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History Post-confederation (1867-)

Civilians at the Sharp End

First Canadian Army Civil Affairs in Northwest Europe

by (author) David A. Borys

McGill-Queen's University Press
Initial publish date
Feb 2021
Post-Confederation (1867-), World War II
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Feb 2021
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Feb 2021
    List Price

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Mitigating the destruction and chaos wrought upon the civilian populations of northwest Europe during the latter years of the Second World War became the focus of Civil Affairs, a little-known branch of the First Canadian Army. Comprising a motley collection of civilians-turned-soldiers – too old for combat yet too valuable to remain off the front lines – the members of Civil Affairs served as liaisons between Canadian combat forces and the civilians they encountered on the ground.

Civilians at the Sharp Endfollows the story of the Civil Affairs branch through France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany in 1944-45. David Borys highlights how Civil Affairs helped civilians caught in the jaws of war by delivering food and medicine, providing shelter for refugees and displaced persons, establishing law and order, dealing with resistance groups, and aiding in the reconstruction of infrastructure in damaged urban areas. Once in Germany the branch was further challenged as it transformed into a military government and became a force of occupation, rehabilitating a war-torn Germany and purging the state of its Nazi leadership, while at times having to protect German civilians from the recently liberated prisoners of the Nazi state.

Borys demonstrates that while the Canadian Army was indeed concerned for the welfare of civilians, military operations took priority over civilian needs. Civil Affairs was forced to negotiate this complex terrain, assisting civilian populations while ensuring that they never impeded the work of the Canadian military and the ultimate defeat of Nazi Germany.

About the author

David A. Borys is the host of the popular Canadian history podcast Cool Canadian History. He lives in Vancouver.

David A. Borys' profile page

Editorial Reviews

“The first book on Canada’s role in Civil Affairs, Civilians at the Sharp End describes an important and neglected aspect of the campaign to liberate northwestern Europe and goes well beyond the official history, particularly in regard to the channel ports and Belgium.” Terry Copp, Wilfrid Laurier University.

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