We are fortunate to have a group of contemporary historians who have written extensively about Canada’s part in the Great War. We will focus here on three particularly relevant works. Tim Cook’s two volume series, Canadians Fighting the Great War stands today as the most complete and authoritative history. We find here a good balance between developing picture of strategic issues and life in the trenches. Specialized sections on subjects ranging from battlefield medicine to snipers and rest and recuperation behind the lines add depth to the story but can distract the reader from the underlying chronological narrative. The use of end notes rather than footnote leaves the major narrative uncluttered but makes it awkward to find sources. We will deal with these challenges by using hyperlinked citations and placing supporting material on separate pages that can be accessed as needed from the main narrative. With the benefit of some distance from the events and free from direct military sponsorship, Cook is able to examine a wide range of controversial issues ranging from Currie’s action a 2nd Ypres, to breakdowns in discipline following the armistice. Throughout the work however, we constantly hear the voice of the troops. It will be a significant challenge to create this sort of balance in a much shorter work even when focused on a single regiment.[i]
Desmond Morton’s When Your Number’s Up provides an excellent baseline against which we might compare the Patricia’s. We find here useful data on the composition of the CEF, recruiting, organization of infantry battalions and morale. We find a significant note of caution both about the use of anecdotal material from “the handful of articulate diarists, letter writers, and memorists whose phrases illuminate these pages” and what he describes as “Cliometrics” often prone to error or deliberate misrepresentation. How many lied about their age, experience or religion? We will be able to further explore Morton’s general rebuttal of the traditional image of the first contingent as “robust free spirited pioneers” [ii].
In J.L. Granatstien’s, Hell’s Corner [iii]we see an excellent example of the use of a broad range of images to support the text. The treatment is made particularly interesting by the inclusion of war art, document images and excellent maps. Although some might be tempted to dismiss this as a coffee table book, Granatstein understands the power of imagery in enhancing the textual message. Gone is the simplistic central grouping of images we saw in Keegan’s history. Instead images are closely linked to the surrounding text. It is a model we will try to emulate on our website.
[i] Tim Cook, Canadians Fighting the Great War, Volume 1 and 2. Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2007 and 208
[ii] Morton, Desmond. When Your Number’s Up – the Canadian Soldier in the First World War. Toronto: Random House of Canada, 1993, 277-78
[iii] J.L. Granatstein, Hell’s Corner, Vancouver: Douglas and McIntyre, 2004