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Book Reviews

Because We Are Canadians: A Battlefield Memoir

by Sergeant Charles D. Kipp

Toronto/Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 2003
294 pages, $24.95

Reviewed by Colonel Mark Hodgson

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Sergeant Charles D. Kipp’s Second World War experiences with the Lincoln and Welland Regiment of the Canadian Army are delivered in a gripping and highly realistic manner. His story is drawn from a soldier’s perspective, the cold and vivid truth about life in an infantry platoon and section, the close fight. He delivers, in colourful detail, the enthusiasm that abounded as young men clambered to join up and fight, not to be left out of what they thought would be a short war. We follow his training in Ontario and England, his landing in Normandy a month after D-Day, and then the ever-growing disillusionment that marched with him as the Allies advanced through northern Europe, all the way to Germany. 

Sergeant Kipp is open and direct in his criticism of the officers for whom he worked – officers who, from his point of view, were often lacking in both tactical knowledge and leadership skills. Once again, his descriptions and accounts are delivered with a soldier’s raw honesty. Due to shortages of senior NCOs and officers, Kipp was often forced or compelled to assume leadership roles at the platoon level. It is his performance in these key positions that displays his common sense, his compassion, and, when needed, a toughness that bordered upon ruthlessness. His men respected him, as he did them. Charles Kipp brings to the forefront how poorly trained and prepared Canadian replacements actually were later in the war. Sadly, he provides many graphic examples of the quick exits made by these soldiers, in the form of casualties.

This personal account brings to life the dangers and hardships experienced by Canadian soldiers, as they continuously engaged a withdrawing enemy. Coping as they did with a lack of sleep, reinforcements, and overall situational awareness, he describes the Canadian infantryman’s battles through France, Belgium, Holland and Germany, hedge-by-hedge, ditch-by-ditch and village-by-village. His descriptive language and attention to detail create an amazingly real image for the reader. Personally, I found the book to be engaging, honest, and somewhat humble in its approach. In sum, the author provides the reader with some of the best descriptive accounts ever written of war for Canadian infantrymen in northern Europe. 

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Colonel Mark Hodgson, an infantry officer, is Director of Professional Development at the Canadian Defence Academy in Kingston.


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