Great War 100 Reads

Commemorating the centenary of the First World War in books


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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 – Cenotaph, Memorial Park, Chatsworth, ON

The Chatsworth and Community cenotaph is in a small park in the village of Chatsworth, just north of the intersection of Highways 6 and 10, on the west side of the road at Sideroad 1.

The monument is coarsely chiselled granite. The front is flat to accommodate the names and adorned with symbols carved in finer detail. The draped Union Jack, a sword, maple leaves and poppies bring a flowing movement to the stone.

Robert Shipley notes, “Because (the British Isles and northern France) are the root soil for much of Canada’s cultural inheritance, it is not surprising that some of our memorials echo the form of the “menhirs,” or standing stones. … The similarity between memorial stones like this one in Chatsworth, Ontario and the old standing stones in Northern Europe is not accidental.” (To Mark Our Place, p 105)

The WW2 plaque is a recent addition. Shipley’s photo from the 1980s shows more harmonious carving of the dates and two or three names in the space now occupied by the deteriorating plaque.

One of Chatsworth’s claims to fame is as the birthplace of political activist Nellie McClung. She later moved west, where she was instrumental in winning the vote for women in Manitoba and Alberta in 1916.


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To Mark Our Place: A History of Canadian War Memorials

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.

It has become a popular feature on Great War 100 Reads … for you and for me. I take an expansive view of what belongs – statues, cenotaphs, plaques, grave markers, sculptures, ephemera and many other remembrances of the war. I seek them out in my travels. Sometimes they present themselves to me out of the blue.

I’ve picked up some books about war memorials to learn more, and will review them over two posts.

To Mark Our Place: A History of Canadian War Memorials documents many of the monuments built to honour Canadian soldiers. Robert Shipley’s 1987 book does not claim to be exhaustive, but he probably lists the majority of Canadian monuments in the country and abroad. While it covers the range of conflicts, the focus is on WW1 monuments. It was, after all, the first war with so many Canadian casualties.

Before Shipley’s book, there had been no close study of Canadian war memorials. Critics dismissed them for lacking sophistication and artistic merit. But Shipley argues that “While they speak of the dead, they speak to the living about things that are important in life. And while they were built after wars, mostly wars fought far away, they are products of this country and they are celebrations of peace.” (p 20)

Shipley recounts how communities came together after WW1 to plan, raise money for and build the memorials. With the need to reach consent amongst the committees and the wide subscribing public, it is no wonder that the monuments are not on the cutting edge of art. They follow ancient forms and European models. But they also incorporate Canadian symbols – most notably maple leaves (for Canada) and caribou (for Newfoundland). Great importance was given to inscribing the names of battles in which the members of the community had fought.

The monuments pay tribute to sacrifice, suffering, honour and grief. They celebrate peace and rarely mention victory.

Women’s groups like the Imperial Order of Daughters of the Empire (IODE), Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and Women’s Institute (WI) were often at the forefront in monument committees. Shipley notes “The prominence of women in memorial movements after the First World War was part of the growth of women’s involvement in all aspects of our society.” (p 57)

Sarah Glassford and Amy Shaw point out in their conclusion to A Sisterhood of Suffering and Service that the war memorials contribute to a narrow view of how the war is remembered: “Despite their very tangible presence in the war, in its public commemoration women remain largely ephemeral, passive and silent – ideals, or idealized mourners, rather than flesh-and-blood workers for the nation at war. The nearly universal absence of women and girls from these war memorials, save as allegorical figures, both represents and has contributed to the popular memory of the war as a male endeavour.” (p 320)

Of the books I’ve read, To Mark Our Place is the most rigorous in its analysis of war memorials. His listing of the monuments is a helpful starting place to find the communities where they reside. But my explorations must be more resourceful to find tributes beyond those to fallen soldiers.