Lest We Forget was Canada’s official Great War film. It sparked controversy when it was shown across the country in 1935, during the midst of the worst depression in Canadian history, and with a growing anxiety over the increased aggression of international dictators. The film provided a contested venue for what the Great War had meant to a generation of Canadians. But this was no ordinary war film. Officially sanctioned and constructed from archival footage, the story of Canada’s war was told in 100 minutes, from the opening phases through to the grim fighting on the Western Front, and including those who supported the soldiers from home. Many journalists, politicians, and veterans called Lest We Forget the most authentic film to have appeared since the end of the war, especially in contrast to Hollywood fictional productions.

This article examines the conflicting discourse surrounding Lest We Forget. While the official film, what we would now call a documentary, provided important insight into the war, and how it would be remembered, it probably tells us more about the 1930s than the period from 1914 to 1918. But this is only one part of the story. Canada’s Great War film history remains largely unexplored. Where did this film footage come from? Who filmed these Canadians on the battlefield? How did these cameramen work within the deadly environment of shrapnel, snipers, and poison gas? How was the film footage received during and after the war? To better the importance of Lest We Forget, it is not just the film and the public’s reaction to it, but also the footage that was used to underpin the narrative.