I got a strange feeling of deja vu a few years ago when I went to a website called the Great Canadian War Project, and found my grandfather. He was a dentist who served in World War One. There was his enlistment paper, complete with his signature. Grandpa helped soldiers deal with delightful problems like trench mouth which was very common in the muck and mire in the fields of France.
This week marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the fighting. It followed a frantic month of diplomatic efforts involving the great powers of Europe. The Kings and their stuffed shirts failed, and 16 million people died over the next four and a half years. 60,000 Canadians died in World War One; that’s an average of more than 40 each day.
A study of history makes it all too obvious that wars resolve almost nothing, and the waste of an entire generation goes way beyond tragic. A hundred years ago, Canadians weren’t able to follow the war on their TV screens or smartphones. The only information came in heavily censored newspaper stories from the front.
The most dreaded sight on the streets of Regina and Winnipeg, and towns all across the country, was the boy who delivered the telegrams, bringing news that a beloved son or husband would never come home again. The home front was a pretty grim place. After the initial flood of volunteers, the armies of Canada and other countries became desperately short of warm bodies to replace the dead.
Able bodied men who were not in uniform were pressured in a number of ways, including the infamous white feather treatment. A very good account of what it was like on the prairies can be found in For All We Have and Are, by Regina historian James Pitsula.
After re-reading it recently, I turned on the TV for the latest on Ukraine and the Middle East.
I’m Roger Currie