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

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

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

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

Synopsis

This book examines Canada's collective memory of the First World War through the 1920s and 1930s. It is a cultural history, considering art, music, and literature. Thematically organized into such subjects as the symbolism of the soldier, the implications of war memory for Canadian nationalism, and the idea of a just war, the book draws on military records, memoirs, war memorials, newspaper reports, fiction, popular songs, and films. It takes an unorthodox view of the Canadian war experience as a cultural and philosophical force rather than as a political and military event.

Excerpt

The bells of hell go ting-a-ling-a-ling,
For you but not for me.
And the little devils how they sing-a-ling-a-ling,
For you but not for me.
O death, where is thy sting-a-ling-a-ling,
O grave, thy victory?
The bells of hell go ting-a-ling-a-ling,
For you but not for me.

Trench song

Despite its undeniable emotional appeal, some Canadians may have found the religious interpretation of the war to be somewhat unsatisfying. Yet few quarrelled with what that interpretation was intended to achieve: the supremacy of a positive, uplifting version of the events of 1914- 18. the religious interpretation drew the sting from the war by affirming that physical discomfort and death were insignificant when compared with the issues at stake and the meaning of the sacrifice. Those people who were troubled by the image of Jesus in khaki, however, could achieve the same end within a secular framework.

If the focus on the figure of Jesus Christ grew out of a determination to demonstrate the relevance of Christianity through the Great War, the secular strategy was rooted in a need to conceptualize the war in a broader sense. This was no easy task, and several factors limited the range of options available to those people, be they ex-soldiers or non-combatants, who sought to construct a vision of the war they had just endured. An understandable reluctance to relive the tragedy of 1914-18, the desire of veterans to recall only the positive aspects of life at the front, the physical separation of all but . . .

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