The Battle for Berlin, Ontario
An Historical Drama
Publication Year: 1992
In August 1914, Berlin, Ontario, settled largely by people of German origin, was a thriving, peaceful city. By the spring of 1915 it was a city torn apart by the tensions of war. By September 1916, Berlin had become Kitchener. It began with the need to raise a battalion of 1,100 men to support the British war effort.
Meeting with resistance from a peace-loving community and spurred on by the jingoistic nationalism that demanded troops to fight the hated “Hun,” frustrated soldiers began assaulting citizens in the streets and, on one infamous occasion, a Lutheran clergyman in his parsonage. Out of this turmoil arose a movement to rid the city of its German name, and this campaign, together with the recruiting efforts, made 1916 the most turbulent year in Kitchener’s history.
This is the story of the men and women involved in these battles, the soldiers, the civic officials, the business leaders, and the innocent bystanders, and how they behaved in the face of conditions they had never before experienced.
Published by: Wilfrid Laurier University Press
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For many Canadians, World War I (1914-18) marked the end of an era. Nostalgic memories of life as it might have been before the war were popularized by Canada's favourite humorist, Stephen Leacock, in Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, his delightful stories of the fictional Ontario town of Mariposa. ...
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When I first began researching the Berlin name change it was with the intention of turning this fascinating piece of Ontario history into a play, but after a time I decided that what was needed first was a reasonably detailed account of what actually occurred in Berlin in 1916, and that the proper form for this was ...
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Kitchener's downtown core is not particularly attractive. Those who would argue differently either haven't travelled very much or else, like mothers of ill-favoured offspring, are happily blind to the flaws of that which is near and dear. This is not to say that it is an ugly city exactly. It isn't scruffy or dirty, for ...
ONE: Background to War
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The consequences of a particular historical event thread their way down through the ages, multiplying organically, until in the fullness of time they issue in other events that appear to have little in common with the "first cause." In Switzerland in 1525, Conrad Grebel had a bitter falling out with Huldrych Zwingli over a matter of profound religious ...
TWO: How to Raise a Battalion
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As often as not a stupid war is greeted with mindless euphoria and a necessary one with soberness and regret. World War I was such a war, and the universal delight with which it opened was heightened by the conviction that the whole picnic wouldn't last long anyway. For the Allies it was "business as usual," and ...
THREE: Soldiers versus Citizens
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In Berlin, Ontario, the New Year began full of promise. The weather was mild, the economy was booming, and C.S.M. Blood, when asked for his New Year's resolution, got it mixed up with birthdays and wished for lots more men to go with him to France. Those who had already joined the 118th had had a ...
FOUR: Change the Name!
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Not that the letter to the News-Record made a particularly novel suggestion. As early as November 1914 the Windsor Record had rather cheekily proposed the same thing, and sniping of a similar nature had continued intermittently ever since. The Telegraph had floated the idea after the sinking of the Lusitania in ...
FIVE: The Tappert Skirmish
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While the battle lines were being drawn in the press and at various meetings by the citizens of Berlin through the end of February and the first days of March, life for the lads of the 118th, who were kicking their heels while waiting for their battalion to be filled, went on its merry way. Training was barely basic, ...
SIX: Defeat at Queen's Park
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The two campaigns, to change the name and to raise a battalion, had, by April 1916, become fatefully intertwined. As Captain Fraser rather menacingly, but accurately, told his audience at the Star Theatre, "It is needless for me to say that the interests of Berlin are bound up in the fortunes of the 118th ...
SEVEN: Victory at Queen's Park
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It was probably the Breithaupt group that was initially the more astounded. The decision was beyond their wildest dreams; indeed, it was one that they hadn't even requested. In the corridor outside the committee room one reporter said that they looked like small boys standing longingly under a peach tree ...
EIGHT: The Referendum Battle
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As the French and the Germans performed their interminable dance of death at Verdun, the Canadians geared up for their first serious blooding at Mont Sorrel and the Somme, the Americans continued to dither about whether or not to get in on the act, and Sir Roger Casement prepared to set sail for his sad destiny ...
NINE: The Vote
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In private as well as in public one topic must have dominated the thoughts of Berliners during the last week of the campaign. In drawing rooms and on street corners, in offices and shops, on sidewalks, in parks and schools, and barrooms, pool halls, and clubs, "The Vote" must surely have been debated with the usual ...
TEN: Kitchener Wins
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The following Monday morning Berlin (or Nowhere, Ontario, as one wag suggested the city would have to be called for the time being) witnessed another of its "monster" parades. The 118th Battalion, led by the dignified "Czar," and the less dignified "Collie," now christened "Jake," who went through his usual ...
ELEVEN: Mopping Up
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Though the citizens (or about 8 percent of them anyway) had voted for Kitchener, the name still had to be ratified by Queen's Park, so all was not yet quite lost. During the next two months there was a furious campaign to reverse the decision. Gross, like a dogged sniper covering the retreat of a beaten army, ...
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This episode of Kitchener's history has been a fascinating mixture of tragi-comedy, farce, and theatre of the absurd, but before ringing down the curtain let us briefly note, for the curious reader, the tales of a few of the major players and the outcome (or lack of it) of one or two of the subjects. ...
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Page Count: 192
Publication Year: 1992