Canadian Nurses in the First World War: Answering the Call of Duty

Throughout the First World War, 2,500 Canadian nurses served abroad, 2,000 of them fully trained nurses, and 500 VAD nurses who signed up when the war started. 1 2 Another 3,000 Canadian nurses worked at convalescent hospitals in Canada, helping soldiers who had made it home with wounds to recover. Working long brutal hours, these […]

“It was simply Hell!”: The Battle of Mount Sorrel, June 1916

A photo of a destroyed dugout near or at Mount Sorrel in the Ypres Salient.

On June 2nd, 1916, the Battle of Mount Sorrel began. Overshadowed by the larger battles of 1916, Mount Sorrel was nevertheless an important action for the still young Canadian Corps.The opening day was the 3rd Division’s “baptism by fire” and the fighting, particularly the Canadian counterattack on June 13th, taught valuable, but costly, lessons.

The Rats in the Walls: The Role of Rodents on the Western Front

Mud-filled warrens littered with dung, detritus, and the dead may sound like a less than hospitable environment, but to the myriad millions that scurried along the trenches of the Western Front, these very conditions provided the fuel for explosive individual and population growth. Of course, I’m not talking about the soldiers that suffered in the […]

The 1914 Toy Shortage

newspaper headline

In August 1914, Europe and its colonies mobilised for war. While the generals of the Great Powers executed their war plans, businessmen anxiously debated amongst themselves. Despite all the meticulousness that had gone into planning the opening salvos of the Great War, a crucial element, in their mind, had gone over-looked. The War was to […]

The New Normal: Gas-Etiquette and the Canadian Expeditionary Force

Two soldiers wearing gas masks examining a Lee Enfield rifle

The face of war changed forever when, on April 22nd, 1915, the Germans threw caution—and roughly 150 tons of chlorine—to the wind, gassing two French Colonial divisions along the Ypres front. Since then, the Great War has become inextricably linked to ominously coloured and suffocating gas clouds. Equally iconic are the ghoulish masks designed to […]

All Quiet Below the Western Front

soldiers working in a mine

In the early hours of July 7th, during a relatively quiet period for the Canadian Expeditionary Force in 1915, gunner Richard Walter Rayner moved to reoccupy his section of trench along the Ploegsteert sector of the Western Front. Temporarily assigned to aid a Signal company, Rayner worked to establish and maintain lines of communication with […]

‘Guten Appetit’: A Material Legacy of Internment at Amherst

A handcarved wooden tray made by a German prisoner of war held at Amherst Internment Camp.

At first glance, this object seems rather innocuous, if not somewhat out of place considering that it is surrounded by a vast sea of items which are more ‘typical’ of a First World War collection. Yet, when one begins to dig, one finds that it has a potent connection to what is still today a […]

‘A Grand Day’: Dominion Day 1918

men climbing into hanging barrels

Monday, July 1st, 1918 represented a major confluence of minor blessings for the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Unable to predict that the war would be over before the closing of the year, military leaders were taking steps to ensure their forces were trained, equipped, and rested for the battles ahead. For the CEF, this meant a […]

Summer in Thessalonica: The Malaria Epidemic of 1916

Soldiers Sunbathing Outside No. 4 Canadian General Hospital

In light of the present pandemic, much has been written comparing Covid-19 and the global response to the Spanish Flu of 1918-1919. However, influenza was hardly the only illness that proliferated during the Great War era. Given the unsanitary conditions of the battlefields and the high density of people along the various fronts, the First […]