Great War 100 Reads

Commemorating the centenary of the First World War in books


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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


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Testament of Youth

Those who know about Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth only by reputation or the recent movie might think of it simply as a tale of love and loss in WW1 … the account of a spunky young woman whose brother, fiancé and other male friends are killed … a woman’s loss and a lost generation.

The book is so much more.

It has taken me several weeks to work through Testament of Youth – really three books captured in its 600 pages. Brittain documents the pre-war life of young middle-class women, the war years and the aftermath in the decade following. Continue reading


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Maisie Dobbs

Some Great War 100 Reads followers have joined the bandwagon, dipping into selections from my reading lists. Linda (not only the first follower, but a frequent companion in monument quests) has gone a step further … she wrote a book review. I am pleased to share with you her views on Maisie Dobbs.

Maisie Dobbs is the first in a series of 12 mystery novels by Jacqueline Winspear. This book traces the physical and mental scars left by WW1. The breakdown of the rigid class structure of Britain and the emancipation of women because of their war work are also themes woven throughout. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Memorial Windows, City Hall, Kingston, ON … Part 2

A formal assembly room in Kingston City Hall was renamed Memorial Hall in 1921 by Governor General Lord Byng “in everlasting remembrance of those from this city who fought in defence of justice and liberty” and “in honour of Kingston’s sailors, soldiers, airmen and nursing sisters who served overseas.”

This is the second post about the memorial windows … these six windows are on the west wall, to the left as you enter Memorial Hall. Quotations are from the program for the 1921 event. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Memorial Windows, City Hall, Kingston, ON … Part 1

Kingston’s City Hall is a grand 19th century building at 216 Ontario St. One of its formal assembly rooms was renamed Memorial Hall in 1921 by Governor General Lord Byng “in everlasting remembrance of those from this city who fought in defence of justice and liberty” and “in honour of Kingston’s sailors, soldiers, airmen and nursing sisters who served overseas.”

Twelve stained glass windows line the two long walls of the room. Each window marks a battle in which Canadians played a significant role and a group that contributed to the war effort. They were made by the Robert McCausland Ltd of Toronto (which now claims to be the oldest stained glass company in the Western Hemisphere and the longest continuously-owned family company in Canada).

Today’s post features the east windows, to the right as you enter the hall. Quotations are from the program for the 1921 event.  Continue reading


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An Interview with Jasmine Donahaye, Biographer of Lily Tobias

A downside of my recent focus on books by WW1 eyewitnesses is that the authors aren’t available for interviews. An upside is that their lives and works often now have the benefit of reflection and scholarship. In that light, I am pleased to welcome Jasmine Donahaye to Great War 100 Reads. Dr. Donahaye, an Associate Professor at Swansea University, is the author of The Greatest Need: The creative life and troubled times of Lily Tobias, a Welsh Jew in Palestine, and editor of new editions of Tobias’s novels Eunice Fleet and My Mother’s House. All are published by Honno Press.

What first interested you in Lily Tobias?

Jasmine Donahaye: Some sixteen years ago I had just begun my PhD research on Welsh attitudes to Jews, and I came across a reference to Lily Tobias as an author of novels that intertwined Welsh and Jewish questions – it was a reference by Leo Abse, the Welsh Labour MP. I didn’t realise at the time that Lily Tobias was his aunt. I ordered her 1921 book, The Nationalists and Other Goluth Studies, during my first visit to the National Library, and was intrigued and excited by the intertwined Welsh and Jewish symbol on the cover: a red dragon and a Star of David. Her work and its themes became a central part of my doctoral research. But there was so much more to her fiction and non-fiction than the national and ethnic identity questions I was exploring there.

After publishing my first article about Tobias, a relative of hers got in touch. I began to learn a lot more about her personal history and background – and about her experiences and the experiences of her brothers which informed the pacifist novel, Eunice Fleet. I found Tobias as complex and fascinating as her work: like her novels, she didn’t lend herself to any simple or tidy interpretations. Continue reading