Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Jonathan Vance


This study interrogates the stories and legends of six soldiers who served in the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry during the First World War, and the ways in which they described their primary occupation as soldiers, killing enemy combatants. It asks a fundamentally important question; how and why do men kill at war? Soldiers tended to narrate their descriptions of killing from the perspective of an innocuous reporter, and downplay their agency in the killing act. They also, often, framed their descriptions of killing in terms of revenge for the loss of comrades, or atrocities committed by the enemy. Alternatively, love for those same men and the love of women was given as the primary motivation for wanting to “stick it” at the front. Talbot Papineau breaks trench warfare down into three categories or “facts:” incidental, defensive, and offensive fighting. Killing existed in each of these categories, on a sliding scale of safety for the individual soldier, with incidental trench warfare being the safest and offensive warfare the most dangerous. Across all of these categories an important factor in triggering hot-blooded killing rage, what Shay called a “berserk state,” was a soldier’s perception of a betrayal of “what is right” or thémis by those who commanded them. When a soldier felt that something truly unfair had happened to him, he was much more likely to seek out contact with the enemy. Cold-blooded killing, that which epitomized the sniper’s role during incidental fighting was presented in terms of familiar civilian pursuits that took on a different meaning during the war. Chief amongst them were hunting, working, and playing the game. The metaphor of the show was also an important way to describe battles with a familiar and innocuous phrase, and it had deep significance to the soldier’s understanding of themselves in battle. First World War soldiers tended to characterize the killing with conspicuous silences and often sought to distance themselves, rhetorically, from the topic. As such the final two case-studies – those of J.W. “Jack” McLaren and V.F. Gianelli – will look at how men could write about their service with the front-line infantry without giving details of their primary occupation. This work attempts to look behind the curtain of soldiers’ stories that have been enshrined in the official narrative of the PPCLI and inquire into what can be known about those parts of their stories that the men avoided telling, elucidating a fuller picture of their experiences and understanding of their legend.