Great War 100 Reads

Commemorating the centenary of the First World War in books

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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

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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



With the centenary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge fast approaching, it seemed to be a good time to delve into Vimy, Pierre Berton’s popular account of the Canadian exploits to capture a strategic spot on the Western Front.

Berton set out “to tell not just what happened but also what it was like.” (Author’s note, p 313) He interviewed survivors and combed through old diaries, memoirs, letters, newspaper accounts and oral histories. The result is a lively account of Easter Monday, 9 April 1917 – when the four divisions of the Canadian Corps fought together for the first (and only) time – the events leading to it and the mopping up afterwards. Continue reading


Monday Monuments and Memorials – Memorial Park, Shelburne ON

The war memorial in Shelburne, Ontario stands in front of the town hall, on Victoria St at the corner of Main (Hwy 89). Lots of stuff packed into a small space here:

  • A bronze statue of a soldier on a granite base, erected on 4 June 1923
  • Plaques on the granite base naming those who died, the condition of which suggests recent replacement
  • A small plaque for the opening of the Shelburne and Community Memorial Park on 4 June 1923
  • German guns, the booty of war Guns from WW1 and WW2
  • A newer black granite monument “to those men and women who offered their lives so that we can be free. We thank them.”

Together, these elements offer glimpses of the changing ways of remembrance. Continue reading


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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Remembered in Bronze and Stone – Canada’s Great War Memorial Statuary

Early in my days of researching monuments for Great War 100 Reads, I discovered Alan Livingstone MacLeod’s albums on Flickr. Beautiful photos documenting WW1 monuments across Canada, and a good source in trying to sort out Emanuel Hahn’s work from the imitations. So I am delighted to find that he has written a book featuring his photos, Remembered in Bronze and Stone, published in November 2016. 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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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Monument aux morts français de Montréal et aux volontaires canadiens de l’armée française, Montreal

Montreal’s La Fontaine Park is the site of a monument to French soldiers from Montreal and Canadian volunteers in the French Army who died in WW1 (and later in WW2). Place du Souvenir-français is a quiet area of the park between Émile-Duployé and Papineau Avenues, on the north side of Sherbrooke Street East. Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Royal Artillery Memorial, London, UK

The Royal Artillery Memorial at Hyde Park Corner in London is dedicated to casualties in the Royal Regiment of Artillery in WW1: “In proud remembrance of the forty-nine thousand and seventy-six of all ranks of the Royal Regiment of Artillery who gave their lives for King and Country in the Great War 1914-1919.” That’s 49,076. Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Clinton War Memorial, DeWitt Clinton Park, New York

At the southeast corner of De Witt Clinton Park, at 11th Ave and 52nd St in New York City, stands a bronze doughboy holding poppies in his right hand and a rifle slung over his shoulder. The front of the granite pedestal is inscribed with the closing verse from John McCrae’s poem, In Flanders Field.

The statue is dedicated “by comrades and friends under the auspices of Clinton District Monument Association as a memorial to the young folk of this neighborhood who gave their all in the world war.” According to the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, this is one of nine doughboy statues erected in NYC city parks. Continue reading