Great War 100 Reads

Commemorating the centenary of the First World War in books


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Cambrai Monument to the Missing, Louverval, France

On 20 November 1917, the British Army launched an attack toward Cambrai, an important German supply point, using about 400 tanks to great success … initially. Then the German army regrouped. By the end of the battle on 3 December, they had reclaimed almost all of the territory. The back-and-forth took a high toll, with over 40,000 casualties on each side.   Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Calgary Soldiers’ Memorial, Calgary, AB

The Calgary Soldiers’ Memorial stands in the park that runs between Memorial Drive and the Bow River, east of Poppy Plaza between 10 St NW and 14 St NW. It forms part of the Landscape of Memory park project along Memorial Drive. Continue reading


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My Little Wet Home in the Trench

Yup, it’s three years into the WW1 centenary and three years since the start of Great War 100 Years. In 244 posts, I have documented 68 books read, over 150 monuments each Monday, and more interviews and musings.

My focus for much of this year has been eyewitness accounts of the war – a range of voices from the front lines, the home front and points in between. Male and female authors, they wrote about universal aspects of the soldiers’ experience, the readiness to serve where needed, and the price of acceptance and of dissent.

The books analysing the war from the rear view window show how perspectives can change over time. Continue reading


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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


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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


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Vimy

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


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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


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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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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