Great War 100 Reads

Commemorating the centenary of the First World War in books


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Cenotaph, Memorial Park, Carleton Place, ON

Memorial Park, on Franklin St between Beckwith and Judson in Carleton Place, was originally the Market Square. After WW1, the local chapter of the IODE raised money for the monument to honour locals killed in the war. Dedicated in 1924, the front of the original granite monument is carved with a sword on a cross hanging over a flame and laurel wreath, with the phrase “they gave their to-day for our to-morrow.” Continue reading

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Bolsheviki and Motherhouse

Bolsheviki and Motherhouse, two plays by David Fennario, recollect class struggles during and following WW1.

In Bolsheviki, a Montreal Gazette reporter wanders into a bar on Remembrance Day, in search of a human interest story. There he finds Harry “Rosie” Rollins, a veteran with a blistering view of the war and its aftermath. Rosie is based on Fennario’s 1979 interview with WW1 veteran Harry “Rosie” Rowbottom, who lost a finger in the Battle of Loos and was wounded at Vimy Ridge. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – National War Memorial: The Response, Ottawa

Surmounting the arch, through which the armed forces of the nation are passing forward, are the figures of peace and freedom. To win peace and secure freedom, Canada’s sons and daughters enrolled for service during the Great War. For the cause of peace and freedom 60,000 Canadians gave their lives, and a still larger number suffered impairment of body or mind. This sacrifice the National Memorial holds in remembrance for our own and succeeding generations.

This memorial, however, does more than commemorate a great event in the past. It has a message for all generations and for all countries— the message which called for Canada’s response. Not by chance both the crowning figures of peace and freedom appear side by side. Peace and freedom cannot long be separated. It is well that we have in one of the world’s capitals, a visible reminder of so great a truth. Without freedom there can be no enduring peace, and without peace no enduring freedom.

George VI, dedication of the National War Memorial, 21 May 1939 Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Terlincthun British Cemetery, Wimille, France

Terlincthun, between Boulogne and Wimereux, was along the line of hospitals and rest camps established near the coast of France during WW1. Terlincthun British Cemetery was begun June 1918. The central path of the cemetery aligns with the nearby Colonne de la Grande Armée, so the statue of Napoleon appears to be keeping watch over those buried there. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – St Sever Cemeteries, Rouen, France

St Sever Cemetery and St Sever Cemetery Extension are located in a large communal cemetery in the southern Rouen suburbs, near the sites of several WW1 Allied hospitals and camps.* WW1 burials from Commonwealth forces number 11430 in the cemetery and cemetery extension.

Looking for clusters of women’s war graves? Look no further than the hospital sites. The seven women buried in St Sever Cemetery and the six buried in St Sever Cemetery Extension all died of illness or illness-related accident. Two were nursing sisters, six were VADs, three worked with Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps, one with the YMCA, and one was a civilian volunteer. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Abbeville Communal Cemetery Extension, Abbeville, France

Abbeville, on the Somme River northwest of Amiens, was a strategic Allied communications and hospital centre in WW1. In spring and summer 1918, Abbeville was the target of German air raids. In the early morning of 30 May 1918, Abbeville and Doullens were hit. At Abbeville, a bomb hit a protection trench, killing nine women in Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps (QMAAC). The victims were buried with military honours in Abbeville Communal Cemetery Extension. Continue reading


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In Falling Snow

We’re women. We do things. (p 78)

The Scottish Women’s Hospitals were founded during WW1 to help the war effort by offering medical assistance. The founders were committed to promoting women’s rights and believed that contributing to the war effort would help women win those rights.

The British Army refused their help. The women were not daunted, offering hospitals instead to other allied countries. The French were the first to accept. The second Scottish Women’s Hospital was established in the Abbaye de Royaumont, a 13C Cistercian abbey north of Paris, with Dr Frances Ivens as the chief medical officer. The hospital team cared for more than 10,000 wounded soldiers from 1915 to 1919.

Jump forward 70 years. Mary-Rose MacColl found herself in the wrong aisle at the library, having transposed two digits in a call number. She noticed a title, Women of Royaumont: A Scottish Women’s Hospital on the Western Front. Eileen Crofton’s book was the spark of inspiration for MacColl’s novel, In Falling Snow, which pays tribute to the women who served at Royaumont throughout the war. It also explores how the challenges for women in medical service have evolved (or not) from WW1 to the 1970s. Continue reading


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A Long, Long Trail

Really? Really. Four years into the WW1 centenary and four years since the start of this reading odyssey. In 317 posts, Great War 100 Years has documented 90 books read, over 200 monuments and memorials each Monday, and more interviews and musings.

Year three ended and year four started with my exploring the growing scholarship on medical women in the war. (Bravo to those bringing these fascinating stories back to life!) Now I’ve turned back to fiction for the most part. Some by authors who lived through the war. Most written from a longer view perspective in the last 30 years. A few with most exquisite prose. A range of voices showing the experiences of war for women, men and beasts. Continue reading


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Alfred and Emily

Even though I was born several decades after WW1, veterans and others who had lived through the war were all around as I was growing up. The influences of the war were woven into the fabric of my life.

Doris Lessing was born in 1919, much closer to the war’s direct impacts. As she says in the introduction to her 2008 book, Alfred and Emily, “The trenches were as present to me as anything I actually saw around me. And here I still am, trying to get out from that monstrous legacy, trying to get free.” (p viii)

Lessing’s parents had come together because of the war – her father an injured soldier, her mother one of his nurses in a London hospital. Lessing came to realize the extent to which their lives had been damaged by it. Her father dreamt of being a country farmer, but lost his leg in the war. Her mother worked at the Royal Free Hospital after her love of her life was killed, showing promise for a career in hospital administration. Continue reading


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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