Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

Mark Humphries

Advisor Role

Terry Copp

Advisor Role

Cynthia Comacchio


Death was ubiquitous in the First World War and while contemporaries acknowledged this, soldiers’ experiences of death and grief have been largely ignored in the Canadian historiography. This thesis seeks to address this gap in the literature by examining how English-Canadian soldiers responded to and coped with death on the Western Front. It argues that combatants developed and adapted multiple methods of coping, which ranged from humour to emphasizing ideals of sacrifice to emotional distance, in response to the horrific conditions of the trenches. This thesis explores both private and public discourses of death using contemporary diaries, letters and trench newspapers. Men drew upon pre-war narratives and rituals, adapting them to suit their needs, but also developed new attitudes towards death, unique to wartime experiences, in their reactions to death in the trenches. While often contradictory in nature, soldiers used these various approaches to handle the overwhelming death of the front, employing whichever method they found appropriate and most useful at the time and in that particular circumstance.

Convocation Year


Convocation Season