Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

Familiar Fields to Foreign Soil: Remembering the First World War

November 9th, 2018

On 11 November, Canadians across the country will commemorate the centenary of the end of the First World War. The Great War had a transformative effect on Canadian society – socially, culturally, economically and politically. Over 620,000 Canadians served out of a population of eight million. Of these, more than 66,000 were killed and 172,000 wounded.

Peter Kikkert, Irving Shipbuilding Chair in Arctic Policy and assistant professor in the Mulroney Institute of Government at StFX, has just published the co-authored book Familiar Fields to Foreign Soil: Three Rural Townships and the Great War. Written with Whitney Lackenbauer, Canada Research Chair in the Study of the Canadian North at Trent University and adjunct professor with the Mulroney Institute of Government and Jennifer Arthur-Lackenbauer, the authors used letters, newspapers, memoirs, and other local sources to reveal how people understood home front and overseas experiences at the time, and how the war transformed individual lives, families, and communities in North Norwich, South Norwich, and East Oxford Townships in southern Ontario. 

The genesis of the book came when Profs. Kikkert and Lackenbauer delivered a Remembrance Day talk in 2014 to the South Norwich Historical Society in Otterville, Ontario, seeking to bring a local dynamic to understanding the global conflict. Intrigued by the intersections between local, national, and military histories, and in light of the Great War’s centenary, this local community organization suggested that the two historians consider writing a book on Norwich Township and the First World War. Other local groups quickly supported their vision to tell a local story of the war that would intertwine domestic and overseas experiences, wherever possible using the words of those actually who lived them, as did Arthur-Lackenbauer. “Our book attempts to offer both a comprehensive and accessible portrait of a rural Ontario community immersed in a global conflict,” Prof. Lackenbauer notes. “It is researched with all of the rigour of an academic study, but written in a way that we hope will appeal to a broad popular audience.”

“Familiar Fields to Foreign Soil stiches together the far-reaching effects of the war into the fabric of local life,” Prof. Kikkert explains. “The stories in this book represent our attempt to convey how the people of the townships responded to the war at the time – from the soldier in the muddy trenches of the Western Front, to the woman sitting in her kitchen knitting socks for him, the volunteer raising money and working in the patriotic societies to support him, the farmer working long days in the fields to feed him, and the child anxiously awaiting his return. Pieced together, these stories form an intricate quilt that depicts just how deeply the war touched and transformed the townships and the people who called them home.” While much of the scholarship on the First World War focuses on urban experiences, the authors wanted this book to capture the rural context – how the intensive pressure to produce more food clashed with the mounting pressure to enlist, and the impact this dynamic had on rural life. While the authors focus on a rural region in southern Ontario, similar pressures would have been felt by those living in rural Nova Scotia. 

The intent of Remembrance Day is not to celebrate war, but to commemorate the sacrifices made by Canadians for what they considered to be a just cause, Prof. Kikkert asserts. “We hope that readers will empathize with the sense of danger, horrific violence, suffering, and tragic loss experienced by individual Canadians, families, and communities embroiled in war,” Prof. Lackenbauer explains. “At the same time, we should also acknowledge the courage, kindness, volunteerism, and perseverance that underlay much of Canada’s war effort – and continues to animate our country today.”

The authors volunteered their time to research and write the book, and all proceeds from the sale of print versions will flow to the South Norwich Historical Society and Norwich & District Historical Society. In the spirit of open access, an e- book version is available online, free of charge.



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