Sunday, April 19, 2015

# 53 ~ Toronto & The First World War, Part VI - Discrimination

Troops wear gas masks during the Second Battle of Ypres.  The new German weapon of poison gas killed anything in its path.  Over 6,000 Canadian soldiers were killed in the battle, either from poison gas or more conventional weapons.  As news of the battle came home to Canada, it increased a national hatred for all things German that had been simmering since the war began.

This is the sixth in a series of nine posts leading up to the centenary of John McCrae's writing of In Flanders Fields, on May 3, 1915.  I've planned for articles to be posted over the next several weeks, and to culminate with actives commemorating the centennial of McCrae's poem.

Images of John McCrae or the poppy, or recitals of the poem, In Flanders Field, are usually just relegated to Remembrance Day.  We have come to associate certain images so much with November 11th, that they seem out of place during the rest of the year.  As I publish these posts, I hope that you will find enough about Toronto's history, to make the articles of interest.

John McCrae wrote his poem during the Second Battle of Ypres, which took place between April 22nd and May 25th of 1915.  The battle saw the first massed use of poison gas by German forces on the Western Front.  It was a important engagement for Canadian troops ~ for the first time, a group of "colonial" soldiers defeated a European power, on European soil.  Military experts often refer to how engagements like the Battle of St. Julien or Kitcheners' Wood helped to usher Canada into national adulthood.  

However, instead of focusing on an analysis of military activity in Europe, my series of posts will mostly follow how the war was "fought" on the Toronto home front.


This is the sixth instalment in my series on Toronto in the First World War.   Entitled “Discrimination”, it documents the bigoted attitudes towards “enemy aliens” – those people of Austria-Hungarian, Turkish and particularly German descent in Toronto.
From the start of the war, there was an outbreak of bigotry against Germans in Canada.  Public schools dropped the teaching of German language from their classrooms.  Some orchestras refused to play German music.  Canadians saw themselves as engaged in a noble cause against an army of barbarians, and events that took place later in the war only seemed to confirm this.
There were some anti-German propaganda posters that were issued by Allied countries during the war, that we look back on now as being completely insensitive.  

With anti-German propaganda, stories of German atrocities in Europe, and the fear of sabotage at home, it would only be a matter of time before strong action was taken against German residents in Canada.  In total, 8,579 “enemy aliens” were locked up behind barbed wire in prison camps across Canada. 

Shown here are celebrations at a Canadian internment camp for Christmas, 1916.  The location of this particular camp remains undocumented.  

Here in Toronto, there was an internment camp at the Stanley Barracks, on the grounds of the Canadian National Exhibition.  
Stanley Barracks internment camp, Canadian National Exhibition Grounds.

The grounds of the CNE were busy during the Great War.  In addition to being a training ground for troops, and housing an internment camp for enemy aliens, the annual fair ran every summer during the war.  Here on the midway we see a popular game during the war, in which players are rewarded for knocking out the Kaiser’s teeth with a ball.  The advertisement for the game, in the back of the stall, reads “Willie the Warlord – Knock His Teeth Out!”  Prizes included one cigar for knocking out three of his teeth, two cigars for knocking out four of his teeth, and a doll for knocking out all six of the Kaiser’s teeth.
Shown here is a game found on the Midway at the Canadian National Exhibition during the First World War, where participants tried to knock out the teeth of "Willie the Warlord" (pictured, inset).

Even if they weren’t locked up, tens of thousands of enemy aliens were ultimately forced to register with authorities, and live by strict rules during the rest of the war.  Notices across Toronto and throughout Canada called for Germans, Austrians, Hungarians and Turks to report at the Office of the Registrar for Alien Enemies.
This notice called for Germans, Austrians, Hungarians and Turks to register immediately at the Office of the Registrar for Alien Enemies, at 34 Adelaide Street East, Toronto.

Anti-German propaganda was a mix of real and fabricated events.  Many of the accusations levelled against German atrocities in Belgium, especially those against women and children, were exaggerated or simply untrue.  But the news of heavy Canadian casualties, especially when so many people expected the war to end in weeks, not years, turned public opinion against the Germans, too.  And the German use of a terrible new weapon – poison gas – at the Second Battle of Ypres, in April of 1915, galvanized public opinion against German “barbarity”.  The line between actual news and politically useful innuendo was definitely blurred.  It was this use of poison gas by the German military, and the news of the death of so many Canadian soldiers, that served as the backdrop for McCrae's writing of In Flanders Fields.
This photograph shows Canadian soldiers who were injured by the use of poisonous gas.  Some poisons, like mustard gas, burned the lungs, but also caused serious external blisters and disfigurements.

In this photograph, taken during the Battle of Amiens in 1918, both the German prisoners and wounded Canadians wear gas masks.  

Gas warfare became increasingly common and more dangerous as the war progressed. Wounded soldiers, often weak or unconscious, were especially vulnerable because they could not don their respirators.  As sisters, wives and mothers back in Toronto and across Canada learned of the horrors that Canadian soldiers were facing, anti-German outrage only continued to rise in Canadian cities.
So, not all reports of German atrocities were faked or exaggerated.  In May of 1915, just after the Battle of Ypres, a German submarine sank the civilian luxury liner RMS Lusitania, off the Irish coast.  Although this incident is mostly remembered for drawing Americans into the war, a total of almost 1,200 civilians died, including hundreds of Canadians.

The RMS Lusitania.

In total, 82 Torontonians perished in the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean when the Lusitania was sunk by the Germans.  Among the dead was Alfred Clarke, 55, who owned A. R. Clarke and Company of Toronto.  His company made leather linings, vests, and moccasins.  He was married, and had a son and daughter.  Clarke managed to survive the sinking of the Lusitania, and was rescued, and taken to England.  He wrote to his wife to tell her that he had survived, but died from complications of pneumonia in a hospital in London on June 20, 1915, about six weeks after the Lusitania was sunk.  His body was returned to Toronto and he was buried in Mt. Pleasant Cemetery.  (Plot 1, Lot 3)
Among the other residents of Toronto killed in the sinking of the Lusitania was George Copping, the president of the Reliance Knitting Company, whose grave in Mount Pleasant Cemetery is shown here.

Another Toronto resident who’s life was claimed by the sinking of the Lusitania was Mary Crowther Ryerson, the wife of George Sterling Ryerson, founder of the Canadian Red Cross.  Her husband was thoroughly documented on a memorial plaque in Toronto’s St. James Cathedral.  Mary Amelia only received a short mention at the bottom of the plaque.  It reads “Mary Elizabeth Crowther, born in Toronto, 1855, married 1882.  Lost at sea by the torpedoing of the R.M.S. Lusitania.  May 7th, 1915.”

Mary Elizabeth Crowther, who was a Canadian casualty in the sinking of the RMS Lusitania.

Mary Amelia Crowther only got brief mention on a memorial tablet that she shares with her husband.

Another cause for international outrage against the Germans during the Great War came in October of 1915.  Germans soldiers executed a woman who would become the war’s most famous female casualty.  Edith Cavell, a British nurse, was executed for helping Allied soldiers to escape occupied Belgium. 

Edith Cavell became both a martyr and a symbol for propaganda.  In Canada alone, she had a mountain, several schools, a nursing institute, streets and several hospital wings named after her.   In Toronto, these commemorations included a wing at Toronto Western Hospital, and Cavell Avenue in Etobicoke.

Edith Cavell.

The murder of Edith Cavell by German troops formed the basis of a lot of Allied propaganda for the rest of the war.

The monument to Edith Cavell that still stands outside the Toronto General Hospital.


Coming up : My next instalment of the "Toronto & The First World War" series is entitled "Recreation".  It explores what those back home in Toronto did for entertainment during the war.


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