It Made You Think of Home: The Haunting Journal of Deward Barnes, Cef: 1916-1919|
by Bruce Cane
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|A Review of: It Made You Think of Home: The Haunting Journal of Deward Barnes, Canadian Expeditionary Force: 1916-1919
by James Roots
"Little did I think when we were young, and all things around
us were gay, that some fine day our monarch would say, it's up to
every person to do his duty. After living for so many years in peace
and happiness, it was cruel for such a war between so many countries
to start. Little did we think that it would mean the calling of so
many human beings together to be slaughtered like sheep for the
sake of a few individuals who thought they could conquer the world.
Alas, they did not consider the individuals in the Colonies who
were willing to aid the motherland."
Private Bert Cooke's initiation of his World War I diary encapsulates
the importance of the surprising number of Canadian soldiers' diaries
that have been receiving their first commercial publication as we
lurch through the ninetieth anniversary of the Great War.
For practically all of those ninety years, we have been told the
day Canada held the line at Ypres, or advanced on the Somme, Vimy
Ridge, or Passchendaele, was the day we truly became a nation. What
the diaries of Cooke and Deward Barnes show us is that this clich
is absolutely true; and that, moreover, the soldiers who fought at
those fronts realized it even as it was happening.
Cooke, Barnes, and others like them either observed or participated
in all of the great Canadian battles except Ypres: Vimy Ridge,
Passchendaele, Hill 70, Lens, Amiens, Arras. All of them entered
the Army in 1915-16 as patriotic members of the British Empire. All
of them reveal the maturation of national self-awareness that they
experienced as the Canadian Expeditionary Force was molded under
fire into the elite shock-troops of the Allied Powers.
It is as subtle as Cooke noting with surprise that Belgians did not
know how to fry eggs "before the Canadians came into this
country"; or as plain as his observation immediately following
Vimy that, "The victory at Vimy was a feather in the Canadians'
cap [it] will always ring in our ears"; or as sentimental as
the doggerel he writes about "Toronto's own the boys that are
so well known / Now here's to the land of the Maple Leaf, the place
where we long to be" It is Barnes coming to distinguish "the
Canadians" from "the Imperials" (i.e., the collective
forces of the British Empire). "We went and the Imperials as
well, we were all mixed up," he records exactly one month
before the ceasefire.
"The Imperials are so much different than us. Their
non-commissioned officers kept them in dead straight lines, there
must have been six waves of them as far as you could see both ways.
(The Canadians may go over in bunches any old way, but they always
Not for nothing is Bruce Cane credited as the writer rather than
as Barnes's editor; he composed about half of the text in the form
of explanatory and background materials. And while his interjections
cause difficulty in sustaining narrative flow, the information he
imparts is both fascinating and graciously enlightening.
He has certainly done his research. Practically any name Barnes
mentions in passing-even if nothing more than a surname or a nameless
rank-was tracked down by Cane and given as much of a mini-biography
as he can spin out of some very thin records. When Barnes describes
an officer as "small", Cane goes to the trouble of finding
out the exact height of the officer and reports he was actually
"almost half an inch [1 centimetre] taller than Deward."
This, 87 years after the fact!
Long marches are a favourite complaint of the diarists, and no
wonder: on one occasion, Barnes fought for 36 hours on no sleep
after marching six miles through knee-deep mud carrying a 120-pound
load, all the while struggling through a poisonous gas cloud that
made it difficult to breathe, and then he had to carry a wounded
man through confusing and damaged networks of trenches for another
The writers stress the importance of sport and entertainment, such
as The Dumbells, away from the trenches. They record endless
searches for drinkable water and comfortable sleeping-holes,
relentless training on every leave, and the surprising traffic-jams
of troops and resources constantly on the move. Each meticulously
records names and numbers of deaths around them, determined to
preserve the memories of fellow soldiers even if only for themselves
(none of them intended their diaries for publication, even
All of them have a mordant sense of humour. Cooke reports that the
voyage from Canada to England was so rough, seasick soldiers were
"feeding fish with scraps of food eaten the day before,"
and "as the ship rolled, a wave disturbed us causing a few of
us to change our underwear."
Each diarist also has tales of horror to tell. Cooke tells of two
of his own men picking up a metal bar to use in heating tea; it
turns out to be an explosive that "blew them to atoms They
found minute body parts of the two men and put them in a small bag
and buried them." Barnes, in addition to being part of a
firing-squad executing a deserter, observes simply, "No matter
how quiet a trip was there was always so many got killed in a
And perhaps the most poignant similarity the diarists share: all
of them confess that, although they survived, the War destroyed
their nerves. They never got over it.