Canada and the First World War


03 Book List

Young Adults – Age 15 and Up: Non-Fiction

Le 22e Bataillon (canadien-français), 1914-1919: étude socio-militaire

Jean-Pierre Gagnon
Québec, QC: Presses de l’Université Laval, 1986

Description: Moving beyond conventional operational history, Gagnon examines the 22nd Battalion – the only French-speaking battalion in the Canadian Expeditionary Force – as a social and cultural microcosm of French-Canadian society.

Art at the Service of War: Canada, Art and the Great War

Maria Tippett
Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press, 1984

Description: Tippett’s narrative describes the founding and initiatives of the Canadian War Art Memorial Fund, the institution responsible for commissioning some of Canada’s richest and most important wartime cultural legacies.

At the Sharp End: Canadians Fighting the Great War 1914-1916

Tim Cook
Toronto, ON: Viking Canada, 2007

Book DescriptionAt the Sharp End focuses on personal stories in covering the harrowing early battles of the First World War, when thousands died before generals and soldiers had found ways to break the terrible trench stalemate. It is an intimate look at Canadian soldiers in the trenches and an account of the slow evolution in tactics, weapons, and attitudes that led to an unbroken series of victories later in the war. It contains photographs, letters, diaries, and maps but has little material on the war at sea, in the air, or at home.

Barker VC: The Life, Death and Legend of Canada’s Most Decorated War Hero

Wayne Ralph
Toronto, ON: Wiley, 2007

Description: A photo-based book about the life of one of Canada’s premier flying aces from the First World War, William Barker, Canada’s most decorated war hero. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for a dogfight against several dozen German fighters in October 1918.

The Battle for Berlin, Ontario: An Historical Drama

William Rowley Chadwick
Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1992

Description: Canadians tend to remember the First World War as a unifying experience for the Canadian nation. Yet Chadwick’s study of Berlin, Ontario (now Kitchener) reminds us that the war was also a highly divisive force, one capable of tearing local communities apart.

Billy Bishop: Canadian Hero

Dan McCaffery
Halifax, NS: James Lorimer & Company, 2002

Description: McCaffery examines the achievements of highly decorated First World War pilot Billy Bishop and the historical debates surrounding his number of “kills.” Bishop was the Allies’ second-leading ace, but some of his fellow pilots suspected he may have exaggerated his number of “kills.”

But This is Our War

Grace Morris Craig
Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press, 1981

Description: A useful companion to Sandra Gwyn’s A Tapestry of War, Craig’s memoir describes the experience of just one Canadian family, from Pembroke, Ontario, but it is a story that was repeated in countless other large and small communities across the country.

Canada and the Battle of Vimy Ridge, 8-12 April 1917

Brereton Greenhous and Stephen Harris
Ottawa, ON: Canada Communication Group, 1992

Description: Greenhous and Harris’s large format illustrated history serves as a useful point of departure for a more detailed understanding of the battle that has captured the national imagination more than any other operation of the First World War.

Also available under the French title: Le Canada et la bataille de Vimy, 9-12 avril, 1917

Canadian Brass: The Making of a Professional Army, 1860-1939

Stephen Harris
Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988

Description: Although covering a much broader period than the First World War itself, Harris’s discussion of Canadian military culture during the second half of the nineteenth century provides important context for understanding Canada’s military response to the First World War.

The Canadian Corps in World War I

By Rene Chartrand
Illustrated by Gerry Embleton
Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing, 2007

Description: This book’s meticulous illustrations and photographs depict the uniforms and equipment used by Canadian soldiers during the First World War. It also contains a complete list of units and their service records. It is an excellent reference book for older students, hobbyists, or modelers.

Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914-1919: The Official History of the Canadian Army in the First World War

G.W.L. Nicholson
Ottawa, ON: Queen’s Printer, 1962

Description: As the only complete Canadian official history of the war to be published, Nicholson’s volume serves as the first point of reference for historians and general readers alike. The narrative is concise and well balanced, while the colour maps excellently detail Canada’s most important battles.

Death So Noble: Memory, Meaning, and the First World War

Jonathan Vance
Vancouver, BC: UBC Press, 1997

Description: Vance’s study of Canadian memory between the wars breaks new ground in the field, forcing today’s historians to rethink longstanding impressions of Canadian attitudes during the postwar period. Vance shows that during the 1920s and 1930s Canadians continued to find positive meaning in the war experience, as expressed through poetry, commemorative monuments, and rituals.

The Fighting Newfoundlander

G.W.L. Nicholson
Montreal, QC: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2006 (reprint)

Description: A comprehensive military history of Newfoundland from 1700s to 1918, focusing on the Newfoundland Regiment during the First World War. It is the standard reference on Newfoundland’s role in the war.

Fight or Pay: Soldiers’ Families in the Great War

Desmond Morton
Vancouver, BC: UBC Press, 2004

Description: Soldiers could not be expected to risk their lives without assurances that their families would be taken care of at home. The ‘separation allowance’ represented one such effort, but Canadians demanded more. As Morton explains, any man who did not volunteer to fight at the front must instead pay for the war from home. Morton’s study makes an excellent companion to Sandra Gwyn’s Tapestry of War.

General Sir Arthur Currie: A Military Biography

A.M.J. Hyatt
Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press, 1987

Description: Canada’s best-known First World War general has been the subject of three biographies, but Hyatt’s work drives to the heart of Currie’s military career, focusing on battlefield victories, as well as the commander’s more controversial decisions.

Ghosts Have Warm Hands

Will R. Bird
Nepean, ON: CEF Books, 1997

Description: This memoir, originally published in 1930, recounts the personal experiences of Will Bird who fought with the 42nd Battalion during the First World War. Bird’s brother, Steve, also served in the war, and once promised if killed, he would find a way to come back and watch over Will. Steve was killed in France in 1915 and kept his word, appearing to Will several times during the war.

The Halifax Explosion and the Royal Canadian Navy

John Griffith Armstrong
Vancouver, BC: UBC Press, 2002

Description: Armstrong’s narrative of the catastrophic 1917 Halifax explosion makes excellent use of eyewitness accounts. Arguing that the nascent Royal Canadian Navy was unfairly vilified for its role in the disaster, Armstrong refocuses blame on the federal government.

The Harvests of War: The Prairie West, 1914-1918

John Herd Thompson
Toronto, ON: McClelland & Stewart, 1978

Description: The First World War impacted Canadian regions in different ways. Immediately before the war, Canada’s prairie provinces were troubled by economic recession, unemployment, and the tensions that accompanied the arrival of masses of immigrants from Eastern Europe. Thompson places these issues in a wartime context, tracing the conflict’s longer term impact on a key Canadian region.

It Made You Think of Home: The Haunting Journal of Deward Barnes, CEF, 1916-1919

Bruce Cane
Toronto, ON: Dundurn Press, 2004

Description: Deward Barnes enlisted in the CEF in 1916 at the age of 28 and served in France. Cane annotates Barnes’ diary entries, contributing half of the text to this sometimes funny but harrowing book.

Marching to Armageddon: Canadians and the Great War, 1914-1919

Desmond Morton and J.L. Granatstein
Toronto, ON: Lester & Orpen Dennys, 1989

Description: This readable, illustrated volume is a detailed, popular account of Canada’s war at home and overseas. Written by two of Canada’s best-known historians, it contains useful appendices on social issues, casualties, and the Canadian military’s order of battle.

Medicine and Duty: The World War Memoir of Captain Harold W. McGill Medical Officer 31st Battalion C.E.F.

Marjory Barron Norris, Editor
Calgary, AB: University of Calgary Press, 2007

Description: The diary of medical officer Harold McGill is supplemented by photographs, maps, and excerpts of letters written by McGill to his friends and family from the trenches. Norris edited the original manuscript and added explanatory notes, maps, and excerpts from McGill’s letters to friends and family.

A Military History of Canada: From Champlain to Kosovo

Desmond Morton
Toronto, ON: McClelland & Stewart, 1999

Description: Morton’s concise survey of the Canadian military experience is a highly accessible work that provides excellent context for further study of the First World War period.

The Official History of the Royal Canadian Air Force, Volume I

S.F. Wise
Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press, 1980

Description: This first volume of the official history of Canada’s air force recounts the experiences of First World War Canadian pilots serving with the British flying services before Canada created its own national air force in 1924.

One Village, One War: 1914-1945

Douglas How
Huntsport, NS: Lancelot Press, 1995

Description:One Village, One War describes the experiences of residents of Dorchester, New Brunswick during both world wars and includes accounts from both soldiers and civilians.

Ontario and the First World War, 1914-1918: A Collection of Documents

Barbara Wilson
Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press, 1977

Description: As a national archivist, Barbara Wilson has significantly facilitated our access to First World War-era primary sources. Prefaced by Wilson’s comprehensive introduction, this collection of primary documents sheds light on the increasing role that the government came to play in the lives of ordinary Ontarians during the war years.

Sam Hughes: The Public Career of a Controversial Canadian, 1885-1916

Ronald Haycock
Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1986

Description: As Minister of Militia and Defence from 1911 through 1916, Sam Hughes remains one of Canada’s most colourful and controversial characters of the First World War period. Haycock’s comprehensive study of Hughes’s public career sheds much light on the often bizarre tendencies of a highly outspoken Canadian patriot.

Tapestry of War: A Private View of Canadians in the Great War

Sandra Gwyn
Toronto, ON: Harper, 2004

Description: Gwyn’s work weaves together the stories of ten Canadians (three women and seven men) at war. The book’s asymmetrical style reminds readers that the war changed Canadians’ lives unevenly and unforeseeably.

We Are the Dead

Larry Gray
Burnstown, ON: General Store Publishing, 2000

Description: Using letters, photographs, and newspaper articles, We Are the Dead highlights the stories of 47 people from a small Ontario town who died in the First World War. Maps illustrate the activities of the Canadian Corps overseas.

When Your Number’s Up: The Canadian Soldier in the First World War

Desmond Morton
Toronto, ON: Vintage Canada, 1994

Description: This is a unique illustrated social history of the First World War as experienced by Canadian soldiers. Morton describes the social origins of Canada’s troops, their training and preparation for combat, the trenches and the experiences of the wounded, prisoners and returning veterans. Morton also offers an account, based on personal memoirs and letters, of the Canadian Corps’ tactical evolution and improvement, and concludes with a short statistical profile of the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

Surviving Trench Warfare: Technology and the Canadian Corps, 1914-1918

Bill Rawling
Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press, 1992

Description: This examination of the evolution of tactics and technology in the Canadian Corps on the Western Front is based on thorough archival research. Rawling demonstrates the roles that combat experience and dedicated study played in transforming the Corps into a highly efficient fighting formation.