The First World War took place 100 years ago and first-hand remembrances of it have faded.
As is the case with all major historical events, we ignore or forget them at our peril. The First World War shaped Canada, and shaped its people and communities. It continues to shape us today, in subtle ways.
“Many Canadians view the First World War as ancient history. Its relevance to the present is little understood. Yet, other than Confederation itself, the Great War of 1914-1918 was arguably the most important event in Canadian history. Without it, Canada and indeed the rest of the world would have been far different places.”
That’s the view of historian Warren Sommer, whose book Canucks in Khaki examines the war from a community perspective. The community he profiles is Langley, where he has lived and worked for almost 40 years. The story of the young men and women of Langley and other nearby communities who went off to the First World War has been near and dear to Sommer’s heart for a long time.
He has expended enormous personal effort over the past 25 years in gathering details about those who were part of the war effort – primarily soldiers and women who volunteered in various capacities (women could not become soldiers at that time), but also the stories of people who were on the home front, but were deeply also affected by the war.
Through stories, photos, first-hand observations, newspaper accounts and many other sources, he has crafted what is likely the most detailed account of the war and its impact on a specific community published in Canada.
While the book focuses primarily on Langley, there are many references to Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows. Some relate to the soldiers themselves, while others refer to media reports of the time in newspapers.
The book’s publication was timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge, Canada’s most famous contribution to the war.
The book will be formally launched on Sunday, April 9, the 100th anniversary of the start of the battle, at St. George’s Anglican Church in Fort Langley, at 1:30 p.m.
The church is one of many Langley places featured in the book.
After the launch, an exhibit will open at nearby Langley Centennial Museum, titled Sacrifice and Sorrow, and runs until June 16. Several other special events are planned at the museum during the spring months in conjunction with the exhibit.
The book covers every detail of the war, from conditions when it broke out in 1914, to sections on every battle Canadian troops took part in, to the bitter end. By that time, more than 60,000 Canadians had died and the war had taken a terrible toll on most families. The role played by the almost 400 soldiers and nursing sisters who enlisted from Langley is prominent in each chapter.
Of most value, to put their contributions into a local community context, is learning how the community reacted, both during and after the war.
For example, many Langley roads were renamed for soldiers who died in the war. Also of significance is how the war affected those who survived their time overseas, only to come home fighting many health issues, both physical and mental. Their experiences are playing out again today as veterans deal with issues like post-traumatic stress disorder, something unheard of in 1918.
– By Frank Bucholtz, former editor of the Langley Times, a Black Press affiliate.