottawa
  • Memorial Room, Students’ Memorial Union, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario
  • Memorial Chamber, Peace Tower, Parliament Hill, Ottawa
  • University College Memorial Plaque, Memorial Room, Soldiers Tower, University of Toronto
  • End wall of WW1 Memorial Screen, University of Toronto

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Peace Tower, Parliament Hill, Ottawa

“Without freedom there can be no enduring peace, and without peace no enduring freedom.” George VI, Ottawa, 31 May 1939

In this week of remembrance, may we learn from war as we strive for peace … and freedom and democracy and equality and justice.


Monday Monuments and Memorials – Nursing Sisters Memorial, Parliament Hill, Ottawa, ON

The Hall of Honour in the Centre Block on Parliament Hill runs from the Peace Tower to the Library of Parliament, forming a ceremonial dividing line between the House of Commons and the Senate. The Nursing Sisters Memorial, also called the Nurses of Canada Memorial, is the largest of only a few commemorative pieces in the space.

The memorial was unveiled in August 1926, in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Canadian Nurses Association. Margaret Macdonald, Matron-in-Chief of the Canadian Army Nursing Corps, unveiled the monument. The $35,000 cost was funded by nurses and nursing associations across Canada.

Political battles over the monument raged for several years. The powers-that-be first said no to locating a monument to nurses killed in WW1 on Parliament Hill. Then Prime Minister King relented. But the monument had to be “of an historical nature, commemorating the deeds of the pioneer nurses as well as those of the army sisters who sacrificed their lives in the Great War.”

As a result, George William Hill’s monument is centred by an allegorical figure of Humanity stretching her arms from the founding of Hôtel Dieu in Québec City in 1639 to WW1. The caption at the bottom of the monument marks the professional role of nurses, but also conflates the professional with the general caring nature of all women:

Erected by the nurses of Canada in remembrance of their sisters who gave their lives in the Great War, 1914-1918, and to perpetuate a noble tradition in the relations of the Old World and the New.

Led by the spirit of humanity across the seas woman by her tender ministrations to those in need has given to the world the example of an heroic service embracing three centuries of Canadian history.

This Thursday, 22 October, marks the first anniversary of the shooting rampage in Ottawa that killed Cpl Nathan Cirillo at the National War Memorial and continued in the Hall of Honour on Parliament Hill. The red arrow on the photo points to a chunk out of the marble, the gunfire’s collateral damage to the Nurses Memorial. In a way, it could be seen as a fitting mark of the role of nurses in war … seemingly behind the lines and away from the action, but never really out of harm’s way.

Veterans Affairs Canada lists the nursing sisters serving with Canadian units who were killed in WW1. Debbie Marshall brings these brave women alive at Finding the Forty-Seven: Canadian Nurses of the First World War.

It’s election day in Canada. Vote early, vote often! (Kidding only about often … get out there and vote.)

Update: This February 2016 photo shows the damage repaired on the Nursing Sisters Memorial.

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Noon Hour and the Blacksmith, 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 Florence Wyle’s sculptures of war workers on the home front … these ones taking a break from their hard labour.

Wyle and Frances 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.

Now part of the Beaverbrook Collection of War Art, these and some of the other bronzes from the Loring and Wyle commission are on display in the lobby of the Canadian War Museum until 2017. Some have been in storage for almost 100 years. I hope the War Museum keeps them on permanent display.