31 December 2007

Latest issue of The Northern Mariner

Vol. xvi, no. 4 (October 2007) of The Northern Mariner is out and contains the following items of interest to Canadian military history:

James Pritchard, "Fifty-Six Minesweepers and the Toronto Shipbuilding Company during the Second World War";

Jan Drent (review essay), "Civil-Military Relations and Canada's 'Citizen' Navy (Richard Mayne, Betrayed: Scandal, Politics, and Canadian Naval Leadership)"; and

book reviews of Donald R. Hickey's Don't Give up the Ship!: Myths of the War of 1812 (as well as reviews of numerous non-Canadian naval history books).

29 December 2007

Western Front Association Pacific Coast Branch's AGM and Seminar

This past week Peter Broznitsky announced on the Canadian Expeditionary Force Study Group the programme for the the Western Front Association Pacific Coast Branch's Annual General Meeting and Seminar, 7-9 March 2008, to be held at the Officers' Mess, The Canadian Scottish Regiment (Princess Mary's), Bay Street Armoury, Victoria, British Columbia.

The programme begins with a social function at the mess, before proceeding to the annual general meeting. Papers on Canadian military history (there are also several non-Canadian subject lectures) to be presented include: Peter Broznitsky's "Forestry, Pioneer, and Railway Troops in the C.E.F." and Yvonne van Ruskenveld's "Canadian Women on Active Service in the Great War". In addition, the keynote speaker is Norman Leach, who will speak on "The Making of 'Passchendaele': The Movie". There will also be a mess dinner, a silent auction, and other opportunities for discussion.

27 December 2007

New books (December) at Library and Archives Canada

Library and Archives Canada has released its new books list for December 2007. The list includes the following items of interest (including some that had not yet been released for sale) with respect to Canadian military history:

Leonard J. Gamble, So Far from Home: The Story of Armstrong's Fallen in the Great War, 1914-1919 (Armstrong, BC: LJ Gamble Pub., 2008);

Bernd Horn, Establishing a Legacy: The History of The Royal Canadian Regiment, 1881-1953 (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2008);

Andrew Iarocci, Shoestring Soldiers: The 1st Canadian Division at War, 1914-15 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008);

Mac Johnston, Corvettes Canada: Convoy Veterans of World War II tell their True Stories (Mississauga, ON: J. Wiley and Sons Canada, 2008);

George Burdon McKean, Scouting Thrills: The Memoir of a Scout Officer in the Great War, 2nd rev. ed. [1919] (Ottawa: CEF Books, 2007); and

Francis M. Wafer, A Surgeon in the Army of the Potomac, ed. by Cheryl A. Wells (Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2008).

Book launch for new biography of General HDG Crerar

The University of Toronto Press will be conducting a book launch for Paul Douglas Dickson's much awaited A Thoroughly Canadian General: A Biography of General H.D.G. Crerar on Thursday, 25 October, at Nicholas Hoare Books, 419 Sussex Street, in Ottawa, Ontario. Attendees are asked to RSVP to awilson@utpress.utoronto.ca.

The catalogue entry for the book notes:

General H.D.G. 'Harry' Crerar (1888-1965) was involved in or directly responsible for many of the defining moments of Canadian military history in the twentieth century. In the First World War, Crerar was nearly killed at the second battle of Ypres, was a gunner who helped to secure victory at Vimy Ridge, and was a senior staff officer during the pivotal battles of the last Hundred Days. During the Second World War, he occupied and often defined the Canadian army's senior staff and operational appointments, including his tenure as commander of First Canadian Army through the northwest European campaign.

Despite his pivotal role in shaping the Canadian army, however, General Crerar has been long overlooked as a subject of biography. In A Thoroughly Canadian General, Paul Douglas Dickson examines the man and his controversial place in Canadian military history, arguing that Crerar was a nationalist who saw the army as an instrument to promote Canadian identity and civic responsibility. From his days as a student at the Royal Military College in Kingston, to his role as primary architect of First Canadian Army, the career of General H.D.G. Crerar is thoroughly examined with a view to considering and reinforcing his place in the history of Canada and its armed forces."
Henry Roper, with The Chronicle Herald (Halifax), has published a review in that paper of Dickson's biography of Crerar.

21 December 2007

Book Review of Eric McGeer's Words of Valediction and Remembrance

This review, my latest of a recent Vanwell Publishing Limited release, is of Eric McGeer's Words of Valediction and Remembrance: Canadian Epitaphs of the Second World War (Vanwell, 2008). When I first thought about writing this review I wasn't at all sure what to say about this book. I'm still not. An interesting subject. Well-researched. Organized in a difficult fashion.

Eric McGeer, a history and Latin teacher in Toronto, Ontario, has most definitely put his heart into this book, and it shows. This is, above all else, a labour of love and a definite tribute to the possibilities of material history - a form of public history still underutilized in Canada, particularly in the study of Canadian military history.

Words of Valediction and Remembrance deals with the text found on Canadian military headstones of the Second World War - in particular the bottom few lines where family were given room by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to record their own statements of fact, emotion, and memory. A visit by the author to Normandy in 1998 led to his reading these epitaphs:
It struck me that in their abundance and diversity these individual expressions of sorrow and consolation, touching, heartfelt, and permanent, spoke more poignantly than any memorial for the burden of loss borne by thousands of parents, wives, and children for the rest of their lives.
McGeer explains that the intention of the book is to provide the reader with "a meaningful testimonial to the efforts and sacrifice of an earlier generation". Not only does it reflect the losses suffered by the individual themselves, but also those of the family left behind. To do this the author has gathered as many examples as possible - although not too many in his opinion - from cemeteries well-known and obscure throughout the various Canadian theatres of the Second World War.

Most of the chapters in the book revolve around a particular theme. He begins by discussing Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery in France as an introduction to the subject and its general place in the Canadian wartime experience. It is here that the reader gets some of the details about the typical headstone - the types of information contained, the order of information, and the fact that up to sixty-six characters were permitted for "a personal inscription" - the epitaph. Throughout the chapter, and every subsequent chapter, are examples of epitaphs supporting particular areas of discussion. Some are formulaic, others heartfelt, others absolutely distraught (for the family and the reader).

McGeer then moves on to Dieppe Canadian War Cemetery in France - from "up" to "down" emotionally - and the haunting memory which the wartime operation still leaves and which the cemetery can only reinforce. Then comes Calais Canadian War Cemetery in France as the centrepiece of a discussion on the influence of the epitaphs and memory of the First World War on the Second World War inscriptions. If nothing else, and there is much else to digest in the chapter, it is - as the author points out - a reminder that for the soldiers and families the losses of the First and Second World Wars were only a matter of a few years apart.

Holten Canadian War Cemetery in the Netherlands provides the core for the discussion of the connections of wartime epitaphs with themes brought forward throughout Western civilization from the time of antiquity. The losses suffered by the members of the Royal Canadian Air Force are introduced by Hanover War Cemetery, in Germany, a reminder that although First World War Canadian headstones are (statistically) almost entirely army-related, in the Second World War the air force shared the staggering losses suffered by the army. Here, and elsewhere throughout the war graves system, the badge of the Royal Canadian Air Force lies alongside airmen from throughout the Commonwealth.

Adegem Canadian War Cemetery in Belgium provides the scene for a discussion of professions of loyalty - to Canada, to the empire, to each other - as a theme of epitaphs. Next comes a chapter simply listing epitaphs in chronological order, an attempt "to replicate a visit to any given war cemetery."

A discussion of epitaphs specific to French-Canadians, with Gradara War Cemetery in Italy as the base, is next, the author's goal to show the themes - both common and different from other Canadians - found in French-Canadian inscriptions. Next comes Cassino War Cemetery in Italy as a similar discussion of Canadian ethnic minorities - epitaphs which come in a multitude of languages and alphabets and reflect common and some unique themes. Agira Canadian War Cemetery in Sicily likewise sets the stage for Jewish-Canadians and the epitaphs provided by their families.

Finally, McGeer returns to Normandy in the form of Bretteville-sur-Laize Cemetery, as he completes the loop and provides closure to the subject.

As I said at the very beginning of this review, I'm not sure what to say about this book. I think it is definitely a worthy and important subject. Yet, I'm not certain this was the best way to deal with it. Sometimes, I found there to be a conflict - as a reader - between my emotional reaction to the epitaphs and the analytical work which McGeer was trying to undertake. It's hard to read with your heart and your mind at the same time.

Sometimes, I was simply overwhelmed with the number of epitaphs quoted.

Most of all, however, I think had the hardest time with the organization of the book. In short, I'm not sure tying a theme to a particular cemetery worked all that well. It might, in my opinion, have been better to allow the themes to dominate, with the particular locations being less prominent. I realize that doing that would have defeated the purpose of encouraging notice of particular cemeteries in the first place. I don't have the answer. All I know is that this might be part of the difficulty in trying to marry up "commemoration" (emotional) with "memory studies" (analytical) - a combination which lays at the foundation of this book.

Regardless of this - and maybe I'm the only reader having a hard time taking it all in - McGeer writes that his "main purpose in writing this book has been to inspire Canadians travelling abroad to visit the war cemeteries where their forebears lie at rest and to look with renewed interest at the story that the monuments and epitaphs combine to tell."

Words of Valediction and Remembrance absolutely fulfils that purpose.

20 December 2007

University of Toronto Press catalogue for Spring Summer 2008

The Spring Summer 2008 catalogue for the University of Toronto Press is out and contains a couple of items with respect to Canadian military history:

Deborah Cowan, Military Workfare: The Soldier and Social Citizenship in Canada (to be published 18 April 2008) [I'm not sure how much this qualifies as military history without seeing it]; and

Andrew Iarocci, Shoestring Soldiers: The 1st Canadian Division at War, 1914-1915 (to be published 29 June 2008).

17 December 2007

Latest issue of The International History Review

The latest issue (vol.29, no.4, December 2007) of The International History Review contains a couple of book reviews for publications in Canadian military history:

Robert B. Bryce, Canada and the Cost of World War II: The International Operations of Canada's Department of Finance, 1939-1947 (Montreal, 2005); and

Mélanie Morin-Pelletier, Briser les ailes de l'ange : Les infirmières militaires canadiennes (1914-1918) (Outremont, QC, 2006).

15 December 2007

Two new(ish) books on the Royal Canadian Air Force

I recently ran across a web article on the Air Command website entitled "One's a mystery, one's a miracle" discussing two recent publications in the history of the Royal Canadian Air Force. The first book, Lost in War: The Brave Life and Mysterious Death of a Canadian Airman, by James T. Watt (Orillia, ON: Troutspawn Pub., 2006), deals with the career of Sergeant Henrik Guttormson, killed in action on 5 March 1945. The second book, Gold Medal "Misfits": How the Unwanted 1948 Flyers Scored Olympic Glory, by Pat MacAdam (Ancaster, ON: Manor House Pub., 2007), tells the story of the 1948 Gold-medal winning RCAF hockey team.

12 December 2007

McGill-Queen's University Press Spring 2008 catalogue

The Spring 2008 catalogue for McGill-Queen's University Press is out and contains a couple of items of interest for Canadian military history:

Stephen Brumwell, Paths of Glory: The Life and Death of General James Wolfe; and

Francis M. Wafer, A Surgeon in the Army of the Potomac, Ed. by Cheryl A. Wells [Wafer was a Canadian].

08 December 2007

West Point Summer Seminar in Military History

Prof. Mark Grimsley, over at the Blog Them Out of the Stone Age military history blog, has posted on the West Point Summer Seminar in Military History for 2008. This seminar, scheduled for 4 to 25 June 2008 at West Point, is "designed to help scholars increase their understanding of the study of war and military history." Although primarily directed in terms of content towards the American audience, the seminar's organizers definitely encourage applicants from around the world. The goal of the seminar is to advance "the field of academic military history by educating and training educators in the field of Western military history. Upon completion of the seminar, fellows are prepared to return to their home institutions and develop or enhance a program in the study of military history." Targeted at both faculty and advanced graduate students, the seminar combines lectures, seminars, and staff rides. Further details and an application form can be found on the seminar's web page.

04 December 2007

Latest issue of Canadian Military History

The Autumn 2007 issue (vol. 16, no. 4) of Canadian Military History is out and contains lots of material of interest to students of Canadian military history from the War of 1812 to present, including:

Wesley M. Alkenbrack's "First Deployment of the 14th Field Regiment, RCA: D-Day - Bernières-sur-Mer - 6 June 1944";

Tony Balasevicius and Greg Smith's "Fighting the Mujahideen: Lessons from the Soviet Counter-Insurgency Experience in Afghanistan";

Laura Brandon's "A War Artist's Legacy: Patrick G. Cowley-Brown (1918-2007);

John R. Grodzinski's "'Bloody Provost': Discipline during the War of 1812";

Bernd Horn and Bill Bentley's "The Road to Transformation: Ascending from the Decade of Darkness";

Andrew Iarocci's "Close Fire Support: Sexton Self-Propelled Guns of the 23rd Field Regiment, 1942-1945";

Marc Milner's "The Guns of Bretteville: 13th Field Regiment, RCA, and the Defence of Bretteville-l'Orgueilleuse, 7-10 June 1944";

and my own "The Commonwealth War Graves Commission's 'Debt of Honour Register'", the first in a series of short pieces on electronic resources with respect to Canadian military history.