New stories of war and military history are still being told. On the occasion of Remembrance Day, we're sharing these 14 recent books approaching war and remembrance from a variety of perspectives.
A Mohawk Memoir from the War of 1812: John Norton - Teyoninhokarawen, edited by Carl Benn
A Mohawk Memoir from the War of 1812 presents the story of John Norton, or Teyoninhokarawen, an important war chief and political figure among the Grand River Haudenosaunee (or Iroquois) in Upper Canada. Norton saw more action during the conflict than almost anyone else, being present at the fall of Detroit, the capture of Fort Niagara, the battles of Queenston Heights, Fort George, Stoney Creek, Chippawa, and Lundy’s Lane, the blockades of Fort George and Fort Erie, as well as a large number of skirmishes and front-line patrols. His memoir describes the fighting, the stresses suffered by indigenous peoples, and the complex relationships between the Haudenosaunee and both their British allies and other First Nations communities.
Norton’s words, written in 1815 and 1816, provide nearly one-third of the book’s content, with the remainder consisting of Carl Benn’s introductions and annotations, which enable readers to understand Norton’s fascinating autobiography within its historical contexts. With the assistance of modern scholarship, A Mohawk Memoir presents an exceptional opportunity to explore the War of 1812 and native-newcomer issues through Teyoninhokarawen’s Mohawk perspectives from a period that produced few Indigenous autobiographies, of which Norton’s is the most extensive, engaging, and reliable.
Harry Livingstone was a small town doctor from Listowel, Ontario when he felt the pull of patriotism that led him to volunteer in the First World War. In 1917, Livingstone found himself embarking on a strange journey that took him to China, where he would inspect, and ultimately travel back to Canada with, men who became known as the Chinese Labour Corps.
Once in Canada, the Chinese under Livingstone's care travelled across Canada in secret trains bound for Halifax. All news about the trains and the men was censored. On board crowded ships, the men crossed the U-boat-infested Atlantic. They were then put to work to keep the war machine in motion—digging trenches, hauling supplies, repairing military vehicles, and the grisly job of cleaning up the battlefields.
About 300,000 Chinese labourers were recruited by the British,French, and Russian allies during the First World War. Nearly 84,000 of them passed through Canada on their way to France.
Livingstone and other officers kept diaries and journals, and wrote letters home telling of their experiences with the Chinese. From these first-person accounts as well as historical records and from rare letters written by Chinese labourers themselves, author Dan Black offers for the first time a full account of Canadians and the Chinese Labour Corps—a story that had mostly been unknown until now.
There have been thousands of books on the Great War, but most have focused on commanders, battles, strategy, and tactics. Less attention has been paid to the daily lives of the combatants, how they endured the unimaginable conditions of industrial warfare: the rain of shells, bullets, and chemical agents. In The Secret History of Soldiers, Tim Cook, Canada's foremost military historian, examines how those who survived trench warfare on the Western Front found entertainment, solace, relief, and distraction from the relentless slaughter.
These tales come from the soldiers themselves, mined from the letters, diaries, memoirs, and oral accounts of more than five hundred combatants. Rare examples of trench art, postcards, and even song sheets offer insight into a hidden society that was often irreverent, raunchy, and anti-authoritarian. Believing in supernatural stories was another way soldiers shielded themselves from the horror. While novels and poetry often depict the soldiers of the Great War as mere victims, this new history shows how the soldiers pushed back against the grim war, refusing to be broken in the mincing machine of the Western Front.
The violence of war is always present, but Cook reveals the gallows humour the soldiers employed to get through it. Over the years, both writers and historians have overlooked this aspect of the men's lives. The fighting at the front was devastating, but behind the battle lines, another layer of life existed, one that included songs, skits, art, and soldier-produced newspapers.
With his trademark narrative abilities and an unerring eye for the telling human detail, Cook has created another landmark history of Canadian military life as he reveals the secrets of how soldiers survived the carnage of the Western Front.
Capturing Hill 70: Canada’s Forgotten Battle of the First World War, edited by Douglas E. Delaney & Serge Marc Durflinger
In August 1917, the Canadian Corps captured Hill 70, vital terrain just north of the French town of Lens. The Canadians suffered some 5,400 casualties and in three harrowing days defeated twenty-one German counterattacks. This spectacularly successful but shockingly costly battle was as innovative as Vimy, yet few Canadians have heard of it or of subsequent attempts to capture Lens, which resulted in nearly 3,300 more casualties. Capturing Hill 70 marks the centenary of this triumph by dissecting different facets of the battle, from planning and conducting operations to long-term repercussions and commemoration. It reinstates Hill 70 to its rightful place among the pantheon of battles that forged the reputation of the famed Canadian Corps during the First World War.
When Great Britain and its dominions declared war on Germany in August 1914, they were faced with the formidable challenge of transforming masses of untrained citizen-soldiers at home and abroad into competent, coordinated fighting divisions. The Empire on the Western Front focuses on the development of two units, Britain’s 62nd (2nd West Riding) Division and the Canadian 4th Division, to show how the British Expeditionary Force rose to this challenge. By turning the spotlight on army formation and operations at the divisional level, Jackson calls into question existing accounts that emphasize the differences between the imperial and dominion armies.
Duty to Dissent: Henri Bourassa and the First World War, by Geoff Keelan
During the First World War, Henri Bourassa – fierce Canadian nationalist, politician, and journalist from Quebec – took centre stage in the national debates on Canada’s participation in the war, its imperial ties to Britain, and Canada’s place in the world. In Duty to Dissent, Geoff Keelan draws upon Bourassa’s voluminous editorials in Le Devoir, the newspaper he founded in 1910, to trace Bourassa’s evolving perspective on the war’s meaning and consequences. What emerges is not a simplistic sketch of a local journalist engaged in national debates, as most English Canadians know him, but a fully rendered portrait of a Canadian looking out at the world.
Fighting with the Empire: Canada, Britain, and Global Conflict, 1867–1947, edited by Steve Marti & William John Pratt
Canadians often characterize their military history as a march toward nationhood, but in the first eighty years of Confederation they were fighting for the British Empire. War forced Canadians to re-examine their relationship to Britain and to one another. As French Canadians, Indigenous peoples, and those with roots in continental Europe and beyond mobilized for war, their participation challenged the imagined homogeneity of Canada as a British nation. Fighting with the Empire examines the paradox of a national contribution to an imperial war effort, finding middle ground between affirming the emergence of a nation through warfare and equating Canadian nationalism with British imperialism.
For Home and Empire is the first book to compare voluntary wartime mobilization on the Australian, Canadian, and New Zealand home fronts. Steve Marti shows that collective acts of patriotism strengthened communal bonds, while reinforcing class, race, and gender boundaries. Which jurisdiction should provide for a soldier’s wife if she moved from Hobart to northern Tasmania? Should Welsh women in Vancouver purchase comforts for hometown soldiers or Welsh ones? Should Maori enlist with a local or an Indigenous battalion? Such questions highlighted the diverging interests of local communities, the dominion governments, and the Empire. Marti applies a settler colonial framework to reveal the geographical and social divides that separated communities as they organized for war.
The Lion's Cub/ Le lionceau: Canada and the Great War/ Le Canada et la Grande Guerre, by Margaret MacMillan & Edward MacDonald
In The Lion’s Cub, her 2018 Symons Medal address, eminent Canadian historian Margaret MacMillan examines the impact of the First War World on Canadian Confederation. With her characteristic flair and gift for telling detail, Margaret MacMillan shows the paradox of Canada’s experience in the First World War. On the one hand, the Great War, as it was originally known, brought Canada closer to nationhood and gave many Canadians a greater sense of identity. On the other hand, the Great War also marked a time when Confederation was shaken and very nearly came apart. Its divisive impact continued to be felt throughout the twentieth century. And can still be felt today, in Canada’s national political life, and in the relationship between Quebec and the rest of the country.
Yet Canada survived, and continues to survive. And Margaret MacMillan concludes that this is the great strength of Confederation. The Lion’s Cub suggests Canada’s endurance should be recognized for the achievement it is. In a world where political boundaries are often as artificial as Canada’s, the ability of our “improbable country” to survive and prosper may be an example of hope for a wider world.
The Symons Medal is one of Canada’s most prestigious honours. It is presented annually by the Confederation Centre of the Arts to honour persons who have made an exceptional contribution to Canadian life.
The role of Canadian universities in selecting and training officers for the armed forces is an important yet overlooked chapter in the history of higher education in Canada. For more than fifty years, the University of Toronto supported the largest and most active contingent of the Canadian Officers Training Corps (COTC), which sent thousands of officer candidates into the regular and reserve forces.
Based on the rich fund of documents housed in the university archives, Varsity’s Soldiers offers the first full-length history of military training in Toronto. Beginning with the formation of a student rifle company in 1861, and focussing on the story of the COTC from 1914 to 1968, author Eric McGeer seeks to enlarge appreciation of the university’s remarkable contribution to the defence of Canada, the place of military education in an academic setting, and the experience of the students who embodied the ideal of service to alma mater and to country.
Centred around one of Canada’s most storied regiments, Seven Days in Hell tells the epic story of the men from the Black Watch during the bloody battle for Verrières Ridge, a dramatic saga that unfolded just weeks after one of Canada’s greatest military triumphs of the Second World War. O’Keefe takes us on a heart-pounding journey at the sharp end of combat during the infamous Normandy campaign. More than 300 soldiers from the Black Watch found themselves pinned down, as the result of strategic blunders and the fog of war, and only a handful walked away. Thrust into a nightmare, Black Watch Highlanders who hailed from across Canada, the United States, Great Britain and the Allied world found themselves embroiled in a mortal contest against elite Waffen-SS units and grizzled Eastern Front veterans, where station, rank, race and religion mattered little, and only character won the day. Drawing on formerly classified documents and rare first-person testimony of the men who fought on the front lines, O’Keefe follows the footsteps of the ghosts of Normandy, giving a voice yet again to the men who sacrificed everything in the summer of 1944.
Once Well Beloved: Remembering a BC Great War Sacrifice, by Michael Sasges
"Our well beloved dead who died that we might live."
In the town of Merritt, in British Columbia's Nicola Valley, stands a granite cenotaph erected in memory of 44 men who died soldiering in the First World War. Those men came from a Nicola Valley that had been suddenly and dramatically settled just a decade before by the will of railway executives and the arrival of British colliers.
Twelve of those soldiers are the subject of these pages?and through them, we meet the men, women and children of the Nicola Valley, the dead and their survivors: the people who built and were built by a Canadian community that was also distinctly British Columbian.
They Fought in Colour / La Guerre en couleur: A New Look at Canada's First World War Effort / Nouveau regard sur le Canada dans la Première Guerre mondiale, edited by The Vimy Foundation, afterword by Peter Mansbridge, translated by Daniel Poliquin, foreword by Paul Gross
See seminal images of Canada’s First World War experience in a new light—offered in full colour for the first time—with contributions from Margaret Atwood, Tim, Cook, Charlotte Gray, Paul Gross, Peter Mansbridge, and many others.
Canadians today see the First World War largely through black and white photography. Colourizing these images brings a new focus to our understanding and appreciation of the role Canada played during the First World War. It makes the soldier in the muddy trench, the nurse in the field hospital, and those who waited for them at home come to life. Immediately, their expressions, mannerisms, and feelings are familiar. They become real. They Fought in Colour is a new look at Canada’s experience during the Great War. A more accessible look. A more contemporary look.
The River Battles:: Canada's Final Campaign in World War II Italy, by Mark Zuehlke
The Canadians called it the Promised Land. In late September 1944, the Emilia-Romagna plain before I Canadian Corps stretched to the far horizon—a deceptively wide-open space where the tanks could run free. Throughout British Eighth Army, hopes ran high that once it entered the plain, the Germans could be driven from Italy. As soon as the advance began, however, the plain’s true nature was revealed: the land was criss-crossed by rivers, canals and drainage ditches over which all bridges had been demolished.
With higher command urging haste, the Canadians entered a long and nightmarish series of battles to win crossings over each waterway, whose high banks provided the Germans with perfect defensive positions. Early fall rains caused rivers to spill their banks and transformed the countryside into the worst quagmire the soldiers had ever seen.
More than five months of battle followed, with weeks of hard fighting required to advance from one river to the next. Each month, conditions only worsened, and the casualty rates rose appallingly. As their comrades fell one by one, most soldiers sought merely to survive. Doing that much required every measure of stamina, courage and fighting skill they possessed.
The fifth and final Canadian Battle Series volume set in Italy, The River Battles tells the story of this campaign’s last and hardest months. In riveting detail and with his trademark “you-are-there” style, Mark Zuehlke shines a light on this forgotten chapter of Canada’s World War II experience.
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