Canadian Epitaphs of the Great War
By Eric McGeer & Steve Douglas
Uniform Press, 2017
Visitors to the immaculate Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries across the world will be familiar with the epitaphs that adorn a large number of the headstones. Many will have walked the endless lines of graves, pausing to read an inscription. Some of us may have a particular epitaph that has caused us to stop and think, that has a resonance, or has even caused a tear to be shed. These epitaphs break up the uniformity of the headstones, and offer us a window into the feelings of the families and loved ones left behind. They are the voices of pain, anguish, and pride filtering through the years, and can give us a glimpse of the men they are commemorating or an insight into the impact of their deaths.
This book focuses on the Canadian epitaphs of the war, and is split into chapters mainly covering the different areas in which the Canadians saw service. This is not done chronologically, however; Vimy is perhaps unsurprisingly the focus of the first chapter. Further chapters follow covering the Ypres salient, the Somme, and Passchendaele. The epitaphs are interspersed with details of the campaigns and battles, and many are presented as they relate to a specific action, but other sections also examine themes such as the use of religious and literary extracts on epitaphs. Whilst basic details of the soldiers that the epitaphs relate to are given, no other personal details or photos of the men are provided. However with the sheer number of epitaphs listed this would have been a mammoth task. Personally however I would at least liked to have known the cemetery in which each headstone is located.
This is probably best described as a ‘coffee table’ book in format and content, and is unlikely to be a book that you take with you to the battlefields. The images are as much a part of the book as the text, and Steve Douglas’s photographs are superb and worthy of a book in their right; the quality is outstanding and they capture perfectly the beauty and sorrow of the cemeteries. Uniform Press must also be commended for the overall quality of the publication, another to add to their growing catalogue of First World War titles.
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Canada’s Dream Shall be of Them: Canadian Epitaphs of the Great War