Thunder Bay Public Library (TBPL) is leading a major cultural partnership project to commemorate the centennial of World War One. TBPL is also a partner in the City of the Poppy initiative to mark Thunder Bay’s unique role as the city where the poppy was first adopted as a symbol of remembrance in Canada.
The line between fiction and non-fiction is at best thin and at worst arbitrary and a good example of this is novels written about the Great War. Each nation has its classic Great War novel – All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Remarque, The Middle Parts of Fortune by Frederic Manning, Under Fire by Henri Barbusse – and Canada is no exception.
The Wars by Timothy Findley has been described as ‘quite simply one of the best novels of the Great War’. It tells the story of Robert Ross, a sensitive nineteen year old Canadian officer, who joined the 39th Battery, Canadian Expeditionary Force, in April 1915. After nine months training he left for England in December 1915. His description of the stormy voyage across the Atlantic and its impact on both the men and horses packed into its hold is vivid and memorable.
But when he arrives in France in January 1916 the real horror begins. He finds himself in the nightmare world of trench warfare; of mud and smoke, of chlorine gas and rotting corpses. He took part in the battle of the St Eloi craters in February 1916 which raged for five days. In it 30,000 men would die and not an inch of ground would be won.
Amidst the carnage Robert tries to retain both his humanity and his sanity. In this world gone mad he performs a last desperate act to declare his commitment to life in the midst of death. This is an unforgettable story of war and courage and a man pushed to the very limits of his endurance.