26 September 2007

Latest issue of Canadian Military History

The good folks at the Laurier Centre for Military Strategic and Disarmament Studies have published volume 16, number 3 (Summer 2007) of Canadian Military History. As per usual, the journal is packed full of interesting material on various subjects on Canadian military history, including the following articles:

Andrew Burtch, "Afghanistan: A Glimpse of War - Contemporary History at the Canadian War Museum";

G.C. Case, "Trial by Fire: Major-General Christopher Vokes at the Battles of the Moro River and Ortona, December 1943";

Mark Davidson, "Preparing for the Bomb: The Development of Civil Defence Policy in Canada, 1948-1963";

Bruno Friesen, "Kamerad, tritt ein!: German Trench Culture - An aspect of the Human side of the First World War";

Mark Osborne Humphries, John Maker and Wilhelm J. Kiesselbach, "The First Use of Poison Gas at Ypres: A Translation from the German Official History";

Richard O. Mayne, "The Great Naval Battle of North Point: Myth or Reality?";

as well as a piece from W.A.B. Douglas on the late Sydney F. (Syd) Wise.

24 September 2007

NFB's Images of a Forgotten War

I found this website a while back, but just hadn't got around to blogging about it. Unlike my usual posts, this one deals with a primary resource of Canadian military history - "Images of a Forgotten War" / Images d'une guerre oubliée of the National Film Board of Canada / Office national du film du Canada. As the website notes: "Films of the Canadian Expeditionary Force in the Great War - Discover this unique and rich collection of more than 120 archival films, 65 of which have just been added, accompanied by photos, historical essays by noted Canadian experts and a range of teaching materials / Films sur le rôle du Corps expéditionnaire canadien dans la Grande guerre : Venez consulter cette collection unique, riche de plus de 120 films d'archives, dont 65 ajoutés tout récemment, accompagnés de photos, de textes d'historiens réputés et de matériel pédagogique."

The site uses a built in video viewer to play the clips. A search function allows for textual searches, or the collection can be browsed according to a few menu selections. The coverage of these clips is fascinating, witnessing a wide range of the existence of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. The website also contains an extensive and impressive bibliography on the history of the CEF.

20 September 2007

Book review of George A. Reid's Speed's War

My latest book review is of George A. Reid's Speed's War: A Canadian Soldier's Memoir of World War II (Royston, BC, 2007). My thanks to Margaret Cadwaladr at Madrona Books & Publishing in Royston, British Columbia, for sending me a review copy.

Speed's War (the author's nickname was Speed) is George Reid's memoirs of his service during the Second World War as a member of The Seaforth Highlanders of Canada. Essentially, this book can be broken down into two parts: (1) his service with the regiment, especially the fighting in Sicily and Italy, and (2) his time as a prisoner of war. The balance of the book is definitely slanted towards the latter period, which is all the better in the sense that there are several memoirs of Canadian soldiers serving in the Italian campaign, but not that many devoted to life as a prisoner of war (unlike the plethora of such publications coming out of the First World War).

The author provides a humble preface to this book, text which lays out the intent and limitations of the narrative that follows:
"I don't mean to try to make a hero of myself in this short narrative of my experiences while in Sicily, Italy and eight POW camps. Many men did much more and gave much more. A lot would not have the thrill of coming home to family and friends, and seeing the changes in the hometown and country and the world that they fought and died for. This is not a thriller or a tall tale. This is a record of my own experiences during World War II. I recorded these memories several years after the end of the war and reconstructed dialogue as accurately as possible. Although some names and details are hazy, I recall the events vividly."
Reid begins his memoirs with three chapters on his military service - enlistment, training, and operations. He quickly displays a simple, down-to-earth style in his writing and is willing to voice his opinion of his experiences, for example, admitting that he had initially tried to join the Royal Canadian Navy, only to end up in the Canadian Army instead. Reid provides some very interesting observations concerning the climate, living conditions, and enemy in the Italian campaign. At one point in the campaign in Sicily he writes:
"The smell of burnt bodies or just dead bodies, you never forget. Even if the towns or villages weren't bombed or shelled, you could smell them long before you saw them. At first it was the urine. We blamed the donkeys. Later it was the stench of dead and bloated bodies along with the urine from the animals. To this day, when I watch fighting on the television in areas of unrest in the world, the smells come back to me."
Such passages go a long way to helping place the reader at the scene and provide an appreciation for some of the little things which a military veteran can never quite let go of, even sixty years after the fact. He also displays an ability, legitimately, to "name drop", describing his encounters with Smokey Smith, long before Smith went on to fame as a recipient of the Victoria Cross.

The next eight chapters deal with Reid's capture by the German Army in October 1943, his incarceration as a prisoner of war, and his eventual escape from captivity in April 1945. Again, much of this deals with his struggle with living conditions - food, clothing, and his health (in particular, recurring bouts of malaria contracted in Italy). These chapters provide him further opportunities to pass on his opinions of his fellow Canadians, but more often of other nationalities encountered along his travels - Germans, British, Australians, Russians, and Americans - guards, civilian supervisors, fellow prisoners, and fighting troops. However, the most interesting aspect of these chapters is the view inside camp life for at least one Canadian prisoner of war. All kinds of stories are resurrected - everything from officer/men relations to intriguing food combinations to the work routine to the awarding of the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal.

On occasion the text lacks names and dates which would make the going easier, but Reid began the book by noting that memory fades. The reader was warned. The major downside of this work, however, is its length. It's short - ringing it at 95 pages - and would probably be deemed a novella if it were fiction. That said, this is probably all the author wanted - or was willing - to say about his experiences. If he, or an editor, were to flush it out any further it would have undoubtedly detracted from what was written. And that would have been unfortunate, as this is a very readable and quite interesting book from a proud Canadian veteran with some distinctive stories to tell.

I'm not sure how widely available this book is to purchase, but Madrona Books can be contacted by phone at (250) 897-3256, by fax at (250) 897-3286, or by e-mail at cadwaladr@shaw.ca.

13 September 2007

Items from the McGill-Queen's University Press Spring and Fall 2007 catalogues

I'm a little behind in checking in on some of the more prolific university press catalogues for new pubs in Canadian military history. The McGill-Queen's University Press catalogues for Spring and Fall 2007 announce a couple of items:

Brumwell, Stephen, Paths of Glory: The Life and Death of General James Wolfe (February 2007); and

Jockel, Joseph T., Canada in NORAD, 1957-2007: A History (July 2007).

as well as paperback editions of Brent Byron Watson, Far Eastern Tour: The Canadian Infantry in Korea, 1950-1953 and G.W.L. Nicholson, The Fighting Newfoundlander.

10 September 2007

Latest issue of the War of 1812 Magazine

Issue No. 7 of the War of 1812 Magazine has been published. Amongst the previewed content are the following articles: John R. Grodzinski, "Much to be Desired: The Campaign Experience of British Generals in the War of 1812"; Donald R. Hickey, "The Top 25 Books on the War of 1812"; and Commander Tyrone G. Martin, "'Old Ironsides' on the Lakes", as well as other material.

06 September 2007

New book on Eastern Ontario Military History

I received a flyer recently advertising the release of a new two-volume publication from Coreen Atkins titled In Our Defense: The Veterans and Military Heritage of Historic Osgoode Township. For more information or to purchase copies contact the author at PO Box 185, Vernon, ON, K0A 3J0, by phone at (613) 821-3950, or by e-mail at dwnszprd@hotmail.com.

04 September 2007

MA Theses and PhD Dissertations - Part 5

As previously, Renald Fortier, Curator of Aviation History at the Canada Aviation Museum in Ottawa, has again kindly sent me a list of Canadian military history MA theses and PhD dissertations for my ongoing list. As usual, many thanks to Renald and, also unfortunately, sorry for the delay in posting these! The material is as follows:

Brown, Phyllis A., "Battle of the North Atlantic", MA thesis, Queens' College, 1988;

Dumbrell, Seanna L., "Canada and Cruise Missile Testing: The Limits of Interest Group Influence", MA thesis, Dalhousie University, 1988;

Hooker, Martha Ann, "In Defence of Unity: Canada's Military Policies, 1935-1944", MA thesis, Carleton University, 1986;

Lennox, Toby Charles Douglas, "Pressure Groups and Canadian Security Policy: The Case of the SDI and NORAD Decisions", MA thesis, Dalhousie University, 1986; and

Murphy, Terrence Joseph, "Canadian National Interest and NATO, 1968-1976: The Death and Resurrection of Canada's European Commitment", MA thesis, Queen's University, 1986.