30 March 2007

Vimy, Vimy, Vimy

Not surprisingly, as the 90th anniversary of the Canadian attack on Vimy Ridge approaches, news about publications and ceremonies are coming fast and furious. Here are some of those I know of:

The book, Vimy Ridge: A Canadian Reassessment, edited by Geoffrey Hayes, Andrew Iarocci and Mike Bechthold has been published. The Laurier Centre for Military Strategic and Disarmament Studies is inviting anyone interested to the official book launch on Monday, 9 April, at 7.00 p.m., in the Senate and Board Chamber, Wilfrid Laurier University. As the press release notes, the book "began with the premise that there was still much more to learn about the Battle of Vimy Ridge. The collection offers new insights on the battle with articles by" Mike Bechthold, Michael Boire, Patrick Brennan, David Campbell, Tim Cook, Serge Durflinger, Paul Dickson, Andrew Godefroy, Jacqueline Hucker, Mark Humphries, Andrew Iarocci, Heather Moran, Bill Rawling, Gary Sheffield and Jonathan Vance. The launch will also incorporate brief presentations by Bechthold, Hayes, Humphries, Iarocci and Moran.

The Department of History, University of Regina, and the Humanities Research Institute are presenting "Vimy Ridge: Interpreting the Battle 90 Years Later" on Monday, 9 April, at 7.30 p.m., in the Language Institute Theatre (LI 215), University of Regina. As the release states: "The Canadian Corps captured Vimy Ridge on Easter Monday 9 April 1917. This coming Easter Monday, the 90th anniversary of the battle, two historians examine the significance of this pivotal event in the evolution of Canada as a nation." Dr. Ian Germani will speak on "The Military Significance of Vimy Ridge" and Dr. James M. Pitsula on "The Cultural Significance of Vimy Ridge".

The media is reporting that a special ceremony marking the 90th anniversary will be held at Queen's Park, the Ontario legislature in Toronto, beginning at 9.45 a.m. at the Veterans' Memorial Wall, located in front of the legislature. The event will include two minutes of silence, the playing of the last post and speeches by Premiere Dalton McGuinty and others.

Amongst all of the various activities going on in Ottawa on Easter weekend (see the Veterans Affairs Canada and Canadian War Museum websites) one seemingly unique ceremony will take place on the evening of Sunday, 8 April. The media is reporting that at 7.30 p.m. the lights surrounding the National War Memorial will be turned off and an overnight vigil will be mounted to honour those who served at Vimy. The names of the nearly 3,600 men killed in the battle will be projected in light on the walls of the memorial until sunrise the next morning and photographs of at least eighty soldiers who survived the Vimy battle will also be projected on the side of the memorial. A simulcast of the event will be hosted on the project's website.

I'm sure there's much more to come.

27 March 2007

The Campaign to save HMCS Sackville

"Mark from Ottawa" over at The Torch has posted an interesting piece on the campaign to save HMCS Sackville, a Halifax landmark (or is that a "seamark"?). Well worth the read.

Tonight, I finished re-reading the late Ben Greenhous's Dieppe, Dieppe, a quick overview of Operation JUBILEE of 19 August 1942. This is just one of the items I've been reading lately in preparation for my trip overseas as part of my job with DND. I guess this is a bit of an announcement, that I may not be posting much, if at all, between 1 and 16 April while I'm in France. My primary work overseas concerns the burial of Private Herbert Peterson, 49th Battalion, CEF, the identification of which I've written about previously, specifically the needs of his family and the media in attendance. I will also be providing other historical support to the Canadian Forces' contingent. I hope to have the opportunity to blog on The Cannon's Mouth while I'm there, the biggest unknown at this point being access to an internet-connected computer. (A battlefield tour to Dieppe is also scheduled for the contingent, thus my reading of Ben's book).

25 March 2007

Afghanistan: A Glimpse of War

I had an opportunity today, fortunate that I am to live in Ottawa (you don't hear that phrase too often), to visit the Canadian War Museum. The main purpose of my visit was to take a look at the new "Afghanistan: A Glimpse of War" exhibit. As the CWM's brochure puts it: "This powerful exhibition goes beyond the headlines to capture Canada's participation in the international security mission in Afghanistan. Detailing Canada's efforts to help Afghans rebuild a country shattered by years of war, this exhibition uncovers personal stories drawn from the chaos of battle and the struggle for peace."

The exhibition was interesting, although not particularly informative for me. In the CWM's defence on that count - I'm sure I'm not their target audience, i.e. someone keeping up with Canadian Forces' operations in Afghanistan as much as time will allow. The exhibition does a good job of outlining Canada's involvement in Afghanistan since 9/11 and would, therefore, be excellent for the visitor who is interested, but hasn't kept up with the news on Canadian activities there.

It is artefact minimal, in the sense that there isn't a lot on display aside from newspaper pages, video clips, and graphic artwork. That is partly a reflection, in my opinion, of modern museum style (a style that goes way beyond the CWM), and undoubtedly a reflection of the difficulty in coming up with many items from a conflict so recent (and ongoing). That said, it was very interesting to see the .50 calibre sniper rifle Canadian troops are currently using to such great effect (it's a very impressive piece of kit) and a destroyed G-Wagen.

All in all, a very interesting display, and one well worth seeing.

A few of the events coming up at the Canadian War Museum in April and May include:

Terry Copp speaking on "The Art of Command", "...the challenges faced in 1944-45 by Lieutenant-General Guy Simonds, best known for his role in the liberation of Northwest Europe", at 7.00 p.m. on April 26 in the Barney Danson Theatre;

A performance of "No Man's Land: On July 1, 1916, a generation of Newfoundland's best and brightest was virtually wiped out at the battle of Beaumont Hamel. Witness this moving play and discover why this July morning will never be forgotten", at 8.00 p.m. on both April 27 and 28 in the Barney Danson Theatre;

Mark Ward speaking on "Honouring an Unlucky Lady: HMCS Athabaskan", recounting his 2003 scuba dive "in the English Channel to his grandfather's submerged gravesite. He will discuss the mysterious Second World War sinking of Canada's HMCS Athabaskan", at 7.00 p.m. on May 10 in the Barney Danson Theatre; and

Stephen Thorne speaking on "War Stories from Afghanistan", discussing how he "photographed Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan from 2002 to 2004. His work reveals his encounters with human stories of loss, conflict and reconstruction in Canada's most recent chapter of military history", at 7.00 p.m. on May 24 in the Barney Danson Theatre.

23 March 2007

A quiet day

I was on leave today, so I didn't pursue the historian's craft for too many hours. I did finish reading John Ellis' Eye-Deep in Hell: Trench Warfare in World War I (Baltimore, 1976). This was an interesting read. A bit-dated perhaps, it has been partly surpassed by the extensive research undertaken by Richard Holmes for his incredible book Tommy. One thing I liked particularly about Ellis' research is that, although he focused primarily on British troops (including those from the Empire), he also used examples from the French and German armies, a tact which makes the book a little more universal.

I've been meaning also to mention a new publication now in the works. Ron Jack is in the process of resurrecting his former print journal, Canadian Military Biography, in an entirely online format. As Ron writes:
Military biography is a challenging and rewarding subject. You understand that fact and it has brought you to this page. Most of the work underway across the country involves the lives of Canadians who served in the two World Wars, but in fact we have a much richer military heritage which spans several centuries. Indeed one of the most intensely trained and motivated Canadian expeditionary forces ever assembled is now serving in Afghanistan. Our proudest Regimental and Corps traditions are very much alive.

CANADIAN MILITARY BIOGRAPHY is an e-magazine scheduled to appear quarterly. We will strive to bring you stories of Canadians who served in all eras, including those who served as Soldiers of Fortune or perhaps as influential advisors to foreign armies and navies. You may expect that most of the lengthier articles will chronicle those who served in the C.E.F. in the Great War, or with our massive volunteer force in World War Two. With your help we will strive to achieve some editorial and content balance - with interesting material showcasing all of the armed services and all of the wars Canadians experienced. Obvious examples would be Canadians who served in Israel's wars or the thousands who volunteered for Vietnam. The field of study is vast, and our interest is boundless.
The first issue is expected to be published online in June 2007.

22 March 2007

Private Peterson makes The Globe and Mail

A really cool thing happened today. A story on how Private Herbert Peterson, 49th Battalion, CEF, was identified using historical and scientific research, and the family's preparations for his upcoming interment was written by Katherine Harding in today's The Globe and Mail. I was interviewed for this yesterday, and there's a quote from me in the piece. Personally very cool also, just a lot less important than coverage of Peterson's story.

Changing gears, I recently ran across (I don't remember how) a new historical journal that looks quite interesting. It's the Journal of Historical Biography, a brand new periodical intended to be "published twice annually, in Spring and Autumn, by the University College of the Fraser Valley (UCFV), Abbotsford, British Columbia". The journal's description notes that it "publishes original, peer-reviewed scholarly articles on all aspects of historical biography. This includes biographical portraits of individuals of any nation, and theoretical, methodological or philosophical pieces that reflect on the larger issues associated with writing biography or autobiography. Articles may be published in English or French. In addition, the JHB publishes book reviews of works of historical biography." The first issue contains a very comprehensive article by P. Whitney Lackenbauer, "'A Hell of a Warrior': Remembering Sergeant Thomas George Prince".

21 March 2007

Media frenzy

Well, in my mind today was a media frenzy.

First, a bit of background. As I've noted in a previous post, and has been mentioned elsewhere (see my link), I'm one small part of the DND team involved in identifying Private Herbert Peterson, 49th Battalion, CEF, from remains found near Avion, France, in 2003. As the time for the interment of Pte. Peterson in La Chaudière Military Cemetery approaches (during the Vimy commemorative activities in April), media interest in how the team was able to identify him has risen.

I was interviewed twice today (certainly a personal record) on my role in the process. First, an hour long taped interview by Ms. Jessica Brando of CBC Radio One's The Current for a piece they're preparing for air on or about April 9. How much of the stuttering historian (an apt description of me, if I've ever written one) survives the cut and makes it on to the final show, who knows). This afternoon I was interviewed over the phone by Ms. Katherine Harding with the Edmonton office of The Globe and Mail for a story they're doing tomorrow.

All pretty exciting, tense and exhausting for someone like me. Hopefully, it will help provide more light on what we're trying to accomplish in such cases and, more importantly, the sacrifices made by men such as Pte. Peterson during the world wars.

In my e-mail basket tonight came more information from Mike Bechthold (mbechtho@wlu.ca), Communications Director at the Laurier Centre for Military Strategic and Disarmament Studies. This was in respect to the upcoming 18th Military History Colloquium to be held at Wilfrid Laurier University from 3 to 5 May 2007. The preliminary programme for the colloquium is out, and is very, very impressive. Here's a more or less complete rundown:

Thursday, May 3

Public keynote address by Marc Milner, University of New Brunswick, "In Search of the Lost Battalion: The North Shore Regiment from D-Day to Carpiquet."

Friday, May 4

Session 1 (Terry Copp, Wilfrid Laurier University, "Guy Simonds and the Art of Command: Operation ‘Wallstreet.’")

Session 2, Panel A - Canada and the Great War (I) (Pat Brennan, University of Calgary, "Certain Failure: The Destruction of the 11th and 12th Canadian Infantry Brigades on 2 September 1918"; Tim Cook, Canadian War Museum, "Leaning Virgins, Crucified Soldiers, Cannibalistic Deserters, and Dead Companions: The Belief System of the Canadian Great War Trench Soldiers"; Andrew Iarocci, Wilfrid Laurier University, "Battlefield Technology in the Popular Press, 1914-1918")

Session 2, Panel B - The Canadian Navy (Richard O. Mayne, Department of National Defence, "Birth of the Iroquois: Canadian destroyer design 1963-65"; Craig Leslie Mantle, Canadian Forces Leadership Institute, "Challenged on the Sea: Some Leadership Experiences of Canadian Navy Personnel during Operation APOLLO")

Session 3, Panel A - The Canadian Air Force (Bertram C. Frandsen, Wilfrid Laurier University, "The role of the bomber in the RCAF in the post-1945 period."; Matthew Trudgen, Queen’s University, "Balancing Sovereignty and Security: The Interplay of Different Conceptions of the Canadian National Interest and the Formation of the North American Air Defence Command (NORAD)"; Patrick Dennis, Canadian Forces, ret’d, "NATO AWACS: Alliance Keystone for “Out of Area” Operations"; William March, Royal Military College of Canada, "Bombs Away! - Canadian Air Power in the Kosovo Air Campaign")

Session 3, Panel B - The Impact of the Great War (Gordon Greavette, Conestogo College, "The Significance of the Canadian Shell Committee"; Beth Sneyd, Royal Military College of Canada, "Just out of the mud and stench and obscenity of the trenches: Great War Veterans in the postwar works of L.M. Montgomery"; Serge Durflinger, University of Ottawa, "Veterans with a Vision: The Rehabilitation of Canada’s War Blinded of the First World War."; Liane Leddy, Wilfrid Laurier University, "Soldier Settlement?: The Nipissing Reserve and Civil Re-Establishment After the Great War") - Tour of Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, Hamilton, Ontario - Dinner - Main Hangar - Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum - Keynote address, Lee Windsor, University of New Brunswick, "Attack on the Gothic Line: The Long Right Flank of the Normandy Breakout"

Saturday, May 5

Session 4, Panel A - Military History as Public History (Andrew Burtch, Canadian War Museum, "The History behind the Headlines: the War in Afghanistan as Public History"; Jeff Noakes, Canadian War Museum, "Canada Under Attack: The Battle of the St. Lawrence Comes to the Ottawa River"; Amber Lloydlangston, Canadian War Museum, "In Search of ‘In Search of Peace’: Developing a Major In-House Exhibition in the CWM")

Session 4, Panel B - Canada and Great War (II) (Heather Moran, University of Western Ontario, "Clearing from the Front: The Evolution of Casualty Evacuation by the Canadian Army Medical Corps during the First World War"; Maarten Gerritsen, Memorial University, "What We Are is Just What we Think: Canada’s Great War Soldiers in France and England"; Martin F. Auger, Department of National Defence, "Rebellion in Quebec: Canadian Military Intervention during the Easter Riots of 1918"

Session 5, Panel A - Canada and the Second World War (Chris Case, University of Ottawa, "Was Canada’s ‘Fightin’est’ General a ‘people person?’: Christopher Vokes and the Art of ‘Team-Building.’"; Russ Benneweis, University of Calgary, "Training for War: The case of the South Saskatchewan Regiment"; Matt Symes, Wilfrid Laurier University, "The 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade in Normandy: One Brigade, Three Memories"; Vanessa McMackin, Wilfrid Laurier University, "Constructing a Memory: The Significance of the Memorial to Executed Prisoners of War at the Abbaye D’Ardenne")

Session 5, Panel B - Canada at War in the 20th Century (Andrew B. Godefroy, Directorate of Land Concepts and Doctrine, Canadian Army, "Bad JuJu and Bush Warfare: Canadians Fighting in West Africa, 1896-1906"; Stephen Burgess-Whiting, University of Guelph, "Class War In Spain: The King Government, Non-Intervention and Canadian support for the Spanish Republic"; Ed Storey, Department of National Defence, "The Soldiers Burden” - A Look at 20th Century Canadian Load Carrying Equipment."

Session 6 - Plenary - Canadian Military Historiography: State of the Art (James Wood, Wilfrid Laurier University, "Readings in Canadian Military Culture: A Review of Militia Periodicals before the Great War"; Mark Osborne Humphries, University of Western Ontario & John Maker, University of Ottawa, "The Other Side of the Hill: Towards an understanding of the German army in the First World War"; Kathryn Rose, Wilfrid Laurier University, "A History of Service to the Canadian Army: The Fort Frontenac Library"; Lee Windsor, University of New Brunswick, "Reflections of an embedded historian in Afghanistan").

Time for something a little different

I've decided to make a change in the format of The Cannon's Mouth / Par la Bouche de nos Canons. Basically, I'm going to try to make this blog more personal. As I close in on the one year anniversary of working on this project, and as I approach 120 posts, I've been thinking about the format I've settled into. And, to be blunt, I'm not happy with it. So, it's time for a change. I'm going to try to approach the writing of this blog in the more traditional (if such a term can be used for a technology so new) sense of the genre being a "web log", or diary if you will. This is reflected in my new masthead statement: "A journey through Canada's military history / Un voyage par l'histoire militaire du Canada". After all, most of what I post is a reflection of the material I discover as I follow the paths of my craft as an historian. The remainder comes from readers who send me information, and for that I'm quite glad and would like to say thank you. Please keep sending me material as I have no intention of straying from the subject matter at the core of this blog - just how it's presented.

I'm going to begin with some of the highlights of my experiences in the pursuit of Canadian military history yesterday. I spent the day at Library and Archives Canada looking at a couple of areas of research. First, I was looking for material on a trench raid in which the 49th Battalion, CEF, participated in during early June 1917. This was to help with material I've been putting together on the raid for my job at the Directorate of History and Heritage, Department of National Defence. More on that subject in a future post. Suffice it to say, I looked through a couple of battalion files on "minor operations" - the intriguing name given to patrols, trench raids, small scale attacks - but didn't find much new to me.

The second area I spent researching (and on my own time) involved finishing researching the operations log / war diary of First Canadian Army for December 1944 and January 1945 as well as the war diary for the headquarters of the 4th Canadian Armoured Division for the same period. The reason for this is work on a book length project for which I know a publisher who is very interested in having me produce a manuscript for. The project is the Allied assault on the island of Kapelsche Veer, in southwestern Holland, from late December 1944 through January 1945. This was a nasty piece of business, the terrible weather colliding with a strong sense of pointlessness about the entire endeavour. I had the opportunity to conduct a battlefield tour of the island with Dr. Steve Harris (Chief Historian, Directorate of History and Heritage) in May 2005 for the Canadian Forces' contingent involved in the commemorations marking the 60th anniversary of the end of the war in Europe. Three visits to the island - the surface of which has only changed minimally in sixty years - and I was hooked. This is a sad, heroic, tragic, violent tale - war in a nutshell. To date, there have only been a couple of article of chapter length treatments of the operation in English and the subject cries out for more. I'm still in the very early stages of research on the project, but I'm already finding fascinating avenues to follow, coming up with interesting questions, and discovering primary and secondary sources in English, French, Dutch, German and Polish (the 1st Polish Armoured Division attacked first).

Last night, I stumbled across the latest issue of the Canadian Military Journal / Revue militaire canadienne, vol.7, no.4, Winter 2006-07, to be precise. The electronic version always precedes the hard copy which I see at work. As usual, this journal has much to offer in the way of Canadian military history, including: Second Lieutenant Will Lofgren's "In Defence of 'Tommy' Burns" / "À la défense de « Tommy » Burns"; Béatrice Richard's "Henri Bourassa and Conscription: Traitor of Saviour?" / "Henri Bourassa et la conscription : traître ou sauveur?";
Rob Stuart's "Leonard Birchall and the Japanese Raid on Colombo" / "Leonard Birchall et le raid japonais sur Colombo"; Eric Wagner's "The Peaceable Kingdom? The National Myth of Canadian Peacekeeping and the Cold War" / "Un royaume pacifique? Le mythe canadien du maintien de la paix et la guerre froide", as well as a handful of book reviews on historical publications.

19 March 2007

Book review of Wood's We move only forward

This is the second review I’ve completed of a recent Vanwell Publishing Limited book on Canadian military history. This time around, the book is James A. Wood’s We move only forward: Canada, the United States and the First Special Service Force 1942-1944 (Vanwell, 2006).

Some might argue that Canadian-American military cooperation has never been as close as it is now, particularly in the naval task forces of the past fifteen years in the Arabian Gulf or in the United Nations and NATO missions in Afghanistan since 2001. In some ways, that may be true. However, one unit formed during the Second World War – the First Special Service Force – was, as James Wood puts it “largely without parallel and stands today as an anomaly in US-Canadian military cooperation. Prior to this, Canadian soldiers had never served in such close association with the United States Army, and throughout and after the long Cold War, continuing military cooperation between Canada and the United States has resulted in no similar examples of such near-complete integration” (p.10).

In brief, the First Special Service Force (FSSF) was formed by officers and men from both Canada and the United States as a “North American” military unit “in which soldiers from the two armies served together without regard for nationality” (p.10). Initially formed in 1942 for a mission in Norway which was ultimately cancelled, the FSSF was reorganized, reequipped and retrained for a more sustained combat role, a role which it undertook in Italy and southern France in 1943 and 1944, before its disbandment in December 1944. Between 1942 and 1944 about 1,500 Canadian soldiers served in the force, 155 being killed in the fighting in Italy and France.

It is the intention of James A. Wood to retell “the history of the First Special Service Force from a Canadian perspective, focusing in particular on the issues surrounding the 1st Canadian Special Service Battalion, the official designation given to the Canadian element of the FSSF” (p.11). The author, currently a doctoral candidate at Wilfrid Laurier University, has reworked his master’s thesis (“The Canadian Army and the First Special Service Force, 1942-1944”, University of New Brunswick, 2003) into this published version.

Wood contends that the 1st Canadian Special Service Battalion was really an administrative entity, mostly created for the purposes of differences in pay and discipline. Canadian and American soldiers were scattered throughout the FSSF, using the same weapons, wearing the same (American) uniforms, and serving under the same officers. As a result, the Canadian battalion was a “paper unit” (p.11). However, it was also an entity which “became the subject of a disproportionate amount of high-level consideration” (p.11) at military headquarters in Ottawa, London, Washington and in the field in Italy. As Wood notes: “Were it possible to gauge the success of a paper unit by the volume of letters, official reports and telegrams it generated, the 1st Canadian Special Service Battalion would have to be judged a resounding success” (p.11).

This is not really an operational history of the FSSF, although operations are definitely discussed. It is also not a book of individual stories on the members of the FSSF. It is, to be honest, an administrative history of the Canadian component of the FSSF. Wood notes that while the Force was successful operationally “their achievements in the field were often set against a background of frustrating miscommunication and bureaucratic tangles in Ottawa, Washington and overseas” (p.15). He wants to explore how the “bi-national composition” of the unit made its existence more difficult, may have led ultimately to its disbandment, and why such an “experiment” had not been repeated since.

The first chapter, “The Talented Mr Pyke”, deals with the background to the formation of the FSSF as a whole. This includes discussion of the efforts of a very eccentric British civilian official, and his relations with the American military and the Canadian Army. Originally designated “Operation PLOUGH”, the idea for the FSSF evolved from a plan to create winter warfare capable commando detachments which could used in snow-covered areas of Nazi-occupied Europe. Even though the initial plan to use the force collapsed, Canadian interest in the force – as a combined American-Canadian military formation – remained strong, and the creation of the FSSF proceeded.

By chapter two, “Being Special in Helena, Montana”, the FSSF had been authorized, and was now getting down to the business of being formed. Administrative questions quickly arose. Would Canadian troops have to be released from the Canadian Army to serve in the American Army? Was the FSSF to be a joint American-Canadian unit or really just an American one? Compromises were found to these and other questions, resulting in all soldiers swearing allegiance to their officers, not to either country. Canadian troops would also receive their pay and pensions from Canada, their lodgings, rations and equipment from the United States.

The structure of the FSSF was determined, officers were assigned, weapons and unarmed combat training initiated. Canadian soldiers seemed to be settling in well to the training and the location, one officer noting: “The relationship between Canadian and American personnel is most satisfactory” (p.40). At the same time, some administrative complaints were arising, such as the fact that Canadian soldiers were being paid much less than their American counterparts.

Despite the cancellation of its initial campaign, the FSSF, as outlined in chapter 3, “Finding a Mission in 1943” continued “maintaining its emphasis on skiing, mountain climbing, and living in cold climates, albeit with increasing amounts of time spent on battle drill and weapons use” (p.56). The truth was, the Force’s role was now uncertain. Nevertheless, leadership attempted to maintain its early training while initiating training to help meet an expected transition of the FSSF to “an assault infantry role”.

It was during this period that the first major Canadian administrative problem arose, a problem which Wood places at the top of the list throughout the existence of the FSSF. During the initial training period personnel losses due to injury or soldiers simply failing the course were reducing the Canadian presence in the FSSF. This brought up the issue of reinforcements. The American commanding officer of the Force still saw it being used in a single major operation and, therefore, refused to allow Canadian reinforcements at this point. The difficulty with this decision was that if the FSSF was altered to fill a more permanent, assault infantry role, there would be no mechanism in place to provide Canadian reinforcements. This issue formed part of the background at the FSSF set off to participate in the Kiska landings in August 1943.

By chapter 4, “A ‘Special’ Reinforcements Crisis”, the reinforcement problem for the Canadian portion of the FSSF had become a “crisis”. The FSSF had arrived in Italy in November 1943, and began combat operations the following month. The Canadians alone lost twenty-seven soldiers killed, eighty-six wounded and forty-one losses due to fatigue by the end of the year. As Wood writes: “Although some of the exhaustion cases were already beginning to recover and many of the wounded could be expected back eventually, it became painfully obvious that without reinforcements the Force would not survive many similar missions” (p.87).

By late January 1944 the situation regarding Canadian troop strength had deteriorated further, with nearly half of the original Canadian element dead or wounded. Meanwhile, the Americans had begun to provided reinforcements for their portion of the FSSF. This decision – a definite reversal in the American policy – “exasperated” the leadership of the Canadian Army.

Further examination into the Canadian position on the FSSF led to consideration of pulling the Canadians out entirely and using them as reinforcements for the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion. Wood notes: “After spending an entire year in training, the Force was, arguably, being squandered by the US Fifth Army – employed as ‘glorified infantry’ with ‘all the special training going by the boards, except possibly mountain climbing’” (p.96).

The Canadian decision to approach the Americans and suggest the withdrawal of the 1st Canadian Special Service Battalion came too late. Predicated on the FSSF not being involved in active operations, the request to pull the Canadians out was no longer feasible as the entire Force was now on its way to join the defence of the Anzio bridgehead.

The FSSF spent February to May 1944 in the Anzio bridgehead. As chapter 5, “Punch-Drunk: The Anzio Bridgehead”, describes, this type of combat only reinforced the Canadian perception that the Force was not fighting the type of war for which it had originally been designed, equipped and trained. Forced into a corner, Canadian Military Headquarters authorized reinforcements for the Canadian element in the FSSF in March 1944, bringing in personnel from reinforcement pools in Italy. Chapter 6, “Reorganization Under Fire”, describes this process and how the FSSF increasingly came to resemble an American Ranger type unit, fighting convention infantry operations in the bridgehead, during the breakout, and in the advance into Rome.

As described in chapter 7, “Disbandment in Southern France”, by June 1944 even the American officer commanding the FSSF was requesting it be reorganized as a normal infantry regiment. He seems “to have finally given up hope that the Force might be employed in a role similar to the one for which it had originally been organized and trained” (p.160). Nonetheless, in August 1944 the FSSF was landed in Southern France as part of Operation DRAGOON. Earlier that month, Canadian military authorities made it clear there would be no more Canadian reinforcements for its portion of the FSSF. Requirements in Italy and North West Europe were making infantry reinforcements a scarce commodity, and none were going to be provided for the 1st Canadian Special Service Battalion. The Americans, meanwhile, had thought the matter over, and General Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander, ordered the FSSF to be disbanded. That action was carried out on December 5, 1944.

Wood concludes:

From the Winter Line to the Mussolini Canal, Artena and Rome, the Force had established an enviable combat record – and did so despite the many difficulties encountered along the way. The problems had been of an administrative nature, particularly in regard to planning and communication, between the nations involved. They should not, and have not, overshadowed the achievement of the Canadian and American soldiers who carried on in the field regardless of the events at headquarters. (p.185)

This is an interesting work on the administrative/political/structural side of the story of the Canadian contribution to the First Special Service Force. The author’s claims to structural difficulties undermining the FSSF seem quite strong, and provide an interesting take on the subject.

14 March 2007

Further material on my military remains story

My thanks to Damian at The Torch for expanding on the story of the ongoing identification of Canadian military remains that I noted in the Cannon's Mouth a couple of weeks ago. The Torch is a very interesting group blog on the Canadian military - not too much historical content, mostly current affairs, but all interesting for Canadian military historians nonetheless.

12 March 2007

Military History Speaker Series at Laurier Centre

Mike Bechthold at The Laurier Centre for Military Strategic and Disarmament Studies, Wilfried Laurier University, has sent me the dates and titles for the Military History Speaker Series for Winter 2007, sponsored by the centre and the Department of History, University of Waterloo. The first is Colonel Mike Capstick (ret'd), speaking on "Canada and Afghanistan: A Military Perspective", on Thursday, 1 February 2007, at 4.00 p.m., in Room NC104, Wilfrid Laurier University, Northdale Campus.

The next speaker is Terry Copp, Wilfried Laurier University, speaking on "Dieppe: An Interactive Decision-Making Exercise", on Thursday, 8 February 2007 at 7.00 p.m., in Room 1015, of the Centre for Environmental and Information Technology, University of Waterloo.

The third speaker is James Wood, Wilfrid Laurier University, speaking on "The Devil's Brigade: First Special Service Force in Italy, 1943-1944", on Thursday, 1 March 2007, at 7.00 p.m., in the same location as Copp's presentation.
UPDATE: This presentation has been moved in date and location to Wednesday, 21 March 2007, at 7.00 p.m., at Wilfrid Laurier University, Science Building, Room N1044.

Admission for all of the presentations is free.

08 March 2007

Call for papers for UVic Military Oral History Conference

The History Department at the University of Victoria has issued a call for papers for its Military Oral History Conference to be held from 21 to 23 February 2008. As the press release notes:

"The intention of the conference is to bring together senior undergraduate and graduate students, academics and veterans working in a variety of fields in military history in order to foster discussion in a multidisciplinary environment. Papers addressing all facets of military history which rely heavily upon oral history will be considered. This includes, but is not limited to, the writing of popular military history, official history, operational history, military families and the home front, First Nations, Military Medicine, records management and archival preservation. Proposals are welcome from all scholars, but senior undergraduate and graduate students are especially encouraged to submit. We also encourage submissions from community scholars, independent scholars, archivists and librarians working in the field. We encourage a broad interpretation of the conference theme from a variety of fields and backgrounds. Panel submissions will be considered. Possibilities include, but are not limited to: Memory - Historiography and Historical Theory - Military History - Cultural Records Management / Archives - Popular Military History - Aboriginal - Military Families - Military Medicine. Proposals should not exceed 250 words and should be accompanied by a short biographical sketch. The proposal must outline how it fits with the conference theme i.e., military oral history. The deadline for submissions is 15 November 2007."

The organizers also note that student subsidies, to help lower travel costs to the conference, are available. Proposals should be submitted to Dr. Shawn Cafferky, Department of History, University of Victoria, PO Box 3045, Victoria, BC, V8W 3P4 or by e-mail to shawncaf@uvic.ca. For further information, contact Dr. Cafferky (telephone 250-721-7287) or Dr. David Zimmermann at dzimmerm@uvic.ca or 250-721-7399.

07 March 2007

Call for session partners for French Indochina war conference

Dr. Magali Deleuze (deleuze-m@rmc.ca), Département d'histoire / Department of History, at Le Collège militaire royal du Canada / The Royal Military College of Canada has issued the following:

"J’aimerais organiser une session sur « La guerre d’Indochine (1945-1954) et le monde » à la conférence de l’ESSHC (à Lisbonne, Portugal en mars 2008, http://www.iisg.nl/esshc ). Je proposerai une communication sur le Canada, le Québec et la guerre d’Indochine (les réactions du gouvernement et de la population). [...] Date limite pour soumettre des projets : 20 Mars 2007" / "I would like to organize a session on 'The French Indochina War (1945-1954) and the World' at the ESSHC [European Social Science History Conference] conference (Lisbon, Portugal, March 2008, www.issg.nl/esshc). I will propose a paper on 'Canada, Quebec and the French Indochina War (government and people's reactions)'. Interested? [...] Deadline to propose session or paper: 20 March 2007."

06 March 2007

Preliminary Programme for 2007 CHA Conference

The Canadian Historical Association has posted the preliminary programme for its 86th Annual Meeting, scheduled for 28-30 May 2007 at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. The programme's Canadian military history-related content includes the following presentations:
  • Claire Campbell, "Hinge of a Nation or Bone of Contention: The Battle over Reconstructing Old Fort William";
  • Lyle Dick, "Sergeant Masumi Mitsui and the Japanest Canadian War Memorial: Intersections of National, Cultural, and Personal Memory";
  • Sarah Glassford, "'...a great privilege to serve the Empire': Female Imperialism and the Canadian Red Cross during the Boer War";
  • Robert J. Harding, "Myth, Memory, and Applicability: Newfoundland's Cultural Memory of the Attack at Beaumont Hamel, 1916-1945";
  • P. Whitney Lackenbauer, "The Canadian Rangers and Northern Security: A Living History";
  • John S. Long, "Private Fred Moore: A Cree in the Royal Canadian [Army] Service Corps during World War Two";
  • Chris Madsen, "From Paardeberg to Liliefontein: Major-General Smith-Dorrien and the Canadians in South Africa";
  • Keith Mercer, "On the Impress Service: The History of Guard Boats in St. John's, Newfoundland, 1775-1815";
  • James M. Pitsula, "Manly Heroes: The University of Saskatchewan and World War I";
  • Myra Rutherdale, "DEW Line Doctors and Alaska Highway Nurses: Medical Encounters in Canadian Arctic Communities, 1945-70";
  • Amy Shaw, "Reluctant Rebels: Masculinity and Conscientious Objection in the First World War"; and
  • Nathan Smith, "'We say to you men of Toronto': Great War Veterans Propaganda in 1917 Toronto".

03 March 2007

Identifying Canadian Military Remains

The study of military, and the uses of it, for that matter apply in a lot of different circumstances. Personally, I have been exposed to that in the past while in one particular area of my work life. Yesterday, the Department of National Defence issued a news release which I will copy and paste here:

"News Release

Remains of First World War Soldier Identified

NR–07.010 - March 2, 2007

OTTAWA – Almost 90 years after his death, Private Herbert Peterson will be laid to rest with his comrades in arms at La Chaudière Military Cemetery (Commonwealth War Graves Commission) during ceremonies in France in April 2007 to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

During a night raid on June 8th and 9th, 1917, 16 members of the 49th Battalion, Canadian Infantry, were reported missing and presumed dead on the German front near Vimy Ridge.

In October 2003, two sets of human remains were found during construction south of Avion, France in the vicinity of Vimy Ridge. Due to their location, associated artifacts and uniform buttons and badges, they were believed to be members of that same battalion.

The Directorate of History and Heritage, as part of their responsibilities regarding casualties and war dead of previous conflicts, is conducting a comprehensive investigation of the circumstances of the death of these two soldiers. A multi-disciplinary team with historical, documentary, forensic and genealogical expertise has successfully identified one of the two soldiers – Private Herbert Peterson. Efforts to identify the second soldier whose remains were found with those of Private Peterson are ongoing.

Private Peterson came from Barry Creek, Alberta. Born February 28th, 1895, Private Peterson was the son of Charles and Julia Peterson of Rose Lynn, Alberta. He had five brothers, Gustave, Glen, Clarence, Roland and Carl.

Private Peterson’s next-of-kin have been notified of the recovery and identification of his remains, and the plans for his interment.

The 49th Battalion is perpetuated by the Loyal Edmonton Regiment and soldiers from this unit will form the core of the burial party for Private Peterson.


I am incredibly fortunate to be the historian involved in this case. Some days I think I'm turning into a forensic historian, if such a description is viable in our community. It has been a difficult and immensely rewarding task so far, but, as is noted in the release, the work's not over as the second soldier is still in the process of being identified.

02 March 2007

Latest issue of Canadian Military History

I just received my copy of the latest issue of Canadian Military History, vol.16, no.1 (Winter 2007). As usual, this publication is packed full of interesting material, this issue containing articles from the following: Galen Roger Perras, "Aleutian Allusions: Mackenzie King's Diary and the Invasion of Kiska in 1943"; Teresa Iacobelli, "Arbitrary Justice?: A Comparative Analysis of Canadian Death Sentences Passed and Commuted during the First World War"; Tim Cook and Natascha Morrison, "Longing and Loss from Canada's Great War"; Angus Brown, "Oral History at the Canadian War Museum"; and Terry Copp, "21st Army Group in Normandy: Towards a New Balance Sheet".

01 March 2007

Two new books from Vanwell Publishing

Vanwell Publishing has published two new books on Canadian military history of note. A Blue Water Navy: The Official Operational History of the Royal Canadian Navy in the Second World War, 1943-1945, Volume II, Part II, authored by WAB Douglas, Roger Sarty, Michael Whitby, etc., is the second installment in the official history of the Royal Canadian Navy series produced by the Department of National Defence. Vanwell notes: "Based on extensive research, Blue Water Navy follows the RCN's path to victory from 1943 to 1945 as Canadian warships engage the enemy across the globe in the Atlantic, Arctic and Pacific Oceans, covering: the Allies' North Atlantic triumph over the German submarine army; the RCN's combined operations role in Dieppe, Africa and Sicily; the procurement of large fleet destroyers and their operations; culmination of the RCN's overseas buildup with Operation Neptune; multi-function capabilities from MTBs, minesweeping and anti-submarine activity; acquisition of cruisers and Canadian manned escort carriers." The second book, Anthony Stachiw's Canadian CF104 Starfighter is the fourth instalment of the In Canadian Service series and "examines the acquisition and operational role of the Canadian built version of the F-104G Starfighter in Canadian service. The Starfighter would serve with eight squadrons in the Air Division in Europe, six of which were tasked with the tactical nuclear strike role, with the remaining performing photo reconnaissance duties."