Great War 100 Reads

Commemorating the centenary of the First World War in books


2 Comments

Lights Out!

Firsthand accounts of WW1 from the medical women who served are hard to come by, and in reverse proportion to their position in the hospital hierarchy: practically none from doctors; a few more from nurses; most from VADs.

Lights Out! The Memoir of Nursing Sister Kate Wilson, Canadian Army Medical Corps, 1915-1917, based on Kate’s diaries, started as a souvenir for her family written shortly after the war. Later in life, a frustration with mostly male accounts of the war that “tended to romanticize events” led to “a tremendous desire to tell my story, in my own way.” After all, “I have been there too.” (Foreword) Continue reading


Leave a comment

Firing Lines

Beatrice Nasmyth. Mary MacLeod Moore. Elizabeth Montizambert. Three names we likely don’t recognize today. But during WW1, countless Canadian, British and French readers read their war dispatches from London, Paris and points closer to the front. Debbie Marshall brings them back to life in Firing Lines: Three Canadian Women Write the First World War.

We met the three journalists briefly in Marshall’s last book (Give Your Other Vote to the Sister), when they joined Roberta MacAdams on a media tour of the military hospitals at Étaples and the lines of communication behind the front. In Firing Lines, we dig deeper into their backgrounds and how they came to report on the conflict. Continue reading


Leave a comment

Monday Monuments and Memorials – Victoria College Memorial Tablet, University of Toronto, Toronto

A bronze tablet on the right side of the main entrance to the Old Vic building on the U of T campus is dedicated to the memory of 75 Victoria College students and graduates who gave their lives in the Great War, 1914-1918. An angel mourns on either side of the college crest, under the assurance that “they were valiant in life, triumphant in death.” The tablet, designed by sculptor Alfred Howell, was presented by the Alumni and Alumnae Associations and dedicated on 12 October 1923. Continue reading


2 Comments

Monday Monuments and Memorials – The Last Post, Collingwood, ON

The Last Post is the name of the statue that tops the WW1 war memorial in Collingwood, Ontario. It stands in front of the old train station (now the Collingwood Museum), at 45 St Paul St. The driveway behind it is Veterans Cres. Continue reading


1 Comment

An Interview with Katrina Kirkwood, author of The Mystery of Isabella and the String of Beads

Katrina Kirkwood’s book, The Mystery of Isabella and the String of Beads, is two tales in one. She tells about Isabella Stenhouse’s adventures as a doctor in WW1 as well as her own journey of discovery. Katrina joins me today at Great War 100 Reads to discuss her work.

What first interested you in finding your grandmother’s war stories?

Katrina Kirkwood: Romance. Amongst the medical instruments that I inherited from my grandmother Isabella was a strange string of beads. Rumour had it that they had been given to her by a grateful German prisoner of war, an idea that entranced me. As a teenager, I dreamt up a glorious romance in which love trounced international enmity. The fact that Isabella might have been a pioneering woman doctor, fighting fierce male opposition for the right to practise her hard-earned skills in the profession of her choice didn’t cross my mind until years later. Continue reading


2 Comments

The Mystery of Isabella and the String of Beads

Scalpels. Forceps. Stethoscope. Other miscellaneous surgical instruments. And an intricately woven string of beads. These were the legacy that Isabella Stenhouse gave to her granddaughter, Katrina Kirkwood. But not the stories to go with them – of serving as a doctor in France, Malta and Egypt in WW1.

There came a point when Kirkwood realized that her grandmother’s war exploits were extraordinary for a woman of the time. In The Mystery of Isabella and the String of Beads, she sets out to learn about her grandmother’s early life. Continue reading


2 Comments

Tapestry of War

Sandra Gwyn’s Tapestry of War: A Private View of Canadians in the Great War is a gossipy, luscious social history, seen through the eyes of several Canadians who had ringside seats or a view further back from the action.

Our guides were chosen from a variety of vantage points on the basis of their diaries and letters, not necessarily because their importance in the war effort. Gwyn jumps from one person to another, from Ottawa to London to the Western Front, intricately weaving the tales. Some are more interesting than others, but all have a purpose. Continue reading


Leave a comment

Monday Monuments and Memorials – Ontario Military Hospital Nursing Sisters, Queen’s Park, Toronto

Mary A McKenzie, Sarah Ellen Garbutt, Margaret Lowe, Dorothy Mary Baldwin, Matilda Green. These five women are remembered on a brass tablet in the Ontario Legislative Building (Queen’s Park), on the second floor of the west wing, near the landing outside the Legislative Chamber. They were nursing sisters who had served in the Ontario Military Hospital at Orpington, England, and who died during the war. Continue reading


Leave a comment

The Crowded Room

War or no war, provincial towns have a habit of sucking the life out of young women. Every generation of young women needs a parable to warn them to escape. Winnifred Holtby’s The Crowded Street could be the parable for her generation.

Muriel Hammond is the eldest daughter of a prominent family in the Yorkshire town of Marshington. Her father makes the money and trusts her mother spend it, and to make wise decisions about their daughters. (He would have taken more interest in a son.) The prominent women make it their duty to know everyone else’s business and to match their daughters in marriage to the best sons. A daughter’s duty is to care for her parents and to marry well. Continue reading


Leave a comment

Monday Monuments and Memorials – Canadian Memorial Church, Vancouver … Part 2

The Canadian Memorial United Church and Centre for Peace, at the corner of W 15th Ave and Burrard St in Vancouver, was built as a memorial to Canadians who fought and died in WW1 … and as a ministry for peace and an end to war. This is the second post about the memorial elements in the church, looking this week at the narthex windows. Continue reading