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Book Reviews

Days of victory: Canadians remember, 1939-1945 sixtieth anniversary edition

by Ted Barris
Toronto: Thomas Allen Publishers, 2005. 414 pages, $34.95

Reviewed by Major Tod Strickland, PPCLI

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Book cover Many readers of the Canadian Military Journal and Canadian military history will probably be familiar with the work of Canadian author Ted Barris. Most recently, he is the author of Juno: Canadians at D-Day June 6, 1944 (reviewed in CMJ Vol. 5, No. 2) as well as Deadlock in Korea: Canadians at War, 1950-1953. In his current book, Days of Victory: Canadians Remember, 1939- 1945 (Sixtieth Anniversary Edition), he has returned to work that was previously published in 1995, and expanded its original scope as a means of remembering ordinary Canadians who lived through some extraordinary times. One is often suspicious of new editions re- released to celebrate a given anniversary. However, to pass up this book on that basis would be a mistake.

Barris has done an admirable job of covering the personal level of the war and its myriad effects in all theatres and on the home front. This is not the dry recitation of movements of corps and divisions; rather, it is the stories of the young men and women as they remember them, told in their own unique words. It is replete with the thoughts and memories of civilians, from both Canada and abroad, and servicemen and women of all ranks. Barris’s coverage opens with an account of dropping food from a Liberator into occupied Holland at the closing days of the Second World War, and then moves on to cover numerous aspects of Canadian participation in that war, including the riotous victory celebrations that took place across Canada on both VE and VJ Days.

The primary strength of the book rests in the voices of the participants in the events. And Barris relies upon them as he essentially leaves them to recount their experiences. Encountering stories and anecdotes that are often compelling, sometimes poignant and occasionally humorous, the reader is left with an increased sense of the immense cross-section of Canadians who were affected by the war, and in its many different facets. This has the added benefit of introducing the reader to aspects of the war that he or she might not have discovered through previous readings or in the occasional Canadian history class. Entertainers, war correspondents, Japanese and Italian internees, dispatch riders, “D-Day Dodgers,” war brides and numerous others seize the reader’s attention as they recount their own unique contribution to what some view as the “last good war.” The sheer number and diverse nature of individuals in the book, each giving their perspective on their participation in events long passed, will appeal to a wide readership.

The 60th Anniversary Edition has corrected several of the faults of the original version. Increased in size by over one hundred pages, the new edition covers ground that was absent from the original, including accounts of the liberation of Holland as well as Canadian experiences in the Pacific. Additionally, it now has an expanded index, including a listing of units and formations, as well as detailed bibliographic notes. The selection of photographs has been enlarged, which, in turn, strengthens the connection between the reader and the characters, putting faces on some of the many voices found in the text. These changes serve the book and its reader well, pointing to sources for further reading and enabling the piece to be used for more scholarly endeavours. Few significant criticisms can be levelled at the work, although the inclusion of several maps of the different operational theatres would have been a definite asset and might have made the book more useful to someone unfamiliar with the geography of the Second World War. One other notable absence is any coverage of the mobilization of forces earmarked for the Pacific following the victory in Europe, particularly their training and preparations for deployment. In short, the pages Barris devotes to these volunteers for “Tiger Force” left me wanting more. In fairness, however, this element of our past has received little attention by Canadian historians, and the author’s treatment of the subject may be a reflection of the general paucity of sources covering this aspect of Canadian military history.

Readers looking for detailed analyses of campaigns and battles, or trying to comprehend the effects of the war on both the Canadian military and our nation will be disappointed. That is neither the point of the book nor the aim of its author. Rather, this is a fine piece of general popular history, which should make Canada’s contribution to the Second World War far more personal for the reader. As the number of veterans of World War Two continues to shrink, this book serves an important purpose, capturing stories that might not otherwise have been told and allowing readers to get a sense of the youth and idealism that permeated their countrymen of sixty years ago.

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Major Strickland, an infantry officer, is Deputy Commanding Officer of 1 PPCLI. He is currently completing a Masters degree in Middle Eastern history.