Author Tags: War
Sylvia Crooks was three years old when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939. Thereafter her hometown of Nelson, ‘Queen City of the Kootenays,’ with its population of 7,000, supported the war effort full bore. Crooks’ Homefront & Battlefront: Nelson BC in World War II (Granville Island, 2005) celebrates the extraordinary sacrifices of a community that raised eight million dollars for Victory Bonds, shipped 17,000 pounds of clothing and eight tons of jam overseas, and lost 70 lives from the 1,300 men and women who enlisted after 1939. There are 28 geographical sites in B.C. named in honour of men from the Nelson area who died in WW II. Nelson previously sent more men to the Boer War per capita than any other comparable Canadian town and its 54th Kootenay Infantry Battalion suffered heavy losses during WW I.
After six years of research, Sylvia Crooks’ second book, Names on a Cenotaph: Kootenay Lake Men in World War I (Granville Island $19.95), commemorates British Columbians who fought in World War I from the Kootenays.
She tells the stories behind the names of 280 soldiers engraved on cenotaphs and memorials around BC’s Kootenay Lake. Who were these men? Crooks found out by delving into letters, diaries, artefacts and photographs.
She says that she wrote her book, “To make some of the men live again and make them more than just names on a cenotaph.” She adds, that it is “written out of respect for them, as well as out of anger at the sacrifice of a generation of men in a futile war.”
Crooks documents what motivated the scores of men who enthusiastically enlisted in a war where thousands died daily. She discovers what provoked these citizens from Nelson to leave their families and their lives in Canada’s west, even while sometimes lying about their ages, to join the patriotic fervour of the time. They traded their lives in the beautiful Kootenay Valley to serve under horrific conditions halfway around the world. Rats, flames, gas attacks, hip-high mud and the constant threat of German shells and snipers were just some of the terrors they faced.
Many of these men were ranchers, miners, loggers and fruit growers. Most had attended Nelson High School. They left as sons, fathers, husbands, and brothers to join the fight for God, home, country, and empire. Crooks writes of the brutality these soldiers endured and the shell shock and war wounds the survivors had to live with upon their return to Canada. She asks questions about the impact on the following generations of the unrecoverable losses of the dead and the unrealized contributions the soldiers could have made had their lives not be cut short.
Sylvia Crooks was born and raised in Nelson, BC, where her father, T.S. Shorthouse, was mayor from 1958 to 1963. After graduating from Nelson High School in 1954 she earned a BA degree in English and History from the University of British Columbia. While at UBC Sylvia was a features editor and senior editor for The Ubyssey, and during the summers of her university years she worked in the editorial department of the Nelson Daily News as a junior reporter.
She married physicist Michael Crooks in 1959, and while raising three children wrote questions for the TV quiz show Reach for the Top. In her mid-40s she went back to UBC to take a Master’s degree in Library Science, and after working in public libraries for a number of years, joined the faculty of her alma mater, the School of Library, Archival and Information Studies. For 16 years she taught reference services and outreach services at the school, retiring in 2002. Sylvia has authored or co-authored two books, aimed at a professional audience, on library services to older adults. She currently resides in Vancouver.
Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Homefront and Battlefront: Nelson BC in World War II
Past Reflections: Essays on the Hudson's Bay Company in the Southern Puget Sound Region
Homefront & Battlefront: Nelson BC in World War II (Granville Island, 2005 $24.95). 1-894694-38-4
Names on a Cenotaph: Kootenay Lake Men in World War I
(Granville Island 2014) $19.95 9781926991474