Monday, November 18, 2013

Recommended Reading: The Canadians at War 1939/45

I started reading the first book of a two-volume set before Remembrance Day and will likely have my nose deep into this Reader's Digest offering (c 1969) well into December. I know, now 60 per cent finished Volume 1, the trip back in time will be worth the full effort.  Just the chapter re the Dieppe raid, August, 1942 - a very Canadian venture (of 6,500 Allied troops over 5,000 were from Canada) that ended in near disaster - rewards anyone's search for these rare books.

["My son found these in London, $15 for set"]

My interest in WW2 books is both personal and academic: My father was a member of the RCN Volunteer Reserve (Leading Seaman Coxswain and volunteer in Combined Operations) from 1941 - 45, and I would like to know more about 'where he was and when', and I'd like to learn more about how WW2 affected our course as a nation (and affects, to this day).

On a personal note, I read in my father's navy memoirs that he missed Dieppe by one day. From his vantage point on the southern coast of England, he saw the ships and barges destined for Dieppe fill with troops and supplies and then disembark.

About the tragic day he writes:

     I wasn't there because I was on leave but came back
     early (because, though I didn't know where, I knew there
     was a raid coming) and was in a position to see the Duke
     of Wellington carrying barges, my oppo and other buddies
     to Dieppe and certain death for the soldiers. There was a
     mishap before they even got to sea, i.e., soldiers were ready-
     ing hand grenades and one somehow exploded and four were
     killed and many injured. It was an ill omen.
     [pg.21, "Dad, Well Done"]

And he saw them return the next day:

["Dieppe troops transferring from battered barges to
jammed destroyer": pg. 194-5, Canadians at War

     I lost my first comrades at Dieppe. Others were wounded.
     O/S Kavanaugh - killed. O/S Jack McKenna - killed. A/B
     Lloyd Campbell, London, Ontario died of wounds after his
     legs were nearly cut off by machine gun fire. Imagine Higgins
     boats made of 3/4 inch plywood going in on a beach like that.

     Lieutenant McRae, our commander, Stoker Brown, and
     others I don't recall were taken prisoner. And lots of people
     don't even know Canada's navy was represented at Dieppe.
     [Note - my father wrote the last comment in 1974. The Navy's
     effort may be better known today.] I was on leave at Calshot
     Camp in Southampton at the time, but was asked to go and
     clean up ALCs as they struggled back from Dieppe. I absol-
     utely refused. I was so incensed I also refused to go to church
     there. I went to the door but never went in. Nothing became
     of my refusals. In fact, I went through the war without one
     mark against my record.

["The bottom (of the boat) was covered with soldiers.
Everyone who had tried to leave... had been cut down":
Canadian correspondent Ross Munro. Photo pg. 181, Ibid]  

That day, along with only a smattering of returned troops and shocked war correspondents, my father could well imagine a Higgins boat being torn apart, and the return of many battered Assault Landing Crafts (ALCs) with fewer occupants - some his close comrades - than when they set out the night before. In later years I'm certain he could remember even a longer list of grisly events, but mixed within were memories of happier times, important times. However, whether he ever saw any useful purpose associated with the Dieppe raid is unlikely.

["Did the Dieppe raid lead to German mistakes in the future?"]

Make plans soon for a tramp through a few good 'used' book stores. Relive our significant (and Canadian) past.

Photos by GH 


You can borrow my set but I'll need to keep your car keys until returned.

Please click here for more Recommended Reading, i.e., Ballantine's Illustrated series

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