Canada and the First World War


03 Book List

Young Adults – Age 15 and Up: Fiction

Broken Ground

Jack Hodgins
Toronto, ON: Emblem Editions, 1999

Description: Returned Canadian soldiers strive to overcome memories of the First World War as they settle on northeastern Vancouver Island on land that was granted to them by the government. A forest fire approaching the new settlement intensifies their horrific memories of the war. Told from the perspective of several inhabitants, the book portrays the struggle of returned soldiers to build a new life.

The Danger Tree: Memory, War, and the Search for a Family’s Past

David MacFarlane
New York, NY: Walker & Company, 2001

Description: This story of several generations of a Newfoundland family centers on the battlefield deaths of three brothers during the First World War. A mixture of fact, fiction, and the memories of the author’s own family, the book tells the history of the Goodyear family and the story of Newfoundland itself.

Generals Die in Bed: A Story from the Trenches

Charles Yale Harrison
Toronto, ON: Annick Press, 1930

Description: This is a classic war novel of life in the trenches as seen through the eyes of a disillusioned 20-year-old Canadian soldier. The unnamed young narrator is initially excited, but the horrors of trench life, which include everything from death and injury to rats and insufficient rations, quickly wear away at his enthusiasm. The story, based on the author’s own experiences in the trenches, conveys a strong, anti-war message.

Megiddo’s Shadow

Arthur Slade
Toronto, ON: HarperCollins, 2006

Description: A 16-year-old Saskatchewan boy named Edward tries to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force to avenge the death of his brother on the Western Front. Because of his skill with horses, upon arrival in England he is sent instead to the British army to help train military horses. His disappointment is later compounded by being sent to fight in Palestine against Turkish forces, and not to avenge his brother by fighting Germans in France. Edward comes to realize the sheer horror of war, and questions his own faith in a god that would allow such terrible things to happen.

The book bluntly conveys the horrors of war, in a direct and emotional narrative style. The story is loosely based on the experiences of the author’s grandfather.

No Man’s Land

Kevin Major
Toronto, ON: Anchor Canada, 2001

Description: Major takes the reader into the lives of soldiers in the Newfoundland Regiment as they await their time in battle, longing for their homeland and afraid of what they are about to encounter when they go “over the top.” After much anticipation, the men head to the front to participate in what will become know as the Battle of the Somme. The book climaxes with a doomed attack at Beaumont Hamel on 1 July 1916 where the regiment is all but wiped out.

The Sojourn

Alan Cumyn
Toronto, ON: McClelland & Stewart, 2004

Description: A young man struggles with his ideals and values in the face of his wartime experiences, which seem to consist of unending horrors to no apparent purpose. Crome, the main character, volunteered against his father’s wishes. After a particularly awful battle, he travels on leave to London where he encounters family members who lead him to question his role in the war and his personal responsibility to society.

The Stone Carvers

Jane Urquhart
Toronto, ON: McClelland & Stewart, 2001

Description: Set mainly in a small Ontario farming town, this book connects the stories of a family, the the First World War, and the creation of the Vimy Ridge Memorial in France. Siblings Klara and Tilman Becker experience the horrors of the war in their own way: Tilman loses a leg at Vimy Ridge, while Klara’s first love, Eamon, never returns from the war. Both siblings go to France to participate in the making of the Vimy Memorial. By helping to build the memorial, they also help rebuild their shattered lives.

Three Day Road

Joseph Boyden
Toronto, ON: Penguin Canada, 2006

Description: Inspired by the true story of Francis Pegahmagabow, this book follows two fictional Cree snipers in the First World War. Both serve throughout the same unit but the war affects them in different ways. Elijah becomes a decorated and widely admired sniper, while Xavier, an equally proficient marksman, suffers due to his poor knowledge of English and his dislike for killing. The book follows the changes in their relationship and in themselves, and takes the young soldiers to and from the war, as seen through the eyes of a family elder.

The Wars

Timothy Findley
Toronto, ON: Penguin Canada, 1996

Description:The Wars examines the emotional turmoil of a young Canadian officer in the trenches as he comes to realize the inhumanity of man. Over the course of the war, Robert Ross is victimized himself, and watches many of those around him die or go insane. The physical and psychological pressures of war drive Robert to a desperate act of madness.