Thursday 5 Jan, 2017

Postcards from the Edge: Arts during the First World War

Welcome to the first issue of Canada’s Sesquicentennial New Year.  Hopefully everyone is recharged, as the new year is upon us and we get ready for Vimy 100 in just three months!  Pre-departure meetings and last detail meetings with all our partners and the Governments of Canada, France and Belgium.

Pioneering the art of WWI

Not only was Canada the first country to establish a war art program during the First World War, it also produced a visual record of the war that was second to none.  Canada’s first official war art program, known as the Canadian War Memorials Fund, was established by Lord Beaverbrook (Max Aitken) and Lord Rothermere under the aegis of the Canadian War Records Office of the Canadian Army during WWI. From its inception in 1916 to its conclusion in 1919, the Fund hired more than 60 artists of British, Australian, Yugoslavian, Belgian and Canadian nationality to produce canvases, works on paper and sculptures depicting Canada’s participation in the Great War. The whole experience of painting the landscape in France and Flanders, of viewing the war scenes produced by British modernists, and of having some involvement with major art critics, patrons, and gallery officials, was a crucial factor in elevating the art of Canada’s famed Group of Seven and its followers to national status.

The music of the Great War

Music during the Great War was both patriotic and popular, sung by our men in the trenches and by families back home.  All topics were covered, from serious to comedic, all the way from recruitment to remembrance.   Some of the most popular songs included “It’s a Long, Long Way to Tipperary and “Keep the Home Fires Burning”.   Sentimental ballads were as popular as irreverent ditties.  There were at least 500 songs recorded in Canada during the war, as well as British and American hits that were equally popular.   In addition to the songs coming from the home front, which were often sung in the trenches, many soldiers took these songs and parodied them, adding new and sometimes bawdy lyrics to the existing tunes. These new soldiers’ songs often focused on anti-war or anti-authoritarian themes, and outsiders, especially civilians, rarely knew what to make of songs with morbid titles like “We’re All Waiting for a Shell” or “Hanging on the Old Barbed Wire.”

Entertainment on the Front

Early in the war, most units relied on musicians, orators, and singers within their own ranks for entertainment. There were no formal concerts or performance troupes.  But by the Battle of the Somme in 1916, military authorities were encouraging and organizing concerts for the soldiers during their periods of rest. By the end of the war, almost every Canadian division had its own entertainment troupe, as well as performers in many of the units and formations.  Soldiers were entertained by songs, skits, and cross-dressing vaudeville acts.  Most of the dozens of wartime entertainment troupes disappeared when the Canadian Expeditionary Force demobilized in 1919, but a few survived. The “Dumbells”, which consisted of the best entertainers from several of the wartime entertainment troupes, toured Canada and the United States in the 1920s, allowing veterans to relive the songs, skits, and happy memories of the wartime concerts.

Poetry inspired by brutality

The brutality and horror of the war to end all wars altered the world for decades and poets responded in new ways.   Just months before his death in 1918, English poet Wilfred Owen famously wrote:

“This book is not about heroes.  Poetry is not yet fit to speak of them.  Nor is it about deeds, or lands, nor anything about glory, honour, might, majesty, dominion, or power, except war.  Above all I am not concerned with poetry.   My subject is War, and the pity of War”

While most of us struggle to name a single Canadian war poem beyond John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields,” hundreds of poems, anthologies, and collections about the war were published in Canada during the Great War and the following decade. This classroom activity from the Canadian War Museum features six Canadian poets writing about war, Ted Plantos, Siegfired  Sassoon, Dick Diespecker; Edgar W McInnis; Bill Caddick; Emile Verhaeren and John McCrae.

Photojournalism during the Great War

The reality of the Great War was brought back home through the photography of the National Film Board of Canada. Whether behind the lines or up in the air, you can see all angles and areas of the war through this look at wartime photography.

Featured Vimy Regiments
Check out these links to learn about these three storied Canadian regiments that fought at the battle of Vimy Ridge: Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders; King’s Own Calgary Regiment; North Saskatchewan Regiment.  From these links, you can also visit their regimental web sites.

Featured Vimy Group Leader

Cheryl M., Alexandria, ON

We’re taking the Vimy Cadets 379 Glengarry Mustangs RCACS to Vimy and we couldn’t be more excited. I love, love, love to travel! I’ve been to the UK, Sweden, Norway, Italy, The Netherlands, Belgium, Mexico, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Barbados, St. Martens, St. Kitts, St. Thomas and many more to go! Our group is going to Vimy to visit the spot that helped define Canada’s history. The history of our involvement in the two world wars is being forgotten and I think this is a terrible travesty.  We must educate our youth and we must never forget the sacrifices that were made by the brave men and women of our country.


Featured Heroes of Vimy

This month, a Canadian that won the Victoria Cross at another battle but achieved his status as “ACE” at the Battle of Vimy Ridge: Air Marshall William Avery “Billy’ Bishop.  Here are two links that tell his story:

Featured Partnerships

This month, we would like to feature the background and links to one of our V100 partners that we are most excited to be working with: our Canadian Youth Ambassadors Program’s National Parliamentary Advisory Panel: Bruce Stanton, MP Simcoe North, Deputy Sparker of the House; Celina Caesar-Chavannes, MP Whitby, Ontario, Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and Irene Mathyssen, MP London-Fanshawe and NDP Critic of Veterans Affairs Canada


  • March 20 2017; the Vimy Foundation Centennial Celebration dinner Arcadian Court, 401 Bay Street Toronto
  • April 1 2017 100th Anniversary inner , by Vimy Branch 145, Royal Canadian Legion, London Convention Centre
  • April 9: Dedication of new Vimy Ridge Education Centre, Vimy Ridge , france
  • April 9 : Vimy Ridge 100th Anniversary National Ceremony, Vimy Ridge, France

If you have an upcoming V100 event please pass it along so that we can enter it in our calendar of events to share with everyone.   And afterwards please send pictures and media coverage.