Passchendaele – An Eyewitness Account

After great success at Vimy Ridge and Hill 70, the Canadians were called upon to relieve the Australian and New Zealand troops in Flanders, Belgium. Many preparations were made under the careful eye of General Currie, and on October 26th the attack was launched. The Battle of Passchendaele lasted until mid-November, at the expense of 15,654 Canadian lives. Following is an except from the memoir of a South Peace soldier, Lance Corporal Edward Joseph Heller.

It seemed to be the policy then and there to have comparatively few in the front line, for if the enemy counter attacked he would probably overrun it anyway. We did some digging during the night, connecting shell holes, deepening ditches that were supposed to be trenches, etc. to make room for the extra men… The ground, as at Vimy Ridge, was all torn up. I am sure not a square foot being in its original condition or position. We suffered a few casualties during the night, subjected to what was called a harassing fire: the artillery mow and then dropping a shell here, one there. Our artillery did that too. When morning came, we settled down into the ditches… We lay where we were, in the mud of course, all day of the 29th. If one wanted to change position, get a hard tack out of the haversack, or move for any reason at all, one had to move very slowly… Of course we couldn’t move very fast anyway, as we were chilled to the bone.

There was a sort of step at the dead end of this ditch, so I sat upon the step. I probably dozed off (for we hadn’t had much sleep for some time), for the next thing I knew, I was laying in the mud up out of the ditch, in a sort of bewildered way, thinking perhaps something had happened, for it seemed the right half of my head had been shot off (how I thought I could still be alive after that?) and 72 bones (that’s about 1/3 of them, isn’t it?) were broken. Apparently a shell passed just in front of me… and exploded. How deeply I was buried or how long it took to dig me out was not thought of then, so I never found out, which never worried me any… Two fellows helped me start walking… perhaps to some dressing station… there is a flash of a few seconds of memory… there was this railway car, low sides but no top. How and why I and others were there, I didn’t know or care… Next I was lying on a stretcher in a large marquee. By evening I was in a cot, nice white sheets, hospital pyjamas so clean and dry.

Edward Heller had in fact sustained a gunshot wound to his left leg at Passchendaele. Later in the war, his right leg was also wounded. Heller survived the war and returned to his homestead near Beaverlodge.

Photograph: SPRA 194.03, from Edward Heller’s fonds, likely taken at Passchendaele

To get an idea of the devastation they fought through, consider attending the Passchendaele movie screening at the Grande Prairie Regional College on Friday October 27 at 7:00. We will also have a small display honouring our South Peace veterans who played a role in this important battle.  Click here for more information on this event.

The South Peace Goes to War

The South Peace Regional Archives has curated a new exhibit for the Community Room at the Grande Prairie Museum. The new exhibit features ten photographs from the SPRA collection that tell the story, “The South Peace Goes to War.” The ten photographs were chosen by SPRA staff from a variety of collections, including the Edward Heller fonds, Turner family fonds, and Harry Tuffill family fonds.

Beginning with the first enlistments of 1914 making their way down the Smokey on the Beaver to the celebration of war’s end at Bear Lake, these ten photographs lead the viewer on a journey through the social history of the Great War. Below is a brief description of the exhibit. For more information, feel free to visit the exhibit in person.

OFF TO WAR

The Beaver Carrying Freight and Men To Enlist, 1914.

The Beaver river boat is carrying freight and men who are going to enlist. Three men are sitting on the bow of the boat, another is poling and the rest are standing on the boat.

SPRA 024.01.09.28 Holroyd Drugs Photograph Collection 024

 

FOREIGN SERVICE

French Troops in Camp, 1914 ca.

World War I French troops in camp, with soldiers, officers, horses and wagons in the background.

SPRA 0164.02.10 Gabriel Basly fonds 164

 

RECRUITING

Recruiting, 1915.

Five men in World War I uniforms standing on the main street (100 Avenue) of Grande Prairie. Businesses visible in the background include the Crown Café, a pool hall, and a confectionary.

SPRA 555.04 Edith Mair fonds 555

 

TRAINING FOR BATTLE

WWI Soldiers on a Break, c.1917.

WWI soldiers at rest with their saddles, buildings in the background.

SPRA 589.04.14 Donald Gordon Morrison fonds 589

 

FORGING FRIENDSHIPS

Charlie T.M.Turner and Army Friend, ca. 1915. [Charlie Turner may be the man standing]

Chas. T.M.Turner and his army friend during WWI.

SPRA 2011.44.05 Turner Family fonds 478

 

LIFE AWAY FROM HOME

Soldiers Playing Cards, 1914 c.

Harry Tuffill playing cards with a group of World War I soldiers.

SPRA 0056.01.075-3 Harry Tuffill fonds 056

 

TRENCH WARFARE

WW1 Troops Sitting in a Trench, 1916.

The photograph shows soldiers, some injured, sitting in mud behind a trench wall. One is holding a stretcher, two men each have one arm in a sling.

SPRA 0194.02 Edward Heller fonds

 

NO MAN’S LAND

WW1 Troops Trudging Across a Muddy Field, 1916.

The photograph shows soldiers in the distance walking along a wired barricade through a very muddy field.

SPRA 0194.03 Edward Heller fonds

 

MEDICAL SERVICES

WWI Convalescent Hospital, 1918.

Patients and staff at “The Larches,” a WWI convalescent home at Paignton, Devon, England. Note on the back reads: “Shattock with best wishes from K.C. Gauney September 14, 1918.”

SPRA 1969.59.331

 

WAR’S END

Great War Veterans Picnic, Bear Lake, Alberta, 1920

Postcard showing a people gathering at Bear Lake for a picnic in honor of the Great War Veterans.

SPRA 0112.02.23 Croken-Tomshak family fonds 112

10 World War I Names Every Canadian Should Know

Sam Hughes

Sir Samuel Hughes was Canada’s Minister of Militia & Defense until November 1916. While some of his equipment choices ended in embarrassing fiascoes, he was the driving force behind Canada’s war effort early in the war.

Image Source: Dictionary of Canadian Biography

 

John McCrae

Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae was the Canadian physician who penned the iconic war poem, In Flanders Fields. McCrae suffered greatly, both physically and mentally, as a result of his war experiences, and died as a result of fatigue and pneumonia in 1918.

Image Source: Wikipedia

 

Arthur Currie

General Sir Arthur William Currie became commander of the Canadian Corps after his success at Vimy Ridge, and he held that position for the remainder of the war. Currie’s fastidious planning in preparation for battle led to him being known as one of the finest generals of the war.

Image Source: Wikipedia

 

Billy Bishop

William Avery Bishop (from Owen Sound, Ontario) was the British Empire’s top flying ace in the First World War. He was officially credited with 72 victories.

Image Source: The Canadian Encyclopedia

 

“Chip” Kerr

Private John Chipman Kerr of Spirit River, Alberta, was awarded the Victoria Cross at Courcelette for single-handedly capturing 62 prisoners. There is a mountain named after Kerr in Jasper National Park.

Image Source: Memorials to Valour

 

George Lawrence Price

Pte. Price was a Canadian soldier in the 28th Battalion, Saskatchewan Regiment. During the liberation of Mons, Price was shot in the chest by a German sniper and became the last Allied soldier to be killed before the Armistice. He died at 10:58am, November 11, 1918.

Image Source: Wikipedia

 

Edith Cavell

Though not a Canadian, Edith Cavell was a figure who received international attention during the war. The courageous British nurse aided some 200 Allied soldiers in escaping from German-occupied Belgium and was shot by a German firing squad as a result. Mount Edith Cavell in Jasper National Park is considered to be one of the greatest climbs in North America.

Image Source: EdithCavell.org

 

Billy Barker

William George Barker was Canadian flying ace who achieved the status of “ace” during a 10-month stint on the Italian front. But it was on the Western front, near the end of the war, that Barker won a Victoria Cross for shooting down three of fifteen enemy aircraft that attacked him. Billy Barker is to this day the most highly decorated serviceman in the British Empire.

Image Source: Canoe.com

 

Roy Brown

Although Arthur Roy Brown had only ten aerial victories during the war, he was officially credited with having shot down the Red Baron. It remains controversial to this day whether it was in fact Brown who downed the Red Baron, or if it was ground fire. Regardless, the gallant manner in which he defended his friend Wop May in the dogfight earned him a Distinguished Service Cross.

Image Source: Wikipedia

 

Margaret C. MacDonald

Major Margaret MacDonald was the Matron-in-Chief of the Canadian Army Medical Corps Nursing Service. She was one of the founding members of the CAMC’s nursing service, and by the end of the war, more than 3,000 nursing sisters had served overseas.

Image Source: Life on the Home Front

 

Sources: Canadian War Museum, The Canadian Encyclopedia, Wikipedia, and South Peace Regional Archives

Battle Report: Archives Week and the Great War Gala

This week, the South Peace Regional Archives is celebrating Archives Week 2017: Alberta and the Great War.

The Archives staff have been hard at work curating a new display for the community room of the Grande Prairie Museum. This display features documents and photographs from the Archives collections and represents many aspects of the war, from recruitment and enlistment to discharge and celebration. It will adorn the community room for months to come and enhance the educational programming provided by the Grande Prairie Museum staff.

Meanwhile, Archives staff and Friends of the Archives volunteers are also busy preparing the finishing details of the upcoming Great War Gala. Archives staff created ten different displays featuring reproductions of archival records from our collections. Friends of the Archives volunteers designed tabletop decorations and silent auction displays. Both staff and volunteers are  looking forward to the musical performances from GPRC’s Fine Arts students and faculty, including: Kristina Alexander (mezzo-soprano), Jeremy Thielmann (piano), Brad Luna (trumpet), Breanna Girvan (soprano), Mackenzie Lowen (soprano), Kyle Friesen (baritone), and Mark Woodman (tenor).

Don’t miss out on your chance to celebrate with us; purchase your tickets for the Great War Gala today!

10 Books About World War I

Above photograph: H.P. Keith sitting in front of his tent, reading, ca. 1915 (SPRA 282.13, cropped from original)

Hindsight is 20/20, or so the old saying goes. Here are ten books about the Great War experience. Some are general histories while others delve into specific aspects of the war. The authors used a variety of documents to explore a wide range of ideas and topics related to the period.  Most of these books are available at the Grande Prairie Public Library, and the call number is listed at the end of the title.

Canada’s Great War Album: Our Memories of the First World War

edited by Mark Collin Reid, Canada’s History Magazine, 940.371 CAN

This is an intensely beautiful book and not just because of the large collection of personal photographs and documents prominently displayed throughout. In 2012, Canada’s History Magazine called for contributions from the public for their stories and photographs about the Great War. Organized by topic, each chapter features an essay by an established historian, writer, or journalist, including Charlotte Gray, Tim Cook, and Peter Mansbridge along with accompanying images. While the book does provide a brief timeline of major events, this is really the story of the people who lived through this terrible conflict.

For King and Kanata: Canadian Indians and the First World War

by Timothy C. Winegard, 940.3089 WIN

Timothy Winegard chose the word “Indian” carefully in this text. Noting that it was the common terminology of the time, used by Whites and Indians alike, Winegard also makes clear that this history does not include non-status Indians, Métis, or Inuit Canadians, all communities now contained within the terms Indigenous or Aboriginal. Nor does it include many status Indians who “snuck into” the army in the early days of the war or Indians from the Northern Territories. As he clearly lays out, Indians were not initially welcomed with open arms and when they finally were, they were carefully documented. But only status Indians. For this reason, Winegard limits his analysis to the experience of “Indians.”

Winegard explores the racism, acceptance, and mythology surrounding Indian soldiers and their shameful treatment upon their return home from the war. He does this with an examination of official documents and personal stories. The many images featured throughout help personalize the story of these men and certainly helped me to better visualize and conceptualize the contributions they made in the war effort. It also sheds light on the beginnings of Indian activism following the war.  This book is highly recommended for anyone wanting a deeper understanding of both Canada’s role in the Great War and the conflicted relationship between White and Indian Canadians.

Three Day Road

by Joseph Boyden, FNMI BOY

The main narrative of this novel takes place after the war as a physically and spiritually wounded Xavier recounts his war experiences on a three-day healing journey. Xavier’s narrative shows two extreme reactions to the horrors of war: his growing dread and his friend Elijah’s growing relish for the death and destruction. The novel was inspired in part by real-life aboriginal World War I heroes Francis Pegahmagabow and John Shiwak.

In the course of the novel, Xavier’s aunt Niska recounts her own tale of the death and destruction of her way of life. I would highly recommend reading both For King and Kanata and Three Day Road for a better understanding of the war and its aftermath in Indigenous communities.

A Doctor in the Great War

by Andrew Davidson, 940.40092 DAV

Based on three photo albums left to the family by his grandfather, Andrew Davidson presents a beautiful written account of Dr. Frederick Davidson’s experience as a doctor in the British Army. Davidson never met his grandfather, who died shortly before his birth. Bequeathed the albums, along with a set of binoculars, Davidson was prodded for years by friends to do something with them. That something was this book. Lacking his grandfather’s personal testimony, beyond the photographs, Davidson turned to official government records, secondary sources, and published and unpublished memoirs, letters, and diaries, to piece together this beautifully crafted account of one man’s life in the Great War.

Of course, like any life story, it contains many life stories intersecting throughout and Davidson takes pains to include many anecdotes about the men his grandfather befriended. Along with the images, this is a very personal account of the war in the trenches through the eyes of a man not there to take lives but to save them.

The Wars

by Timothy Findley, CLA PB FIN

Written by thespian turned author, Timothy Findley, this is one of my favourite books. The narrative is told in first, second, and third person and moves back and forth in time as a historian tries to piece together the story of Robert Ross, a physically capable but emotionally scarred young man who enlists in the First World War. Ross, like many of his contemporaries, does not weather the war well, breaking down fatally and tragically. The novel examines the traumatic effect the war had on his already troubled psyche and challenges assumption and universality of military comradery. My favourite line in this book, which I’m going to paraphrase, comes from one of Ross’s friends while visiting him at his trench: “I retain the human right to be horrified by all that I see.”

The Journal of Private Fraser, 1914-1918: Canadian Expeditionary Force

by Donald Fraser, 940.4817 FRA

Private Donald Fraser writes vividly of his wartime experiences in this war diary. Like most soldiers of the initial Canadian Expeditionary Force, Fraser was an immigrant who enlisted early to fight for King and country. He served until wounded at Passchendaele. This is a no-holds-barred first person account of training and life in the trenches.

Drawing Fire: The Diary of a Great War Soldier and Artist

by Len Smith

Note: this book is not available through the library, but used copies can be purchased at reasonable prices through Bookfinder or AbeBooks and it is a worthy addition to your personal collection – too good to miss!

This is probably one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. Illustrated by Len Smith, a British soldier and artist, the book features exact reproductions of his handwritten memoirs. Most of the handwriting is replaced by a regular font but some pages are reproduced in the original to get a feel for his style of writing. The book is interspersed with Len’s original drawings and memorabilia.

Len kept his diary on scraps of papers hidden in his pants, which he later collected and wrote out in long hand. Len notes in his introduction that he made no corrections or additions, wanting the reader to feel the immediacy of his original words. And you do. With his sense of humour and his generous understanding of the emotional toll on his fellow soldiers, Len comes across as a gentle and practical person. He was also ingenious, as his artwork sprinkled throughout and accounts of creative endeavours for the war effort will testify. My favourite inventions are the two-yard panoramic map of the enemy troop lines at Vimy Ridge which he created while dodging front-line enemy fire; and the fake, hollow spy tree. Len had crawled within yards of the enemy line to draw a real dead tree in exact detail. He recreated the tree with stairs inside and a window for the observers. During the night, the real tree was removed and the fake tree installed, along with an underground tunnel leading to the tree.

What Len has produced here is nothing short of miraculous and it is baffling that he is so relatively unknown and undecorated. The best way to rectify this injustice is to read this book.

inside “Drawing Fire”

In Fear of the Barbed Wired Fence: Canada’s First National Internment Operations and the Ukrainian Canadians, 1914-1920

by Lubomyr Luciuk, 940.31771 LUC  or read it online

While Canadians were fighting the good fight for democracy overseas, fear led to some very undemocratic activity against one particular group of Canadians. Luciuk illuminates this dark chapter of Canada’s war experience largely through the judicious use of photographs, letters, newspaper clippings and official documents. The actually text in the book is fairly brief, with the images and the footnotes taking up the bulk of the book. The footnotes, however, pack a lot of informational punch. For me, the most telling testament of the prejudice of the time occurs on page 98: “… as many as 10,000 Ukrainian Canadians volunteered for service…From among the Canadian volunteers, all men with German names were, on orders received from the War Office, placed under arrest…” This seems like duplicity of the worst kind. I highly recommend this book for anyone wanting to understand how fear compromises our democratic ideals.

First World War for Dummies

by Dr. Seán Lang, 940.4 LAN

I guess there really is a Dummies book for everything. For those of us who are chronologically challenged, this is a great starter book. It is based on the British and European experience, but it lays out concisely and in an easy to follow format the events and issues leading up to the war, social changes during the war, the experience of women and civilians, the aftermath, and finally, how we remember the war. The book is text heavy but still an easy read. The format lends itself to quick dives in and out so it doesn’t feel overwhelming. The last chapter includes four top ten lists for generals (including our very own Sir Arthur Currie), films, wartime writers, and enlightening places to visit.

Clio’s Warriors: Canadian Historians and the Writing of the World Wars

by Tim Cook, 940.41271 COO; and “The Great War, Archives, and Modern Memory,” Archivaria 46,  by Robert McIntosh

Okay, I’m fudging a bit here on the book part. Cook’s book examines the why and how of what we know about both World Wars. The first two chapters of this book are relevant to the First War. They explain the great chain of activity set in motion largely by two men – Sir Arthur Doughty, First Dominion Archivist, and Max Aitken, First Baron of Beaverbrook – that led to the intense document creation and collection researchers rely on today to study the Great War. Cook’s book places more emphasis on Aitken’s contribution to our military documentary heritage while McIntosh’s essay gives both men fairly equal weight. Besides helping us to understand the fluid role of archivists, document creation, and historical activity, these two works also help us to understand why and how World War I helped forge our distinct Canadian identity.

On a side note, McIntosh writes absolutely the best sentence to sum up the Great War: “The war’s most immediate consequence was mass bereavement.”

Lest we forget.

Unraveling the Past

Our most recent Telling Our Stories features the article, “Embroidered Cards: Unraveling the Past.” The article touches upon the history of these lovely and very personal mementos soldiers from the trenches of the Great War sent to loved ones back home. The three postcards from our collection are from two different soldiers but all of them are addressed to the same person – “Jeannie.” While we were able to determine that the two soldiers were most likely Private Robert Bruce Leslie and Lieutenant John Pringle, we could not figure out who was their “dear little friend, Jeannie.”

Luckily, good friend of the SPRA, Margaret Bowes, was able to tell us. “Little” Jeannie was Margaret’s mother, Jean Emilie Alexander O’Brien. Jean was born in 1906 and was one of five surviving children of William Alexander (originally from Scotland) and Emilie Dannhauer of Pembroke, Ontario. Jean was only ten when her mother died of Bight’s Disease and shortly after, watched as friends and family, including Bob Leslie, walked away from the family farm to enlist in the war. Jean later told her children, “My memory is one of sadness.” She knew she’d never see her friends again and she never did.

Little Jeannie became a teacher, married and had three children. Widowed at a young age, she taught at Appleton until 1942, when she moved to Grande Prairie. She then continued her career at Montrose School and the Grande Prairie Composite High School until retiring in 1975. Jean was also very involved in the Grande Prairie music festival and served as church organist for the United Church for many years. She died in 2001 and is buried in the Grande Prairie Cemetery. You can find out more about her and her family in the family papers held at the SPRA in the Alexander Family fonds 572. You can read more about the postcards in the September issue of Telling Our Stories, available on our website.

Thank you to Margaret Bowes for passing this information on to us, as well as a transcript of a letter from Jack Pringle to Bill Alexander (from The Trenches, Sept 12, 1915), and an explanatory Addendum written by Jeannie’s youngest daughter,  Erin O’Brien Woolley.

Top image: An embroidered card from World War I, “To my dear little friend Jeannie from Bob Leslie with best wishes for a merry Xmas and Happy new year.” (SPRA 1996.5.3)

This card was sent to Jeannie from Jack P. (John Pringle) in France, 16 February, 1916. According to the message on the reverse, on October 2, 1916 word reached Spirit River of his death in action. (SPRA 1996.5.1)

An embroidered card from World War I. This card was sent from Belgium on 1 July , 1916, “with best love to Jeannie from R.B. Leslie” (SPRA 1996.5.2)

10 Great War Battles Every Canadian Should Know

Second Battle of Ypres (April 1915)

Ypres was the only significant Belgian town remaining in Allied hands, and it was here that the Canadians took part in their first major engagement. It was also at Ypres that the Germans launched the first gas attack of the war. The Canadian troops earned the reputation of being staunch and stalwart soldiers, but at the cost of some 6,000 soldiers over the course of the four day battle. Also of note, In Flanders Fields was penned by John McCrae at the Second Battle of Ypres.

For more information on the Second Battle of Ypres, visit Ypres: The Cost of Valour.

Image source: All About Canadian History

Soldiers wearing early gas masks

St. Eloi Craters (April 1916)

When the Canadian troops arrived to relieve the British, they found few trenches to occupy, but rather inhabited the enormous mud-filled mine craters. After two weeks under heavy enemy fire, aerial photographs revealed the unfavorable positions and the battle was halted. No progress was made in this atrocious attack where one man reported “we were walking on dead soldiers.”

Image source: Kenora Great War Project

St. Eloi Craters

Mont Sorrel (June 1916)

In this battle, it was the Germans who attacked. Mont Sorrel was a strategic and commanding position overlooking the city of Ypres. The Canadian positions were devastated in the early days of the battle, and the Germans took over the hill. However, the Canadians were determined to gain back the ground they had lost, and with careful planning were able to do just that. The Battle of Mont Sorrel lasted almost two weeks and the Canadians suffered more than 8,000 casualties.

Image source: The Vimy Foundation

Mont Sorrel

The Somme (July – November 1916)

The Somme offensive lasted five months (though the Canadians were involved only in the final three months) and consisted of many ‘smaller’ battles, including Beaumont Hamel, Courcelette, Thiepval, Ancre Heights, and Regina Trench. The offensive ended in a complete stalemate in which each side suffered over 600,000 casualties.

For more information on the South Peace region’s contribution during the Somme offensive, visit Remembering the Somme

Image source: Canadian War Museum

An Artist’s Home on the Somme

Courcelette (September 1916)

The first time tanks were used in World War I was at Courcelette, where they accompanied the Canadian troops to assist with cutting barbed wire and subduing enemy machine gun fire. Courcelette was a rare victory for the Allies at the Somme, and was captured in one day, but cost the Canadians several thousand casualties.

Image source: Canadian War Museum

Canadian soldiers take cover behind a boiler as they storm the German stronghold at the sugar factory at Courcelette on 15 September 1916. Notice the close-quarters fighting, including the use of rifles, bayonets, and hand grenades.

Vimy Ridge (April 1917)

The Battle of Vimy Ridge is considered to have been a turning point in Canadian history. For the first time in the Great War, all four Canadian divisions were fighting together. And with meticulous planning and intense training, they were able to take the ridge that no other Allies had been able to capture. The Canadian Corps suffered close to 11,000 losses, but the victory inspired a new sense of independence and national pride that is still present in Canadians today.

For more information on the South Peace region’s contributions at Vimy Ridge, visit The 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge

Image source: The Canadian Encyclopedia

Canadian soldiers returning from Vimy Ridge in France

Hill 70 (August 1917)

In August of 1917, General Currie and his Canadian Corps were ordered to attack the city of Lens, France. But Currie considered it a far better strategy to capture the high ground just north of the city – Hill 70. He was correct. The hill was captured on the first day of the battle, and in the following four days, the Canadians withstood twenty-one German counter-attacks and held onto the hill. Lens itself, however, remained in German hands until their final retreat in 1918.

For more information on the South Peace region’s contributions at Hill 70, visit Forgotten Triumph: the Battle of Hill 70

Image source: Canadian War Museum

Canadians take a break in a captured German trench during the Battle of Hill 70 in August 1917. The soldiers on the left are scanning the sky for aircraft, while the soldier in the centre appears to be re-packing his gas respirator into the carrying pouch on his chest.

Passchendaele (October/November 1917)

Passchendaele was a horrible bog of shell holes, mud, and bodies. After months of fighting, and no success having been made, the British commander-in-chief ordered the Canadians to relieve the Australians and New Zealand troops. After careful planning, the Canadian troops attacked the ridge. The battle lasted more than two weeks and resulted in a staggering 15,654 casualties for the Canadians.

Image source: Canadian War Museum

Canadian Gunners in the Mud, Passchendaele

Canal du Nord (September 1918)

Construction of the Canal du Nord had begun in 1913, but was halted when the war began. During their retreat, the Germans flooded a large portion of the canal, leaving only a small dry section. But even that was a significant obstacle, with an embankment up to fifteen feet high. The Canadian Engineers spent almost a month building a bridge across the canal in preparation for the attack. The canal was captured, and the path was open for Allies to seize other strong points, sending the Germans into full retreat.

Image source: Wikipedia

Canadians building a bridge across the Canal du Nord, France.

 

Mons (November 1918)

The day the Canadians liberated Mons also marked the end of the war. It was from this Belgian city that the British had staged a fighting retreat at the beginning of the war, and now the Canadians had the honour of taking the city back. Rumours abounded that the war was about to end, but the Canadian Corps had been ordered to attack Mons, and so they did. The troops fought their way through town – under constant machine gun fire – and when the battle finally ceased, the civilians poured out to celebrate with their liberators.

Image source: Canadian War Museum

Canadians march through the streets of Mons on 11 November 1918

Sources: 

Canadian War Museum

The Canadian Encyclopedia

Wikipedia

10 First World War Mascots

Lady Saskatoon

When Arthur Buck enlisted in Lake Saskatoon in 1915, he donated a little brown bear – who was dubbed ‘Lady Saskatoon’ – for the company’s mascot. Unfortunately, no mention has been found of the little bear’s war experience.

Grande Prairie Herald ~ July 27, 1915

Arthur Buck makes a bear cub stand on its hind legs, ca. 1912

 

Rin Tin Tin & Nanette

These two German Shepherd puppies were rescued in France by an American corporal in 1918. He named them after the very popular French good luck charms, Rintintin and Nenette. Rin Tin Tin became a television star in the USA after the war, as did some of his descendants.


Rin Tin Tin, right, and his litter mate Nanette at a U.S. Army base in France shortly after Lee Duncan rescued them.

Source: National Museum of American History

Image Source: Pittsburgh Post Gazette

 

Winnipeg

Known as “Winnie”, this black bear cub was bought by Canadian cavalry veterinarian, Harry Colebourn, on his way to Valcartier. The cub accompanied Colebourn to England, where she resided at London Zoo. It was “Winnie” who was the inspiration for Winnie-the-Pooh.

Harry Colebourn and Winnie, 1914

Source: Wikipedia – Winnipeg

 

Cher Ami

Cher Ami was a carrier pigeon who was awarded the Croix de Guerre. On October 3, 1918, she saved the lives of 194 American soldiers by delivering her urgent message to headquarters despite having been shot through the breast, blinded in one eye, and losing a leg.

Cher Ami

Source: Wikipedia – Cher Ami
Image Source: Chemung County Library District

 

Simpson’s donkeys

During the Gallipoli campaign, Australian John Simpson spent three and a half weeks fearlessly transporting wounded soldiers on the backs of donkeys. He used at least five different donkeys, named “Duffy No. 1”, “Duffy No. 2”, “Murphy”, “Queen Elizabeth”, and “Abdul”. Simpson’s work was often done under fire, which led to his death on May 19, 1915.

Simpson (centre) with his donkey,bearing a wounded soldier.

Source: Wikipedia – John Simpson Kirkpatrick

 

Bonfire & Bonneau

John McCrae, the author of “In Flanders Fields”, was deeply affected by his war experiences. To assuage his grief, he spent long hours riding his horse, Bonfire, around the French countryside. His other special companion was his spaniel, Bonneau. Bonneau often accompanied McCrae while he made his rounds at the hospital.

John McCrae, writer of “In Flanders Fields,” stands beside his horse, Bonfire, and his dog, Bonneau. The dog would often accompany McCrae as he tended to wounded soldiers.

Source: Veterans Affairs Canada

Image Source: Canada’s Great War Album

 

Lestock

On their journey across Canada, and ultimately to Europe, the 49th Battalion stopped in Lestock, Saskatchewan. There, a well-wisher gave the men a coyote pup. They adopted him as their mascot and named him after the town. Today Lestock’s face appears in the centre of the unit’s badge.

Young Lady and Lestock, 1915

Source: Loyal Edmonton Regiment Military Museum

 

Nan

Nan, a white goat, was the mascot of the 21st Battalion. She was known throughout Belgium and France, and became the first mascot to cross the Rhine in 1918.

21st Battalion with Nan

Source: The 21st Battalion CEF

 

Togo

Little is known about Togo the cat, but the photo of him sitting inside an enormous gun on the HMS Dreadnought is quite famous. Ship’s cats were, of course, very useful for rodent control.

Togo the Cat

Source: BuzzGiraffe

 

Percy

This black cat belonged to the crew of the tank Daphne. Percy went into action with Harry Drader, one of the crew, who was later awarded the Military Cross. Percy became famous for being in the 1917 war film entitled “The Battle of the Ancre and the Advance of the Tanks”. After the war, Percy resided at the Drader home.

Percy

Source: First Tank Crews
Image Source: Cats, Chaos, & Confusion

Click here to view a video of Percy boarding a tank.

10 Shows to Watch Before the Great War Gala

Get your popcorn ready! This week, we have carefully selected ten movies and series to watch before the Great War Gala. These shows explore the multifaceted aspects of the first World War, including the emotional impact of battle, the roles women, and the changes to home front. Many of these shows are available at the Grande Prairie Public Library or on Netflix, so get ready to settle in for a weekend in front of the television.

 

All Quiet on the Western Front

This movie is a must-watch based on a classic book of the same name. It follows a group of German schoolboys, convinced to enlist in WWI by their teacher. The story is told entirely through the experiences of these young German recruits and highlights the tragedy of war through the eyes of individuals.

Source: All Quiet on the Western Front, IMDB

 

Anzac Girls

The true stories of extraordinary young women who witness the brutality and heroism of war and rise to meet the challenge. Our Administrative Assistant, Teresa, recommends this mini series as it presents a women’s perspective of the front lines of the war and the challenges they faced working in a male-dominated environment. According to our records, several South Peace soldiers spent time in the field hospitals of France featured in the series.

This series is available at the Grande Prairie Public Library.

Source: Anzac Girls, IMDB

 

A Bear Named Winnie

This film is based on the true story of a Canadian soldier, enroute to World War I from Winnipeg, who adopts an orphaned bear cub at White River Ontario. The bear is named Winnie (for Winnipeg) and eventually ends up at the London Zoo where it became the inspiration for A.A.Milne’s Winnie The Pooh stories.

This movie is available at the Grande Prairie Public Library.

Source: A Bear Named Winnie, IMDB

Image Source: Original Pictures

 

The Wipers Times

When Captain Fred Roberts discovers a printing press in the ruins of Ypres, Belgium in 1916, he decides to publish a satirical magazine called The Wipers Times. This TV movie is recommended by our WWI Soldier’s Memorial volunteer, Kaylee. One of the soldiers from the South Peace region, Corp. Charles Harrison Sims, served in the regiment portrayed in Wipers Times.

This movie is available at the Grande Prairie Public Library.

Source: The Wiper’s Times, IMDB

Image Source: Huffington Post

 

Testament of Youth

Testament of Youth is a coming-of-age story based on the beloved WWI memoir by Vera Brittain. Vera’s story was heralded as the voice of a generation and has become the classic testimony of that war, from a woman’s point of view. Testament of Youth encompasses youth, hope, dreams, love, war, futility, and how to make sense of the darkest times.

This series is available on Netflix or at the Grande Prairie Public Library.

Source: Testament of Youth, IMDB

 

Downton Abbey (Series 1-2)

Downton Abbey chronicles the lives of the British aristocratic Crawley family and their servants in the early 20th Century. Series one begins with the loss of the Crawley heir in the Titanic sinking and dramatically concludes with Lord Crawley sharing the news of the outbreak of WWI.  Series two spans the Great War, including narratives from Downton and the front lines. This series is recommended by our Executive Director, Alyssa, who enjoys the quality writing, beautiful costumes, and charming British wit.

This series is available on Netflix or at the Grande Prairie Public Library.
Source: Downtown Abbey, IMDB

 

War Horse

Young Albert enlists to serve in World War I after his beloved horse is sold to the cavalry. Albert’s hopeful journey takes him out of England and to the front lines as the war rages on.

This movie is available at the Grande Prairie Public Library.

Source: War Horse, IMDB

Paths of Glory

Paths of Glory is an American anti-war movie based on the novel of the same name. After refusing to attack an enemy position, a general accuses his soldiers of cowardice and their commanding officer must defend them. This movie is recommend by our Archivist Josephine who feels it shows how the requirements of duty can conflict with one’s personal moral code.

Source: Paths of Glory, IMDB

 

Mr. Selfridge (Seasons 1-2)

This PBS television series centers on the real-life story of the flamboyant and visionary American founder of Selfridge’s, London’s department store. Season two highlights the impact of WWI on the home front, as the store and staff face the difficulty reality of wartime.

This series is available on Netflix or at the Grande Prairie Public Library.

Source: Mr. Selfridge, IMDB

 

Rebellion

Rebellion is a five part serial drama about the 1916 Easter Rising. The story is told from the perspectives of a group of fictional characters who live through the outbreak of WWI and subsequent political turmoil unfolding in Ireland.

This series is available on Netflix.

Source: Rebellion, IMDB

 

10 Facts You May Not Have Known About World War I

1) Slugs were used to detect poison gas attacks.

Source: How did animals (even slugs) serve in World War I?

 

2) There were separate battalions, called “bantam battalions”, for short men (under 5’4″ tall).

Source: B.C. Bantams

 

3) A fake Paris was constructed to fool German pilots.

Source: Second Paris Built to Fool the Germans

 

4) By war’s end, it was estimated that 1,000 Canadian soldiers were marrying European women (mostly British) each month.

Source: Canadian War Brides of the First World War

Grande Prairie Herald ~ February 11, 1919

 

5) Pilots in the Royal Flying Corps/Royal Air Force were not allowed to have parachutes.

Source: Wikipedia – The Royal Flying Corps

Wop May, a First World War flying ace, was the first pilot to land in Grande Prairie, ca. 1920

 

6) Daylight Savings Time was first used during the First World War as a way to conserve coal.

Source: History of Daylight Savings Time; For men used to mining – fighting in trenches was seen as an escape FROM HELL

Side view of a coal miner with hat and lamp working on a vein of coal 350 feet into a Wapiti Coal Mine, 1937

 

7) The Halifax Explosion (1917) was the largest man-made explosion to occur before the dropping of the atomic bombs in the Second World War.

Source: The Canadian War Museum – The Halifax Explosion

 

8) White feathers were frequently given to men in civilian clothing to label them as cowards, but on more than one occasion the recipient was in fact a soldier returned from the front.

Source: Wikipedia – White Feathers in World War I

“The White Feather: A Sketch of English Recruiting”, Collier’s Weekly (1914)

 

9) Tanks were categorized as ‘male’ and ‘female’. Female tanks had only machine guns, while male tanks had a 6-pounder cannon.

Source: Wikipedia – British Heavy Tanks of World War I

 

10) During the Christmas of 1914, Allied and German soldiers met in ‘No Man’s Land’ to exchange greetings, gifts, and play football.

Source: Wikipedia – Christmas Truce

 

Compiled by Kaylee Dyck