Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Robert Wardhaugh


The Great War was a formative event for men who came of age between 1914 and 1918. They believed the experience forged them into a distinct generation. This collective identification more than shaped a sense of self; it influenced understanding of the conflict’s meaning. Canadian historians, however, have overlooked the war’s generational impact, partly because they reject notions of a disillusioned Lost Generation. Unlike European or American youths, it is argued that Canadian veterans did not suffer postwar disillusionment. Rather, they embraced the war alongside a renewed Canadian nationalism. This generation was proud of their nation’s wartime achievements, notably those of the Canadian Corps, but the conflict’s meaning was rooted in more than battlefield history. Its validity was inseparable from the postwar life that veterans believed they had fought. Yet, despite hopes to return home to a ‘square deal’, economic and international instability marred life in interwar Canada, dashing the generation’s confidence in the future.

This discontent is obscured by histories heavily focused on memory and a corresponding reliance on cultural sources, such as war books, to explain the conflict’s social history. While an important part of the war’s legacy, retrospective focus on commemoration is a poor guide to the lived realities of the postwar present. In the war’s aftermath many young veterans struggled to find work. Combined with the prospect of renewed war in Europe, their unemployment added to a growing list of postwar grievances, including failure to secure adequate assistance for wounded and traumatized veterans. These unresolved complaints about the pension system, the soldier settlement schemes, and the mishandling of postwar canteen funds (particularly in Ontario) more than undermined the war generation’s belief in the war, it left them deeply disillusioned with its meaning.