VIDEO: Twenty years of research went into book about First World War

Warren Sommer's Canucks in Khaki recounts the Great War from the perspective of Langley residents



“The conditions that the men fought under and died in were just appalling,” Warren Sommer says.

“Shelling, machine gun fire, poisonous gas that ate away your lungs and your skin, (and) blinded you. Many men returned from the war physically looking normal enough, but internally scarred for life.”

Sommer, author of Canucks in Khaki: Langley, the Lower Mainland, and the Great War of 1914 to 1918 spent 20 years researching the impact of the “war to end all wars” on the people of Langley.

“I began it not long after I first arrived in Langley as director of the Langley Centennial Museum and discovered what an important role the First World War had played in the life of the community.”

During the war, close to 400 young men and youths from Langley enlisted, roughly half the entire adult male population of the small agricultural community, where people either worked in farms or lumber mills.

One in 10 never came back.

By the end of the Great War, 60,661 Canadians had died, and 172,000 had been wounded, 40 per cent of the 425,000 who went overseas to fight.

The book traces the impact of the conflict on the soldiers and the people who stayed at home. Men, women, and children joined forces to raise money, create and gather supplies for soldiers, and shoulder many of the farm duties that would otherwise have occupied their fathers and brothers, Sommer says.

“The war was in everybody’s mind for every day of the five years that it encompassed.”

The 384-page hard cover book has 445 black and white photos, many never before seen in print, and includes excerpts from letters and diaries, official war records, and newspapers of the day.

The first edition will have a limited print run of only 500.

The book will officially launch on April 9, the 100th anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge, the first time Canadian divisions fought together.

The now-semi-retired Sommer is also the guest curator of “Sacrifice and Sorrow,” a major exhibit at the Langley Centennial Museum in Fort Langley.

The exhibit explores the impact of the war on the men and women of Langley as they volunteered for service, made their way overseas, underwent training, and faced the enemy in the trenches of the Western Front.

Copies of Canucks in Khaki will be available for sale and signing by Sommer at the exhibit opening on Sunday, April 9 from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

For more information, contact 604-532-3536 or curator@tol.ca.

Canucks in Khaki can also be purchased from the author by emailing bsommer@telus.net or calling 604-888-0017.

The price is $39.95 plus GST. Shipping can be arranged at cost.

Sommer