On War & Society #20: Uncovering the Secret History of Soldiers

Since the late 1990s, Canadian historian Tim Cook has carved out a niche in the field of First World War history. In his two-volume social history of the war, he spoke of a soldiers’ culture, which bound Canadians together on the battlefields and helped them cope with the immense stress and strain of war from 1914 to 1918. This year, published with Allen Lane, Tim released The Secret History of Soldiers, a book dedicated solely to this soldiers’ culture that has become his most significant contribution to our understanding of the First World War in Canada.

Tim speaks of a few of the aspects of this soldiers’ culture, including swearing, slang and material objects. At the end of the war, this culture did not necessarily disappear. In Legion halls and reunions, veterans recreated this culture in a civilian world, however temporary it might have been.

Tim Cook is a historian at the Canadian War Museum. He is the author of 11 books, including Shock Troops, Vimy and most recently, The Secret History of Soldiers. Among many others, he is the recipient of the RBC Taylor Prize, J.W. Dafoe Prize (twice), Ottawa Book Award (twice) and the C.P. Stacey Award (twice). He was recently awarded the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal and the Governor General’s History Award for Popular Media. He is a Member of the Order of Canada.

References 

Tim Cook. “Battles of the Imagined Past: Canada’s Great War and Memory.” Canadian Historical Review 95, no. 3 (2014): 417–26.

——. The Secret History of Soldiers: How Canadians Survived the Great War. Toronto: Allen Lane, 2018.

——. Vimy: The Battle and the Legend. Toronto: Allen Lane, 2017.

Mark Humphries. “Between Commemoration and History: The Historiography of the Canadian Corps and Military Overseas.” Canadian Historical Review 95, no. 3 (2014): 384–97.

Amy Shaw. “Expanding the Narrative: A First World War with Women, Children, and Grief.” Canadian Historical Review 95, no. 3 (2014): 398­–406.

Jonathan F. Vance. Death So Noble: Memory, Meaning and the First World War. Vancouver: UBC Press, 1997.



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Kyle Falcon

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