Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

Mark Humphries

Advisor Role

Roger Sarty

Advisor Role

Jane Nicholas


This dissertation examines how Canadian soldiers of the First World War dealt with death on the Western Front. Members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force risked death, witnessed it and lived alongside it while serving in the trenches. Circumstances of death in the frontlines differed from those in civilian life; death of the very young by disease was replaced by violent death of adult men. Even conflicts of the preceding fifty years provided little indication of what soldiers would face during the First World War. Canada’s death rate during the First World War was nearly three times that of the South African War and the vast majority of those deaths were due to enemy action. This dissertation argues that the scale and violence of death on the Western Front pushed soldiers to develop multiple means of coping and grieving. Reactions varied; emotional reserve, sadness, communal grieving and gravesite rituals appear in men’s writings alongside anger and dark humour in response to the deaths of comrades. Even as the Western Front presented new and challenging circumstances, the men of the Canadian Expeditionary Force often turned to and adapted their civilian death customs to manage their emotions and experiences with the dead.

Convocation Year


Convocation Season


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