Great War 100 Reads

Commemorating the centenary of the First World War in books


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Major Charles Alexander Moss, St James Cathedral, Toronto

Each soldier tells a story.

Amongst the plaques in St James Cathedral at the corner of King St E and Church St in Toronto:

In loving memory of Charles Alexander Moss, Major, Third Battalion, Toronto Regiment, born at Toronto, June the 19th, 1872, wounded in the advance on Regina Trench, Somme, on the morning of October the 8th, 1916, died at Rouen, October the 24th, 1916. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – The Volunteer, Almonte, ON

The Volunteer is a tribute to 48 men of Almonte and area who were killed in WW1, as well as a tribute to an individual soldier.

Alexander Rosamond was heir to the prosperous Rosamond Woollen Company, a textile mill in Almonte. He happened to be in the UK on business in August 1914, and enlisted in the British army. In June 1915, he was granted a commission in the Canadian Expeditionary Force and joined the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLIs) in February 1916. He was killed at the Battle of Courcelette on September 15, 1916, aged 43. He has no known grave and his name is on the Vimy Memorial. He left behind his wife Mary and four daughters. Continue reading


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Birdsong

No child or future generation will ever know what this was like. They will never understand.

When it is over we will go quietly among the living and we will not tell them. We will talk and sleep and go about our business like human beings.

We will seal what we have seen in the silence of our hearts and no words will reach us. (Birdsong, p 340)

The generation that lived through WW1 almost managed to keep its horrors to themselves. As time passed, survivors died and other atrocities succeeded it, the Great War risked becoming a forgotten war. Sebastian Faulks’ novel Birdsong was part of a renaissance of remembrance when it was published in the 1990s.  Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – National War Memorial, St John’s NL

Memorial Day, July 1, is a solemn day of remembrance of the single greatest disaster in Newfoundland history. At Beaumont-Hamel, the Newfoundland Regiment was virtually wiped out in half an hour on the first morning of the Somme Offensive, July 1, 1916. Of the 780 men who went forward, 233 were dead, 386 wounded and 91 reported missing (later assumed dead). While the casualty rate for many battalions was over 50%, for the Newfoundland Regiment it was 90%. (Some reports say more went over the top, with a result of 85% casualties. But still …) All the officers were killed or wounded. On one of the bloodiest days of the war, only one other battalion had a higher casualty rate. Continue reading


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Three Day Road

Another novel in the trenches. Three Day Road offers a thought-provoking contrast to The Wars, chronicling similar themes through the distinctive experiences of Aboriginal Canadian soldiers and Scottish Canadian officers. Lots of fodder to fill essays about the CanLit canon.

Joseph Boyden’s first novel intertwines the stories of three Oji-Cree from Northern Ontario. Niska is one of the last of her community to live on the land, resisting the move to cities and reserves. Xavier Bird (her nephew) and Elijah Weesageechak (dubbed Whiskeyjack) are friends who enlist in 1915 and use their traditional hunting skills to become famed snipers on the Western Front. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – 48th Highlanders Regimental Memorial, Toronto

The 48th Highlanders Regimental Memorial stands at the north end of Queen’s Park Circle in Toronto. Unveiled in 1923 by Governor General Lord Byng, it was designed by Eric Halenby and Mathers Wilson. The column is constructed of granite with bronze plaques. It marks the regiment’s battle honours in South Africa, WW1 and WW2. The dedication reads:

1914-1918

To the glorious memory of those who died and to the undying honour of those who served. This monument is erected by their regiment the 48th Highlanders of Canada

DILEAS GU BRATH

1939-1945

The motto is Gaelic for “faithful forever”.

The 48th Highlanders are an infantry reserve regiment based in Toronto since the regiment was founded in 1891. They were in the first contingent of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) to head to England in autumn 1914. The regiment lost 61 officers and 1406 men in WW1.

A 1926 Armistice Day photo of the memorial is on the Toronto Public Library site.


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No Man’s Land

Kevin Major’s No Man’s Land is a story of the Newfoundland Regiment at Beaumont-Hamel in the Somme Offensive. The book was published in 1995. I chose it as my reading companion on a recent trip to Newfoundland.

It helps to understand the significance of Beaumont-Hamel in Newfoundland history to appreciate No Man’s Land. Newfoundland was still a small British colony. This was the first major battle in the war for the Newfoundland Regiment. (They had relatively few casualties at Gallipoli.) The regiment was virtually wiped out in half an hour on the first morning of the Somme Offensive, July 1, 1916. Of the 780 men who went forward, 233 were dead, 386 wounded and 91 reported missing (later assumed dead). While the casualty rate for many battalions was over 50%, for the Newfoundland Regiment it was 90%. (Some reports say more went over the top, with a result of 85% casualties. But still …) All the officers were killed or wounded. On one of the bloodiest days of the war, only one other battalion had a higher casualty rate. July 1 remains a solemn day of remembrance of the single greatest disaster in Newfoundland history. Continue reading