Fight or Pay
368 pages, 6 1/2 x 9
27 b&w photos, 5 tables
Release Date:02 Oct 2004

Fight or Pay

Soldiers' Families in the Great War

UBC Press

Our slogan has always been ‘Fight or Pay.’ We call upon the people to enlist or help others enlist. We sometimes say: ‘If you cannot put the "I" into fight, put the "pay" into patriotism,’ and that serves as a slogan on any platform.

– Sir Herbert Ames, founder of the Canadian Patriotic Fund

Unlike the Second World War, the Great War exists in the collective memory of Canadians as a tragic war. Characterized by the brutality of trench warfare, the First World War is remembered largely for the immense sacrifice in life and limb of Canadian soldiers. In Fight or Pay, reknowned historian Desmond Morton turns his eye to the stories of those who paid in lieu of fighting – the wives, mothers, and families left behind when soldiers went to war. Aware that the recruiting effort would fail if men were forced to choose between their families and the front, the Canadian government and its wealthy backers introduced the Canadian Patriotic Fund, known in its day as "the Patriotic." Charged with support of soldiers’ loved ones, the Patriotic and its volunteers set out to take over their lives and transform them into a middle-class model of frugal self-denial. Meanwhile, the Militia Department took on the task of deciding which dependants a soldier could support. Suddenly, the State and private philanthropists were managing family decisions that had never been their business before.

A pan-Canadian story, Fight or Pay brings to light the lives of thousands of valiant women whose sacrifices have been overlooked in previous histories of the Great War. It is also an incisive and honest look at the beginnings of a social welfare system that Canadians have come to think of as intrinsic to citizenship. Social and military historians, scholars of gender studies, descendants of First World War families, and anyone with an interest in popular history will find Morton’s tale a rich addition to the landscape of Canadian history.

Social and military historians, scholars of gender studies, descendants of First World War families, and anyone with an interest in popular history will find Morton’s tale a rich addition to the landscape of Canadian history.

Well-argued and finely written, especially given its detailed social and financial policy subject matter, Fight or Pay underscores two little-known truths about the war. The conflict cost lives at home as well as abroad, and Canada's social security net owes as much to the Great War as it does to the Great Depression. Brian Bethune, Macleans, November 2004
Fight or Pay is a beautifully written book about the history of a society and its government in wartime. Not only does Morton shed fascinating light on the topic of soldiers’ dependants, but he reveals the much broader implications for the study of gender, class, state power, and race. Jonathan Vance, author of Death So Noble: Memory, Meaning, and the First World War
Fight or Pay is an elegantly written work of penetrating analysis that showcases the author’s expansive knowledge of Canada’s First World War experience. Part military, social, family and administrative history, it is a groundbreaking addition to the growing literature of Canada’s home-front history and will undoubtedly inspire further historical inquiry. Serge Marc Durflinger, University of Ottawa, Canadian Institute of International Affairs, Spring 2006
Desmond Morton has once again demonstrated his talent for weaving national narrative in this finely crafted account of the experience of soldiers’ families during the First World War. Morton’s extensive understanding of the war immeasurably enriches his treatment of soldiers and civilians alike in Fight or Pay: Soldiers’ Families in the Great War Uncovering what happened is the first step to understanding the historical experience of the family in the First World War, and with Fight or Pay, Desmond Morton has built a marvelous foundation. Kori Street, Mount Royal College, Canadian Historical Review, December 2005
Desmond Morton has written a work that helps to fill a void of information about a turbulent period in our history. It will, I am sure, become a key reference work for those studying the economic and social aspects of the home front during the Great War. Steven Dieter, Office of Air Force Heritage and History historian, The Globe and Mail
Fight or Pay is a surprisingly gripping story of Canadian hipocrisy, selfishness, officiousness and stoical endurance. This is a very professional piece of work, covering an area of interest that may seem limited. But Desmond Morton has produced a book that is eminently readable, for anyone with the slightest curiosity about Canada’s past. Its appeal is rooted in his lively writing, in the curiosity that drove his research and the industry that satisfied it — and, despite his consistent scholarly professionalism, an animating dose of healthy and well-metered anger at a government that valued appearance over reality and fiscal caution over humanity. Suanne Kelman, School of Journalism, Ryerson University, Literary Review of Canada, June 2005
Fight or Pay is a fascinating story of how families managed during the absence of their male relatives, told by a scholar with a deep knowledge of the Great War. A major contribution to Canadian history. Margaret Conrad, co-author of History of the Canadian Peoples
Desmond Morton holds the Hiram Mills Chair in History at McGill University and is the author of numerous books on Canadian military, political, and industrial relations history.


1 War and Families

2 Pay and Allowances

3 The Patriotic Fund

4 Choices and Responsibilities

5 Homecomings

6 Grumbling and Complaining

7 Victory for Whom?

8 Never Again





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