Opinion: A century ago today

A hundred years ago on Aug. 6, Chilliwack Progress readers read about the start of a war that would change their lives and change the world

The First World War came quietly to Chilliwack.

It didn’t yet have a number, nor even a name. But it would become the defining event of the 20th century, reshaping Europe, Africa and the Middle East, remaking governments and political institutions, and reinventing Canada as a nation.

Few readers who opened their Aug. 6 edition of the Chilliwack Progress 100 years ago today would know that. They could not recognize the impact the coming conflagration would have on their lives, their country and the geo-political world in which they lived.

There were no brash headlines. Just a simple column of type about recruitment – the last of six columns spaced across the front page. (The first? “Making Preparations For Annual Fair,” followed by “Municipal Council Eradicates Weeds.”)

The report reflected the breathless excitement about the coming war that swept through Europe as mobilization began. It was born out of an unshakable confidence, and the belief the war would be brief and relatively bloodless.

It wasn’t.

More than 60,000 Canadians died – twice the number who would die two decades later in the second great conflict of the century.

They were among the millions who would ultimately be consumed by a war unprecedented in scale and, until then, unmatched in mechanized brutality.

Among the dead was a man with strong ties to the Chilliwack Progress – former editor Thomas Edward Caskey.

He left the paper behind to command a unit overseas in 1915. But he didn’t leave it entirely. His letters were carried in the pages of The Progress, giving readers at home a rare glimpse of events in Europe.

And they were rare. With no Internet, no television, not even radio, there was only the newspaper and the brief dispatches it carried, coupled with personal accounts from people like Major Caskey.

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, the Chilliwack Progress will be carrying excerpts from those reports in the weeks and months ahead, including the letters from Caskey.

We’ll also have news about how readers today can access those pages from the past and read them themselves.

George Santayana famously wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Let’s choose to remember.

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