Great War 100 Reads

Commemorating the centenary of the First World War in books

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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 – 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.

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Memorial Chamber, Peace Tower, Ottawa

July 1 is Canada Day. The Peace Tower is the backdrop for festivities on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. A real star is inside … the Memorial Chamber above the entrance. (The gothic window above the entrance arch marks the location of the chamber from the outside.) The chamber is only 24 feet square, and soars up 47 feet to a fan vaulted ceiling. The central Altar of Remembrance was featured in an earlier post. Today’s focus is on the elaborate stone carvings in two of the 17 niches around the room … scenes of war, badges and crests of various regiments, medals won by Canadians. So many that they were apparently not documented.

I prefer to visit the Memorial Chamber mid-week on a sunny winter day. Fewer visitors, serenity, more time to examine all the detail of the room. A virtual tour is the next best thing if you can’t visit in person.

July 1 also marks the 99th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme. The day is Memorial Day in Newfoundland and Labrador, marking the losses in the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. Commemorative ceremonies will take place on Wednesday morning at the Newfoundland National Memorial in St. John’s and at 8:30 am at the National War Memorial in Ottawa.

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Alan Brookman Beddoe, Ottawa, ON

Each soldier tells a story.

LCdr Alan Beddoe served with the Canadian Expeditonary Force during WW1. He was captured in 1915 and spent two and a half years as a prisoner of war. After the war, he studied art in Paris and New York and became a commercial and heraldic artist. One of his post-war achievements honours Canadians killed in the war: he was instrumental in creating the first Books of Remembrance housed in the Peace Tower Memorial Chamber.

Beddoe is buried in Beechwood Cemetery, Ottawa. You can read more about him in the cemetery’s Historical Portraits (click through from here).



Art at the Service of War

Monday Monuments and Memorials started as a way to ensure regular posts on this blog. My reading habits can make the timing of book reviews haphazard, but I can count on a weekly photo. I take an expansive view of what belongs – war art fits as much as cenotaphs and other tributes to the war and those who participated.

References to the Canadian War Memorials Fund (CWMF) keep cropping up for various paintings and sculptures around Ottawa. You know me … I’m off to learn more.

Art at the Service of War: Canada, Art, and the Great War, the 1984 published version of Maria Tippett’s thesis, is a scholarly analysis of the people and politics of the CWMF. She examines the making of the art as well as the CWMF administration. The artwork that illustrates her points is reproduced in the book. (Unfortunately they’re in black and white, but colour reproductions can be found online for the most part … some on this very site.)

The CWMF was set up in London in November 1916 by newspaper baron Max Aitken (he was later Lord Beaverbrook), with a view to immortalizing the Canadian contribution to the war. Art would be used for propaganda in the short term and for an historical record in the long term. Photos and cinema of the time were not long-lasting, so could not be fully relied on for the job.

The cost to the Canadian government was little. Artists who were hired received an officer’s rank and pay, but the CWMF was almost entirely paid for by private funds. Over 100 painters and sculptors were associated with the CWMF.

Mostly British artists were engaged. Many were also commissioned by the British War Memorials Committee (later the British Pictorial Propaganda Committee) – Bone, Orpen, Nash, Nevinson, Kennington, Lewis, Rothenstein and John, amongst others. (Overlap was inevitable: Beaverbrook eventually headed the British Department of Information.) The CWMF also gave opportunities to Canadian artists – like Cullen, Jackson, Lismer, MacDonald, Milne and Varley – albeit only from the Anglophone male art communities in Toronto and Montreal. The home front program engaged some women, including Carlyle, May, Loring and Wyle. The CWMF also acquired historical paintings of significance to Canada.

The CWMF gave “an unprecedented and wide-ranging number of artists an opportunity to express their war experiences in bronze, watercolour, and oil at a time when it might have been considered frivolous to do so.” (p 4)

The ultimate collection is the largest visual record of the war.

Immediately following the war, highlights of the collection formed popular exhibits in London, New York, Montreal and Toronto. Then disinterest:

While the CWMF collection was being broken up and Canada’s Golgotha hidden away, war monuments and trophies were being erected across the country. Every city and most towns had at least one ‘Lest We Forget’ monument; every service club a trophy of war. The new Parliament Buildings had a Peace Tower with a carillon and a Memorial Chamber with Books of Remembrance. These works – cenotaphs, memorial sculptures, war trophies … embodied an idea rather than the artistic expression of an event. Unlike most of the works of the CWMF, they could possess any meaning the viewer wished to give them: sacrifice, waste, sorrow, pride, even redemption. (p 103)

The plan was always to hand the collection over to the Canadian government. Beaverbrook’s vision was to house it in a dedicated war memorial building in Ottawa. That was never realised. Instead the collection was transferred to the National Gallery of Canada and mostly kept in storage. Eight large canvases were sent to hang in the new Senate Chamber, where they remain today:

  • Landing of the First Canadian Division at Saint-Nazaire, 1915, Edgar Bundy
  • A Mobile Veterinary Unit in France, Algernon Talmage
  • Railway Construction in France, Leonard Richmond
  • Arras, the Dead City, James Kerr-Lawson
  • On Leave, Claire Atwood
  • The Cloth Hall, Ypres, James Kerr-Lawson
  • The Watch on the Rhine (The Last Phase), William Rothenstein
  • Returning to the Reconquered Land, George Clausen

Eventually the National Gallery transferred the collection (except the historical paintings and paintings by David Milne) to the Canadian War Museum. Again, most remain in storage, although more are on view since the new museum building opened in 2005. They form the core of special exhibits from time to time. Interest in the collection seems to increase on significant anniversaries or when Canadians are once again at war. I will examine some of these exhibits in a later post.


Monday Monuments and Memorials – The Tunnellers’ Friends, Memorial Chamber, Ottawa

Over the doorway leading to the Memorial Chamber in the Peace Tower, this tympanum pays tribute to animals that served during the war – reindeer, pack mules, carrier pigeons, horses, dogs, canaries and mice. The inscription reads:

The tunnellers’ friends, the humble beasts that served and died.

Les amis des sapeurs ces humbles bêtes de somme qui moururent pour la cause.

The tympanum was designed by John A. Pearson and carved in 1927 by Cléophas Soucy in Indiana limestone.

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Altar of Remembrance, Ottawa

Memorial Chamber, Peace Tower, Ottawa Canada         Memorial Chamber, Peace Tower, OTtawa Canada

The Centre Block of the Canadian Parliament Buildings in Ottawa burned to the ground on February 3, 1916. Rebuilding started when Canada was still at war. The Peace Tower fronting the new Centre Block opened in 1927, named to mark Canada’s commitment to peace. The Altar of Remembrance in the Memorial Chamber of the Peace Tower holds the Book of Remembrance naming the more than 66,000 Canadians who lost their lives in the First World War.