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 […]

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 […]

The Spirit of our Troops: Rum Rationing as an ‘Essential Service’ on the Western Front

comic of a soldier drinking from a jug with his gun leaning on sandbags

As all non-essential activities grind to a halt in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic, one of the things carefully kept on the essential side of society has been liquor stores across the country. Officially, this limits alcoholism-related withdrawal and the resultant stresses that could cause to an already strained healthcare system. However, alcohol is also […]

A Christmas truce on the Western Front

In an otherwise devastatingly violent and inhumane war, the Christmas truce was a series of widespread and spontaneous truces that arose along the Western Front in 1914. Becoming one of the most famous and romanticized events of the First World War, it is said that enemies met in no man’s land, exchanged gifts, took photographs, and […]

Wholesome entertainments: The YMCA in the First World War

The First World War period in Canada, an across the British Empire, saw an unprecedented amount of activity by charitable organisations towards the war effort. Groups like the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire (IODE), and the Red Cross raised millions of dollars for medical supplies and for the care of prisoners of […]

“The Dead Marshes”: The Post-War Landscape of France and Flanders

In the second book of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, “The Two Towers”, Frodo and Gollum pass through the Dead Marshes where, “The only green was the scum of livid weed on the dark greasy milky surfaces of the sullen waters. Dead grasses and rotting reeds loomed up in the mists like ragged shadows […]

Shooting in France: WW I and the Military Sniper

From our library today, a plate from a small photographic history of the 67th  “Western Scots” Battalion, 4th Divisional Pioneers. In sharp contrast to their compatriots, the members of the Scout and Sniper Section are not wearing their military best. In fact, most of them are dressed to “match-in”, including the individual in the back […]

Gizmos and Gadgets: Privately purchased trench gear of WW I

The length and static nature of World War I made it in some ways like going to camp; a very dirty, dangerous camp, but one that demanded men to live outside in all sorts of weather. As units settled in their patch of front and men claimed small dugouts (and in some cases pilfered furniture), […]

Flimsies: The Re-used Water Cans of the First World War

The First World War might not be the first thing that leaps to mind when thinking about efficient re-purposing of materials; the Iron Harvest in France is evidence enough of that. However, often all sorts of items and containers were scavenged for re-use on the Front.