- It Made You Think of Home: The Haunting Journal of Deward Barnes, Canadian Expeditionary Force: 1916-1919
Over six hundred thousand Canadian men and women served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) during the First World War. It was and remains one of the most important events in world history, as Margaret Macmillan demonstrates in her study of the peace-making process, Paris 1919. For Canada too, the war had a significant impact on the course of our national development, and while less than a handful of our First War veterans remain, the war continues to occupy a prominent place in our consciousness. The 'Canada Remembers' program, sponsored by Veterans Affairs Canada, ensures that the sacrifices and achievements of our veterans are recognized, battlefield tours are popular, and books on the war are published and republished in great numbers. Canadian literature on the First War is extensive - biographies, memoirs, histories of battles and regiments, novels and poetry, and, in recent years, community histories.
Throughout the war, soldiers were able to communicate with their families and loved ones by correspondence, but personal diaries and journals were strictly forbidden. Fortunately, a number of soldiers and nursing sisters chose to ignore the regulations and the historical record is better for the risks they took to leave us with first-hand accounts of their experiences. Many diaries were used as the basis for memoirs published soon after the war, while others were tucked away in drawers or trunks, forgotten and unread for several decades.
Deward Barnes was born in Toronto in September 1888. He never attended high school and for several years prior to the war, he was employed at National Casket. In February 1916, he answered the call to arms and volunteered with the 180th Battalion, CEF. He arrived in England in November of the same year, was drafted to the 19th Battalion, and moved to France with his unit in April 1917. He missed the battle for Vimy Ridge but, over the course of the next eighteen months, saw his share of the fighting at Hill 70, Passchendaele, and the Allied breakthrough in August 1918. In October 1918, he received a 'blighty' when he was wounded by machine-gun fire. Following weeks of hospitalization and convalescence in England, Barnes arrived home in Toronto in March 1919. He had experienced the gruesome realities of war: he counted friends among the dead and in March 1918, he was selected to take part in the execution of a fellow soldier who had been convicted of desertion.
Contrary to regulations, Deward Barnes kept a diary from the day he enlisted until he returned to Toronto in 1919. Like many soldier diarists, he recorded events, both large and small, of military life, but he often reflected on the war and on his own experiences in a way not always found in accounts of this nature. Seven years after the war, he transcribed his diaries in a series of notebooks, added some details, and then put his war story away for posterity. Now, in the capable hands of editor Bruce Cane, Barnes's story of the war is available to a wide audience for the first time. [End Page 371] Wartime diaries and letters are often published with few editorial enhancements, but Cane took a different approach and annotated the diary, providing the reader with the broad context by elaborating on events described by Barnes, filling in details about military life and operations that Barnes took for granted. In doing so, Cane has produced a very interesting account of one man's war, not to detract from the diary itself, but to place it firmly in the milieu in which it was written. This allows the reader fully to appreciate Barnes's experiences as a solider in the CEF. This is an excellent addition to Canadian first-hand accounts of the Great War, and brings us close to the realities of a war that continues to capture our imagination almost ninety years after the guns went silent. [End Page 372...