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Canada and the Second World War

Essays in Honour of Terry Copp


Edited by Geoffrey Hayes, Mike Bechthold & Matt Symes


Waterloo (Ontario): Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2012

Paperback. xii+488 p. ISBN 978-1554586295. CDN$ 42.95


Reviewed by Brian JC McKercher

Royal Military College of Canada, Kingston (Ontario)


In a verdant central Vancouver Island rain forest, nestled in a small provincial park on a snow-fed river flowing into placid Lake Cowichan, sits a war memorial dedicated to Canadians who served in the Southeast Asian Campaign during the Second World War. The inscription on this secluded monument, the Burma Star Memorial, laments that this struggle constitutes a ‘forgotten’ war. More to the point, its message is that Canadians who fought and died in those Southeast Asian jungles have been ignored, that Canadian society as a whole has disregarded their sacrifices for King, country, and the Empire at a difficult moment in the twentieth century, and that an important Canadian contribution to Allied victory has been ignored. Apart from its intrinsic purpose of commemoration and its eloquent lament, the Burma Star Memorial has a wider significance in the context of Canadian military history. First, it symbolises the way in which until recently Canadian universities have treated serious and perceptive scholarship about the military history of Canada. Second, despite successive Liberal and Conservative governments in Canada running down the Canadian Forces [CF] for more than forty years after 1963, the military and its history remain an important part of modern Canada.

In this atmosphere, Professor Terry Copp, who recently retired as Professor of History at Wilfrid Laurier University and who co-founded the Laurier Centre for Military and Disarmament Studies in 1991, has been at the forefront of Canadian military historians; and along with other leading Canadian military intellectuals – Professor David Bercuson, Professor Jack Granatstein, Professor Ronald Haycock, and Professor Desmond Morton amongst others – he has been a leader in the field, writing widely and sagely on the Canadian armed forces, nurturing an impressive array of younger military scholars and intellectuals, and working assiduously with his colleagues, former CF members of all ranks, and others to provide for the thoughtful exegesis of Canada’s military past with additional efforts like battlefield tours in Europe and his co-founding of the learned journal, Canadian Military History. In one sense, the book that is dedicated to him – Canada and the Second World War (1) – is a simple but elegant testimony by colleagues and former students to his eminence as a scholar and teacher; on another, it speaks loudly about the vibrancy and depth of Canadian military history that has developed over the past quarter century. And in this latter consideration, although he can be somewhat personally self-effacing, Terry Copp must now realise that he has played a major part: he has left the field far stronger than he found it, and he will certainly be held by future generations of Canadian military and other scholars to be – in the words of the editors – ‘a remarkable historian whose work continues to help us question, inform, and remember’.(2)

As noted above, serious scholarship concerning military history in general and Canadian military history in particular after the mid-1960s found itself ostracised within Canada’s universities – part of a general North American trend to concentrate on social and economic enquiry and issues of class, race, and gender; and there also existed a revulsion against studying military questions based on the specious argument that its very existence glorified war – as ludicrous an assertion as if to say to study pedophilia lionised that subject.(3) Along with its hand maiden, international history, and often focussing on the question of personality and policy – and thus at times but not always considering the ‘great man’ theory of analysis – it became supposedly out-dated by the emerging emphasis on the Annales school, Marxian dialectics, Foucault’s thinking about the relationship between power and knowledge, gay-transgendered-lesbian-bisexual discourse, and other trendy historiographical explorations. Indeed, by the mid-1980s, there were only three Canadian university departments of history where military history broadly conceived formed a core of learning: at the University of Calgary, the Royal Military College of Canada [RMC], and Wilfrid Laurier University. As the former chair of the RMC Department of History and Dean of Arts, Ronald Haycock, and his colleague, Serge Bernier, the Head of the Department of National Defence Directorate of History, calculated when examining eighteen major Canadian universities in 1993, 129 courses were offered on military history and, of these, just 12 touched its Canadian variant. Importantly, these figures constituted only 5.4 percent of all courses on offer.(4) It was not that important scholarship concerning Canada’s military past was not being written; it was.(5) And it was not that students avoided such courses; they did not.(6) But the option for the military studies professoriate to offer increased numbers of courses providing greater depth and breadth to their field – despite student demand for such courses – and the opportunity for under-graduate students, graduate students, and post-doctorates seeking to avail themselves of their wisdom was limited by other historians who dominated departments and deplored military history of any sort, Canadian or otherwise.(7)

At the same time, as noted above, successive Canadian governments allowed the armed forces to attenuate with ultimately disastrous results. Following the unification in 1968 of the Army, Royal Canadian Navy, and Royal Canadian Air Force into a single entity, the CF, with a loss of their British names and acquiring a new common uniform, rank structure, and Defense Staff, the size of the services fell by one-half by the mid-1990s: from about 125,000 total personnel to circa 60,000.(8) The reason devolved from two issues. The first was fiscal. The Liberal governments of Pierre Trudeau (1968-1979, 1980-1984) shifted public monies from defence spending to fund expanded social policies. The second devolved from Trudeau’s world view – that the Cold War constituted a false construct by the United States despite Canada being a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation [NATO].(9) Thus, Canada should concentrate more on international development and use the CF for United Nations-sponsored peacekeeping operations. The result was that significant reduction in manpower and a decline in the kinds of weapons needed to fight a major war against the Warsaw Pact in Europe. The end of the Cold War hastened a further reduction in the size and weaponry of the CF – now under the aegis of a Conservative ministry led by Brian Mulroney(1984-1983). The nadir for the CF and its image within Canada came in 1995 when on a peace-keeping operation for which it was not trained – seasoned CF peacekeeping units were heavily committed abroad – a Canadian commando group in Somalia captured a local teenager stealing from its camp and then tortured and killed him. Although the Chief of Defence Staff was forced to resign and major efforts were undertaken to train and educate better both CF officers and men and women from the ranks,(10) the military had lost favour with the majority of Canadians.

In the past almost twenty years, the CF has rebuilt itself and its image. Beginning in the late 1990s, along with those internal reforms in training and education, the land force proved extremely valuable in aid to the civil power – helping with flood relief in western Canada, assisting civilian agencies in a major crisis in Ontario and Quebec brought on by a 1998 ice storm that damaged homes and businesses and decimated the electrical grid, and helping municipal authorities in Toronto dig out from a major snow storm.(11) In addition, desires by Ottawa to assert Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic saw the beginning of regular deployments in the North.(12) Externally, 9/11 and expanded NATO operations in Afghanistan to which the Canadian government agreed to contribute witnessed all three services participate in the war in South Asia, serve with distinction against the Taliban, and suffer significant numbers of wounded and dead.(13) Public attitudes in Canada toward its military began to change for the better.(14) A new Liberal prime minister who came to power in 2003, Paul Martin, recognised the need to improve defence spending and provide the CF with greater political support – after only a few days in office, he became the first prime minister to enter National Defence Headquarters at Ottawa in a half century.(15) When his ministry fell from power in 2006, its Conservative successor led by Stephen Harper continued to increase spending, acknowledging publicly what the Canadian military was then doing and what it had done in the past;(16) and, in 2011, it went so far as to reconstitute the names of the three services lost in unification – the Army, Royal Canadian Navy, and Royal Canadian Air Force were re-established, still with one Defence Staff but now in their traditional uniforms and with their unique ranks. Admittedly, as the Canadian commitment in Afghanistan has wound down since 2012, the CF budget faces cuts that might limit its effectiveness for overseas and peacekeeping operations.(17) But, regardless, and despite public opinion having been increasingly critical of the Afghan commitment not because of the armed forces’ operations but because of CF casualties, the CF has greater government and public support than it has enjoyed for decades.

All of the above provides the context in which Terry Copp laboured as a Canadian military historian. Interestingly, he did not begin his academic career in military scholarship. Educated in Montreal at Sir George Williams University and McGill University, he initially devoted himself to studying the condition of the working class in Quebec and Ontario. In tandem with an impressive series of research and learned articles on various dimensions of the subject, his first major monograph, The Anatomy of Poverty: The Condition of the Working Class in Montreal 1897-1929, proved a signal achievement in Canadian social history.(18) But Terry Copp also had a budding interest in military history; indeed, in 1969, he co-authored a short study of Canada and the first three years of the Great War for a series entitled ‘Problems in Canadian history’.(19) To a degree, reflecting his scholarly predilections as a social historian to see the world from below the apex of the socio-economic pyramid, he and his colleague sought to look at Canada’s involvement in the war from a wider perspective than just that of the political leaders and generals who drove Canadian foreign and defence policy. Later in the 1970s as he turned away from social to military history, and as he came to work with McGill University’s Professor Robert Vogel on what became a five-volume study of the Canadian Army from the Normandy landings in June 1944 to the fall of Nazi Germany eleven months later, he thought the official treatment of Canada and the Second World War to be too much high politics, too sterile in approach, and lacking any understanding of how Canadian soldiers saw and fought the war.(20) As one of the contributors to this book observes – Mark Osborne Humphries, who looks at Professor Copp’s ‘approach to history’ in the ‘Introduction’:

Just as he had set out to analyze and describe the real condition of the working class in Montreal, he now became interested in writing a history of ordinary Canadian soldiers and their accomplishments in the Second World War – ‘bottom up’ history as he described it.(21)

In his formative university life, Professor Copp indicates that the work of R.G. Collingwood, especially his Idea of History, had a profound effect on him.(22) As Humphries observes about Collingwood’s idea of history: ‘This is only a way of saying that the historian’s thought must spring from the organic unity of his total experience, and be a function of his entire personality with its practical as well as its theoretical interests.’(23)

It is critical here to appreciate that Terry Copp began his career as a military historian just at the moment when the art of writing military history was transforming because of the seminal work of Michael Howard, the founder of War Studies at King’s College, London and later in succession the Chichele Professor of Military History and Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford. In a perceptive examination of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871, Howard argued forcefully that war – and the preparations for war even in a long period of peace – constituted not a struggle between or amongst nation states or armies, navies, and air forces; rather, it constituted a struggle between or amongst societies where a multiplicity of considerations involving class, economies, culture, technology, and more have to be considered.(24) In Britain, Continental Europe, and beyond, in the Antipodes, Canada, and the United States, military history changed from the old ‘drum and bugle’ accounts to one where deeper social and other enquiries of explanation occurred through multi-archival research.(25) With his ‘bottom up’ view of the battlefield and the civil-military relationship, Terry Copp emerged as a strong Canadian voice in Canadian military history.

This volume dedicated to him concentrates on the focus of his work: Canada and the Second World War.  After the introduction, nineteen chapters are divided into five sections: ‘The Home Front’; ‘The War of the Scientists’, ‘The Mediterranean Theatre’, ‘Northwest Europe’, and ‘The Aftermath’. With one glaring exception, these contributions offer outstanding analyses of a range of issues that concern the Canadian contribution to Allied victory. And as befits Professor Copp`s intellectual odyssey, they examine the diversity of the Canadian society that joined the struggle on the British side in September 1939 – Canada declared war on Nazi Germany one week after Britain did so to demonstrate its sovereign decision to enter the fray. The chapters on the home front, so important to fighting a total war and where pre-war social, economic, and gender norms changed markedly between 1939 and 1945, are of especial significance. Canadian youth led in the way in giving the nation`s war effort strength, and their commitment to an ultimate victory ‘signalled a personal obligation to be “taken seriously by the whole population, and not just those who rushed to join the colours”.’(26) In everything that the vast majority of young Canadians did to support the war effort – and, admittedly, there were some who did not, chiefly in Quebec – they were just as affected by food rationing, finding employment, deciding whether to serve in the Canadian forces, and so on. To a large degree, they emerged after 1945 as a distinct generation with attitudes about how Canadian society should be ordered, why the war was fought, and about Canada’s place in the world. As this generation came to the fore in the post-war period, it helped shape a different Canadian society.

But Canadian society then – as now – was not homogeneous. Not only was it divided between English-speaking and French-speaking Canada, with other largely European minorities, the aboriginal peoples – now called the First Nations – were also affected by Canada at war.(27) Like other Canadians, the First Nations accepted the struggle, labouring on the home front and volunteering or being conscripted for service at home and abroad. In essence, the First Nations ‘were declaring their right to belong’,(28) so that their efforts were as much directed to help Canada’s war effort as for them to be accepted for whom they were without being assimilated. As Professor Copp would agree, the components of ‘Canada’ were diverse and had their own agendas. But as the next chapter examines, the war effort had to be controlled on the home front. One important way in which this occurred came from domestic press censors.(29) Newspaper proprietors and journalists both at home and with Canadian troops in Europe and the Pacific theatre seem largely to have supported the fight against the Axis and Japan – although the government at Ottawa was sometimes unsure – and press censors made certain that difficulties in Allied fighting as much as victories reached the home front in ways to ensure widespread public support for the war effort – which was not unlike any other belligerent government. To a large degree, ‘the great bulk of the country’s newspapers and magazines deferred to the censors’.(30)

One crucial element of the ‘bottom up’ approach to the home front is then examined by looking at mechanical transport and by comparing it with that of the First World War.(31) There was a dramatic increase in mechanised transport vehicles in 1939-1945 over that of 1914-1918 – and a corresponding decrease in draught and pack animals. Building on the lessons of the past between 1918 and 1939, the mechanised element of the war effort entailed a great deal of effort, from training drivers to improving the technology of lorries, vans, and other motor transport. Although ultimately crucial to the mechanised war of 1939-1945, such technologies had limitations for Canadian troops; and whilst it is admitted that further research still needs to be done, soldiers and machines are fundamental to the ‘collective understanding of Canada’s twentieth-century military experience’.

One early effort to provide that collective understanding for Canadians was Charles Stacey’s selection in 1940 to write the official history of the war;(32) this history was that disparaged later by Professor Copp as lacking any understanding of how Canadian soldiers saw and fought the war. In 1938, the Canadian Institute of International Affairs [CIIA], the foreign policy public education organisation in Canada, a cipher of the British Royal Institute of International Affairs, commissioned Stacey, an emerging authority on Canadian military history, to write a book ‘to stimulate informed discussion about current Canadian defence policy at a time of international crisis’.(33) The result was The Military Problems of Canada, published two years later.(34) At a time when a large number of Canadian academics and others reckoned that the country should continue its isolationism from commitments abroad, should continue to adhere to the internationalism embodied by the League of Nations, and, perhaps, should strengthen its links with the United States, Stacey advocated continued close relations with Britain, including military co-operation as a better basis to ensure Canadian sovereignty. In the two years writing the book – the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939 forced some major revisions – Stacey faced criticism from within the CIIA over his interpretations of the long Anglo-Canadian relationship, the question of the United States, and the preparedness of the Canadian armed forces for war. But Stacey’s work won praise from the Department of National Defence, which partly subsidised his research; it also ultimately garnered support from the CIIA; and it was a clear expression of the need for effective armed forces and strong Anglo-Canadian ties – at the same time, Stacey argued for as much co-operation with the United States as possible. As this chapter concludes: ‘The near compulsion to create precise, comprehensive written records, be it for drafting historical accounts, or for overcoming bureaucratic obstacles in the army and government, would become the bedrock of Stacey’s success in all phases of the army’s official history program’.(35)

The second section of the book – ‘The War of the Scientists’ – begins with an analysis of precision bombing and decision-making in the British Bomber Command by looking at the difficulties in accurate targeting and the role of the Pathfinder force, the target squadrons that located and marked targets with flares at which a bomber force could aim and improve its accuracy.(36) Alas, this is the weakest contribution to this excellent volume as, first, it is not even marginally concerned with the Canadian dimension of the war and, second, in supposedly building on Professor Copp’s dictum of examining the past to understand current thinking, the hope is expressed ‘that the story that follows will illuminate the nature of decision making and staff interaction in complex military organizations’.(37) Professor Copp must be disappointed. First, this chapter says nothing new about Sir Arthur Harris, the head of Bomber Command, the Command itself, or the Pathfinders – already well-trodden ground in explaining complex military organisations.(38) More important, it makes such obvious assertions as to be comic in the extreme. Thus, the final comment that ‘air forces like all the services are complex organizations, with all of the warp and weft of the human dynamic’(39) leaves one gasping with incredulity.

Far more satisfying in seeking to understand the complexity of Canada’s war effort is the next chapter on leadership and science at war (40) – it is one of the strongest and most original treatments in this volume. A Canadian scholar in Britain when the War broke out, Omond Solandt came to work in the British Army’s Operational Research Group that studied problems on the battlefield and applied advanced analytical methods to improve decision-making and the fighting capability of troops. Although not the most popular of colleagues, Solandt proved his worth – beginning with tank warfare – and rose steadily in authority and effectiveness becoming eventually Deputy Superintendent of the Army Operational Research Group in 1943 and Superintendent in May 1944. Written with a deft analytical hand using new archival sources and a measured argument, this chapter demonstrates clearly an important ‘bottom up’ perspective on a less known but fundamentally critical element of Canada and the Second World War.

Along the same lines, the last contribution in this section looks at the Canadian Defence Research Board that without hyperbole had ‘a central role in some of the most secret and advanced research and development programs in modern history’.(41) Accordingly, Canadian defence scientists and engineers had noteworthy responsibility in helping to develop guided weapons systems, jet propulsion, radar, atomic energy, and chemical and biological weapons that aided both the Canadian fighting services and those of Canada’s allies. In the white heat of total war, and to improve tactical and strategic combat efficiency, the Department of National Defence created the instrument of the Defence Research Board in 1944: “during the war and afterwards [it] permanently displaced the traditional scientific and engineering communities in the country, shifting them from relative isolation to, in some cases, the very centre of Canadian politics and security”.(42) Although sometimes confronting disfavour from the three armed services that had their own research units, the Defence Research Board held firm to its mandate – in fact, Solandt became its first post-war chief. An institution that arose during the Second World War, and because of the intimate connexion amongst science, technology, and modern armed forces, it continued to make its mark during the subsequent Cold War.

Although a small number of Canadians fought in South and East Asia during the Second World War – as the Burma Star memorial attests – the bulk fought in Europe. The third section of the book provides insight into ‘The Mediterranean Theatre’, its four chapters concentrating on the Italian campaign. About this phase of the war, Professor Copp remarked two years before this volume appeared: ‘I continue to marvel at the endurance and accomplishment of the Allied soldiers and puzzle over the meaning and significance of a campaign that lasted twice as long as the advance from Normandy to the Baltic’.(43) The first chapter here argues for the importance of the battles of Casino and Anzio in the first six months of 1944 in contradistinction to critics of the Mediterranean strategy – largely American, they posit that Allied military operations constituted a costly diversion delaying the eventual all-out assault on Festung Europa via Operation Overlord across the English Channel in June 1944.(44) After setting out the historiographical critique – the Italian campaign lacked strategic sense; confusion and blunders engendered by distrust and resentment existed at the highest levels; troops did not enjoy effective leadership or suitable equipment; and an inadequate victory resulted – a perceptive forensic analysis lays barren the jeremiads of censure. The answer to the critics is that in these six months of fighting – despite taking longer to liberate Rome than anticipated – Canadian soldiers and their allies on the battlefield in a bottom up view succeeded in hard slogging against a well-trained and entrenched foe. Moreover, at the strategic level, the Italian campaign diverted German troops from other places, including northern France, and, thus, helped weaken the Wehrmacht when it confronted the Overlord landings. In the final reckoning the critics are wrong: ‘Canadian and other Allied soldiers who served in Italy fulfilled their duty as part of a campaign to contain and destroy German forces, enabling their brothers-in-arms in Normandy and Northwest Europe to deliver more fatal blows that ultimately ended the war and German oppression in Europe.’(45) At the tactical and strategic level, Italy constituted ‘the long right flank’ for the Normandy invasion. The meaning and significance of the Italian campaign is clearer.

The next contribution examining the breakout from Anzio further enhances that clarity.(46) The First Special Service Force – the so-called ‘Devil’s Brigade’ – was an elite Canadian-American commando unit trained for mountain operations; it had its own uniform and unique command structure in that senior personnel of any rank and of either nationality could give orders to their subordinates whether Canadian or American. Once in Italy, this well-trained, cohesive unit fought extremely well and, with ferocious focus, proved victorious in a series of engagements from Anzio to Rome – the Germans gave them their nickname, Teufelsbrigade. But trouble beyond the regiment imposed itself. An initial difficulty was that the Canadian contingent suffered heavy casualties and Canadian authorities early decided that it could not be re-inforced with new troops from limited Canadian manpower resources – Canada did not conscript until 1944. Given the Force’s international composition and, revolving around the re-inforcement question, intra-allied decision-making then proved cumbersome and slow. The pronouncement came in December 1944 to disband it. The conclusion is that because of ‘the international nature of the Force, bureaucratic difficulties were encountered in legion. Solutions came too late to save it from disbandment’.(47) Yet, Brigade members afterwards remained proud of their achievements whilst re-mustered to their national armies – the Brigade’s fate stood as a hard lesson in the intricacies of coalition warfare and, as difficult as it was, makes the Canadian participation in the Italian campaign less blurred.

Further clarity comes from understanding better the impact of the May 1944 1 Canadian Division attack in the Liri Valley, code-named ‘Operation Chesterfield’, where the role of Canadian senior officers and their decision-making as it affected the troops on the ground was fundamental.(48) Here Canadian armour had a central role in the successful Allied splintering of the Hitler Line, which allowed for the final Allied descent on Rome; but with unblemished – and, really, unnecessary – Anglophobia, the argument made here is that the heavy casualties taken by Canadian forces could have been lessened had senior Canadian commanders possessed a different ‘tactical culture’. Thus, these commanders were worryingly predisposed in their battlefield thinking by the persistent guidance of the British Army – Canadian officers in the interwar period attended staff schools in Britain – suffused by inheriting the tactical culture of the Western Front between 1914 and 1918. Other lessons were available, principally from the experience of fighting the Afrika Korps in North Africa in 1942-1943, but the shadow of the British approach to the First World War proved too strong and cost more casualties dead and wounded than should have happened.

The final piece in this section – another superlative rendering – is an assessment of one Canadian general, Charles Foulkes, a commander who seemed universally disliked by his superiors and his command subordinates in Operation Chuckle, the Battle of the Lamone River in December 1944. Chuckle was to lay the ground for a follow-up offensive by Allied forces to take Bologna.(49) Foulkes’ has a long disparaged reputation, even from the pen of Professor Copps;(50) but as this rehabilitative chapter shows, Foulkes’ troops proved effective in fighting the Germans, compelling them to re-enforce their lines with a precious division that might have been used with consequence elsewhere at a crucial time in their defensive operations. To be frank, Canada’s senior allies wasted Foulkes’ accomplishment: ‘That the US Fifth Army’s attack never materialized takes nothing away from the Canadian battlefield accomplishments of Operation Chuckle; it means that they were sadly squandered by strategic level failures.’(51) Thus, Foulkes’ reputation lacks the tarnish generally assumed. Although not in any sense a fountainhead of tactical innovation, he relied on a seasoned staff to plan the original operation and, once it was underway, to readjust to changing circumstances; crucially, the Canadian logistical tail had especial importance. In one sense, Foulkes had luck on his side – for instance, he had experienced troops unlike those who fought six months earlier at the Liri Valley. But Canadian troops fought well at the Lamone River, and the laurels for success must fall to Foulkes who knew how to delegate and utilise the talent and troops available to him.

The fourth section of this book, ‘Northwest Europe’, actually concentrates on the Canadians in Normandy and also offers revisionist assessments. It begins with the Canadian record on the second day of the D-Day invasion: the unfruitful vanguard advance of the 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade.(52) The extant historiography, led by Stacey, posits that on D+1 and despite courageous and spirited troops, the Brigade suffered unnecessary defeat at the hands of the 12th SS Hitler Youth Panzer Division.(53) This argument has several strands: the unexperienced Canadians were ambushed; the 12th Division was comprised of youthful fanatics and seasoned Eastern Front troops; Allied combat competence and command was flawed; and Canadian and German forces were roughly of equal strength. In a penetrating and thoughtful analysis, each of these critiques is shown to be largely hollow. Of especial significance is the fact that the German defenders actually out-numbered the 9th Brigade. And the conclusion throws a different and much-needed light on this advance:

The result on D+1 did not reflect the incompetence of Allied leadership or tactical ineptness among the troops. The vanguard of 9 Brigade fought well on 7 June 1944: the petulant fury of 12 SS, who shot forty-six POWs immediately following the battle is evidence of that. At the end of the day, and given the inability of the British to capture Caen, the Brigade was secure on the only ground for defence of the beachhead. No ambush, no defeat.(54)

The second chapter about Northwest Europe re-examines the Canadian role in defending the Normandy beachheads on 7-9 June 1944.(55) By D+1, a Canadian regiment, the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, controlled a small village, Putot-en-Bessin, with orders to hold it against a German counter-attack to protect bridgeheads established nearby. The Rifles slowed a German advance on 8 June that included the 12th SS Hitler Youth Panzer Division and, augmented by the Canadian Scottish Regiment later in the day, re-asserted complete control over the village. As this enquiry demonstrates in opposition to some critics about poor Allied infantry-armour co-operation, ‘Canadian success was derived from an effective working relationship between the infantry, armour, artillery, mortars, machine guns, and anti-tank units’.(56) Therefore, just as the need exists for revising the historical record concerning the 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade and the 12th SS Hitler Youth Panzer Division – inexperienced Canadian soldiers fighting elite Germans – the battles of Putot-en-Bessins requires new study of ‘the long-held “truth” about the Normandy campaign’.

With a narrow focus, such study comes in reconsidering the Allied breakout from the Normandy beaches in mid-August 1944. The village of Trun occupied a key position in the Falaise Gap, the corridor that German forces looked to sustain as an escape route. With a decisive Canadian contribution, the Battle of the Falaise Gap resulted in unalterable damage to most of the German Army west of the River Seine, opening the road to both Paris and the German border.(57) In the Allied effort to close the Gap, Canadian and American forces were to fight on either side of the Germans and join up. The Canadian effort supposedly faltered because of a decision by General Guy Simonds to regroup. But this Canadian action on 16 August and the subsequent Allied effort that led to the victory of the Falaise Gap six days later – focussed on Trun – were distinguished by both intra-Canadian and inter-Allied complexities in planning, modifications of strategy in the heat of battle, and difficult operations. This enquiry explores these intricacies – including Simonds relieving the Canadian commander in the field, Major-General George Kitching, in mid-battle and its impact on the Canadian forces – to show that: ‘All levels displayed effective and flexible leadership during this operation, especially the newly-appointed commanders, who showed professionalism, expertise, leadership, and ingenuity.’(58) Accordingly, another long held ‘truth’ receives much-needed questioning.

As appropriate in a volume dedicated to a historian who advocates ‘bottom-up’ history, the last chapter in this section ‘draws upon the personnel records of an anonymous young Canadian to consider his selection, training, and brief time in battle as an army officer’; it relates to a Lieutenant Jones, a pseudonym disguising his identity.(59) This chapter finds basis on an earlier effort by Stacey in his official history about men from the ranks, as well as a co-authored study by Professor Copp on battlefield fatigue.(60) It provides more thorough and layered scrutiny by examining one young officer from his selection by the Army until he was invalided out of the fighting in October 1944 because of battle fatigue: ‘this man has lost confidence in his ability to lead his men, and as a result can not [sic] carry on his duties’.(61) Nonetheless, Jones is a cipher for volunteers who were sent to fight the enemy as re-inforcement officers. As an English-Canadian, and following the precepts of officer selection coming from the First World War, Jones’s selection for service came from him being the ‘right type’ of man for officer training – educated, intelligent, and athletic. This chapter looks at his training and his service in the Low Countries’ campaign cut short by ‘psychoneurosis anxiety’. In doing so, key questions address the experience of young volunteer officers: what assumptions underlay officer selection? how well did training prepare these officers for combat? and what can be learnt from Jones’ difficult time at the front?

The last section of the book, ‘The Aftermath’, begins with an examination of a British officer, Major Ronald Balfour, who was attached the First Canadian Army as a civil affairs specialist in the Lower Rhine in the latter phase of the war.(62) An academic from Cambridge University, he was one of the Allied ‘Monuments Men’ who worked ‘to protect monuments, works of art, repositories, buildings, and archives of historical significance from unnecessary damage in enemy territory’.(63) Whilst he never quarrelled with the necessity to prosecute a successful war against the Germans that could damage Europe’s cultural infrastructure – and trusted the decisions of Allied commanders – Balfour also understood the importance of Europe’s rich cultural past to its future. In areas controlled by Allied forces, he therefore endeavoured to preserve and protect the extant cultural legacy of Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and Germany. As he remarked even before D-Day, ‘Even if they [monuments] do belong to Germany, they don’t belong to Germany alone – they belong to all of us.’(64) Killed by a German artillery barrage whilst in the midst of removing two altarpieces from the Stifts-Kirche in Cleve in March 1945, Balfour put his life on the line in looking to ensure the post-war preservation of European culture. In 1985, the town of Cleve awarded him a posthumous award for his successes in protecting German relics.

But in a crucial sense, the Canadian contribution to the war in Europe brought with it other monuments that related directly to the Second World War and the northern dominion’s contribution to the liberation of Europe. Of course, there are Canadian government-sponsored memorials in Normandy, like that at the Juno Beach Centre at Courseulles-sur-Mer – belatedly opened in 2003 – as well as the well-kept cemeteries of Canadian dead at places like Bény-sur-Mer and Bretteville-sur-Laize. But at another level – the transnational level – the commemoration of Canada and the Second World War has emerged in informal remembrances that exist in Normandy created by the hands of local French citizens.(65) This penultimate chapter looks at a range of such remembrances – ranging from street signs to children’s playgrounds to a memorial in a private home – to examine the Canadian war and memory amongst the Norman French. It has been a somewhat haphazard process; for instance, whilst a memorial for the Queens Own Rifles exists, one for the North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment does not. Hence, ‘the constructed memory of the 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade on the beaches and inland is a complex mixture of fact, half-truths, exaggeration, and key personalities’.(66) Nonetheless, in an area important for the Canadian Army and its history, a connection established during the Normandy campaign still exists between Canadians and ordinary French citizens.

The final chapter considers the commemoration of the war in Canada. Despite the significant Canadian contribution to Allied victory between 1939 and 1945 – one million women and men (soldiers, sailors, and airmen) from a population of eleven million who took 45,000 casualties – the exertions of the Great War of 1914-1918 eclipsed it.(67) In that earlier struggle, with a population of circa seven million, Canadian forces numbered 600,000 and suffered 60,000 dead. Accordingly, after 1945, new monuments for the Second World War were rarely constructed; rather, existing Great War memorials were simply inscribed with the names of regiments that fought and those who gave their lives between 1939 and 1945. Even the naming of schools after war dead, the giving of names of important Italian and Northwestern European battles to street signs, and the naming of geographical features like lakes saw the experiences of 1914-1918 dominate. In this specific case, the Burma Star Memorial on Vancouver Island retains a certain piquancy. Moreover, unlike the granite cenotaphs which emerged after 1918, what appeared after 1945 were ‘almost always utilitarian memorials – libraries, arenas, community centres, parks…’(68) Canadian commemoration of their part in the Second World War clearly differed from that in the First. In a telling assessment, the answer to this situation resides in the position that Canada and Canadians found themselves after 1945, something quite unlike after 1918. With a successful economy, the advent of suburban Canada with single family homes, a cornucopia of consumer goods, and an emerging role in international affairs, ‘Canadians were happy to close a gate on the past and direct their gaze through the open door of a better future’.

That gaze, which in less than a quarter century would see a diminution of the study of military history in the country and the beginnings of the rundown of the CF, proved to be unblinkingly long. However, when it did begin to shift its focus to issues like Canada and the Second World War, Professor Copp played an important role in both helping that shift in academia and in the wider public and in pushing a much-needed enquiry into the country’s military past. It is an axiom of historical enquiry that when one believes one has all the answers, one has not asked all the questions. Professor Copp has not provided all of the new questions – he would never say that he has – but the Canadian military history profession, students, and the reading public are doing so in part because of him. This volume attests to this fact. He has done much to invigorate Canadian military scholarship and help immeasurably in ensuring that the country’s military past is not only not forgotten, but that the multiple strands of Canadian society understands that past. The word ‘forgotten’ might now be chiselled off the Burma Star Memorial. As the contributors to this volume attest in honouring Professor Copp, it certainly has in the appreciation and understanding of Canada’s military past.  The important Canadian contribution to Allied victory in 1945 has not been ignored


(1) Geoffrey Hayes, Mike Bechthold & Matt Symes, eds., Canada and the Second World War : Essays in Honour of Terry Copp.

(2) Ibid. : 13.

(3) For a polemic poorly disguised as serious scholarship along these lines – and written by a Canadian scholar of Canadian left-wing domestic politics and a social activist – see I. MacKay & J. Swift, Warrior Nation : Rebranding Canada in an Age of Anxiety (Toronto, 2012), passim.

(4) R.G. Haycock & Serge Bernier, Teaching Military History : Clio and Mars in Canada/ L’enseignement de l’histoire militaire : Clio et Mars au Canada (Athabaska, 1995): 151.

(5) For instance, D.J. Bercuson, True Patriot : The Life of Brooke Claxton, 1898-1960 (Toronto, Buffalo, 1993); J.L. Granatstein, Canada's War : The Politics of the Mackenzie King Government, 1939-1945 (Toronto, 1975); R.G. Haycock, Sam Hughes : The Public Career of a Controversial Canadian, 1885–1916 (Waterloo, 1986); D. Morton, Canada and War : A Military and Political History (Toronto, 1981).

(6) See Haycock & Bernier, Clio and Mars.

(7) One senior scholar at Queens’ University, a civilian university in the same city as RMC, once told me in a flawed syllogism that ‘the Canadian Forces are the enemy of Canada and militarism does not deserve study at the university-level’.

(8) Canada’s World/Canada monde : ‘A Critical Look at Canada's Contribution. Conflict is Changing’ (undated):

(9) On Trudeau’s views, see T.S. Axworthy, ‘“To Stand Not So High Perhaps but Always Alone” : The Foreign Policy of Pierre Elliott Trudeau’, in T.S. Axworthy & P.E. Trudeau, eds., Towards and Just Society : The Trudeau Years (Markham, 1990): 12-48. Cf. J. Granatstein & R. Bothwell, Pirouette : Pierre Trudeau and Canadian Foreign Policy (Toronto, 1990): 234-260.

(10) Commission of Inquiry into the Deployment of Canadian Forces to Somalia, Dishonoured Legacy : The Lessons of the Somalia Affair : Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Deployment of Canadian Forces to Somalia. Executive Summary (Ottawa, 1997). Cf. G. Dawson, ‘War is Hell’ : Canada’s Engagement in Somalia (Vancouver, 2007).

(11) For instance, W. Semianiw, ‘Operation Assistance: Canadian Civil Power Operations’, Military Review 81/6 (2001).

(12) N.F. Caldwell, Jr., Arctic Leverage: Canadian Sovereignty and Security (NY, 1990); F. Griffiths, R. Huebert & P.W. Lackenbauer, Canada and the Changing Arctic : Sovereignty, Security, and Stewardship (Waterloo, 2011).

(13) K.M. Holland, Canadian-United States Engagement in Afghanistan : An Analysis of the ‘Whole of Government’ Approach (Clementsport, 2009); B. Horn, No Lack of Courage : Operation Medusa, Afghanistan (Toronto, Tonawanda, NY, 2010). Cf. R. Corbett, First Soldiers Down : Canada's Friendly Fire Deaths in Afghanistan (Toronto, 2012); J. Klassen & G. Albo, eds., Empire’s Ally : Canada and the War in Afghanistan (Toronto, 2013).

(14) See the statistics for 1979-2008, in Canadian Opinion Research Archive, Canadian Public Opinion Trends. Canadian Foreign Policy. Canadian Armed Forces, nd:

(15) Government of Canada, Securing an Open Society : National Security Policy (Ottawa, April 2004). Then see S. Robertson, ‘Finding A Way : National Security and Defence Policy for a New Liberal Leadership’, Options Politiques (décembre 2003-janvier 2004): 56-61.

(16) P. Lagassé & J.J. Sokolsky, ‘A Larger “Footprint” in Ottawa’, Canadian Foreign Policy Journal 15/2 (2009): 16-40; ‘Lieutenant-General A. Leslie, Report on Transformation (Ottawa, 2011).

(17) D. Perry, ‘A Return to Realism : Canadian Defence Policy after the Great Recession’, Defence Studies 13/3 (2013): 338-360.

(18) T. Copp, The Anatomy of Poverty : The Condition of the Working Class in Montreal 1897-1929 (Toronto, 1974). Cf. T. Copp, ‘The Condition of the Working Class in Montreal 1897-1920’, Canadian Historical Papers (1972): 157-180; idem., ‘The Montreal Working Class in Prosperity and Depression’, Canadian Issues, 1/1 (1976); idem., ‘Montreal’s Municipal Government and the Crisis of the 1930s’, in A.F.J. Artibise & G. Stelter, eds., The Usable Urban Past : Planning and Politics in the Modern Canadian City (Toronto, 1979).

(19) T. Copp & T.D. Tait, The Canadian Response to War : 1914-1917 (Vancouver, 1969).

(20) The official history is C.P. Stacey, Official History of the Canadian Army in the Second World War, 3 volumes (Ottawa, 1955-1960). But in some senses, Professor Copp’s critique of Stacey is misdirected. Stacey dealt always with the Canadian civil-military relationship and high policy and made no bones about it, and he also wrote excellent examinations of Canadian foreign and defence policy over his long career. For instance, see his Canada and the British Army, 1846-1871 (London & NY, 1936); Mackenzie King and the Atlantic Triangle (Toronto, 1976); Canada and the Age of Conflict : A History of Canadian External Policies, 2 volumes (Toronto, Buffalo, 1977-1981).

(21) M.O. Humphries, ‘Terry Copp’s Approach to History’, Second World War : 28.

(22) R.G. Collingwood, The Idea of History (NY, 1956). Cf. R.G. Collingwood, The Historical Imagination (Oxford, 1935); idem., Essays in the Philosophy of History (NY, 1966); idem., An Essay on Philosophical Method, revised edition (Oxford & NY, 2006). Then see W.M. Johnston, The Formative Years of R.G. Collingwood (Cambridge, MA, 1965). Collingwood died in 1943.

(23) Humphries, ‘Approach to History’: 19, which quotes Collingwood, Idea of History: 305.

(24) M.E. Howard, The Franco-Prussian War : The German Invasion of France, 1870-1871 (London, 1961). Then see, M.E. Howard, Soldiers and Governments : Nine Studies in Civil-Military Relations (London, 1957); idem., The Mediterranean Strategy in the Second World War (NY, 1968); idem., War and the Nation State : An Inaugural Lecture delivered before the University of Oxford on 18 November 1977 (Oxford, 1978); idem., The Invention of Peace : Reflections on War and International Order (New Haven, CT, 2000).

(25) The writing is legion, but for examples see F.A. Bailey, Class and Tennessee's Confederate Generation (Chapel Hill, NC, 1987); B. Bond, The Victorian Army and the Staff College, 1854-1914 (London, 1972); T. Lindner, Die Peripetie des Siebenja¨hrigen Krieges : Der Herbstfeldzug 1760 in Sachsen und der Winterfeldzug 1760/61 in Hessen (Berlin, 1993); R.J. O’Neill, General Giap : Politician and Strategist (NY, 1969); D.E. Showalter, Railroads and Rifles : Soldiers, Technology, and the Unification of Germany (Hamden, CT, 1975); J. Tranie´ & J.-C. Carmigniani, Bonaparte: la campagne d'Egypte (Paris, 1988).

(26) C. Comacchio, ‘“To Hold on High the Torch of Liberty”. Canadian Youth and the Second World War’, Second World War: 33-65. The quotation is from p.33.

(27) S. Sheffield, ‘Fighting a White Man’s War? First Nations Participation in the Canadian War Effort, 1939-1945’, Second World War : 67-91.

(28) Ibid. : 83.

(29) M. Bourrie, ‘Harnessing Journalists to the War Machine. Canada’s Domestic Press Censors in the Second World War’, Second World War : 93-114.

(30) Ibid. : 107.

(31) A. Iorocci. ‘Dangerous Curves. Canadian Drivers and Mechanical Transport in Two World Wars’, Second World War : 115-138.

(32) R. Sarty, ‘How C.P. Stacey Became the Army’s Official Historian. The Writing of The Military Problems of Canada, 1937-1940, Second World War : 139-157.

(33) Ibid. : 139.

(34) C.P. Stacey, The Military Problems of Canada (Toronto, 1940).

(35) Sarty, ‘Stacey’ : 154.

(36) R. Wakelam, ‘“Strike Hard, Strike Sure”. Bomber Harris, Precision Bombing, and Decision Making in RAF Bomber Command’, Second World War, 159-172.

(37) Ibid. : 159.

(38) For instance, on Harris, see A.T. Harris, Despatch on War Operations, 23rd February, 1942, to 8th May, 1945 (London, Portland, OR, 1995); C. Messenger, “Bomber” Harris and the Strategic Bombing Offensive, 1939-1945 (London, 1984); H. Probert, Bomber Harris : His Life and Times : The Biography of Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Arthur Harris, the Wartime Chief of Bomber Command (London, 2001); on Bomber Command, M. Connelly, Reaching for the Stars : A New History of Bomber Command in World War II (London, NY, 2001); D. Richards, Hardest Victory : RAF Bomber Command in the Second World War (NY, 1995); M. Hastings, Bomber Command (NY, 1979); on the Pathfinders, S. Feast, Master Bombers : The Experiences of a Pathfinder Squadron at War, 1942-1945 (London, 2008); G. Musgrove, Pathfinder Force : A History of 8 Group (London, 1976). Above all else is the magisterial, C. Webster & N. Frankland, The Strategic Air Offensive Against Germany, 1939-1945, 4 volumes (London, 1961). Significantly, the three sources on the Pathfinders listed here are not mentioned in the notes of this chapter, as if to argue that what is presented is new.

(39) Wakelam, ‘Bomber Harris’.

(40) J. Ridler, ‘Leadership and Science at War. Colonel Omond Solandt and the British Army Research Group, 1943-1945’, Second World War : 173-198.

(41) A. Godefroy. ‘Wartime Innovation and the Creation of Canada’s Defence Research Board’, Second World War : 199-218.

(42) Ibid. : 199.

(43) T. Copp, ‘Some Reflections on the Italian Campaign (Keynote, 2010 Military History Colloquium)’, Laurier Centre for Military and Disarmament Studies:

(44) L. Winsor, ‘Overlord’s Long Right Flank. The Battles of Casino and Anzio, January-June 1944’, Second World War : 219-237.

(45) Ibid. : 234.

(46) J.A. Wood. ‘A Sharp Tool Blunted. The First Special Service Force and the Breakout from Anzio’, Second World War : 239-267.

(47) Ibid. : 261.

(48) Y. Tremblay, ‘La culture tactique canadienne : le cas de l’opération Chesterfield, 23 mai 1944’, Second World War : 269-316.

(49) D.E. Delaney, ‘Knowing Enough Not to Interfere. Lieutenant-General Charles Foulkes at the Lamone River, December 1944’, Second World War : 317-333.

(50) For instance, T. Copp, Fields of Fire: The Canadians in Normandy (Toronto, 2003) : 180-182.

(51) Delaney, ‘Foulkes’ : 319.

(52) M. Milner, ‘No Ambush, No Defeat. The Advance of the Vanguard of the 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade, 7 June 1944’, Second World War : 335-365. There are in this chapter some inaccurate geographical references that the editors should have caught; the eminence of Professor Milner suggests the problem here lies not with him.

(53) C.P. Stacey, Official History, Volume 3: The Victory Campaign : The Operations in North-West Europe, 1944-45 (Ottawa, 1960), 128-33. Cf. W. Lackenbauser & C. Madsen, eds., Kurt Meyer on Trial (A Documentary Record) (Kingston, 2007) : 10.

(54) Milner, ‘No Ambush’ : 360.

(55) M. Bechtold, ‘Defending the Normandy Bridgehead. The Battles for Putot-en-Bessin, 7-9 June 1944’, Second World War : 367-389.

(56) Ibid. : 384. The subsequent quotation is also on this page. For an example of criticism, see J.A. English, The Canadian Army and the Normandy Campaign : A study of Failure in High Command (NY, 1991), 3 : 233n17.

(57) A. Caravaggio, ‘Operation Smash and 4 Canadian Armoured Division’s Drive to Trun’, Second World War : 391-412,

(58) Ibid. : 408.

(59) G. Hayes, ‘A History of Lieutenant Jones’, Second World War : 413-429. The quotation is from p. 413.

(60) C.P. Stacey, ‘The History of Private Jones’, in idem, Six Years of War : The Army in Canada, Britain, and the Pacific (Ottawa, 1957) : 141-144; T. Copp & B. McAndrew, Battle Exhaustion : Soldiers and Psychiatrists in the Canadian Army, 1939-1945 (Montreal & Buffalo, 1990).

(61) Hayes, ‘Jones’ : 424. This was the assessment of Jones’ commanding officer.

(62) M. Fowler. ‘A Biography of Major Ronald Edmond Balfour’, Second World War : 431-442.

(63) Ibid. : 432.

(64) Ibid. : 433.

(65) M. Symes, ‘The Personality of Memory. The Process of Informal Commemoration in Normandy’, Second World War : 441-460.

(66) Ibid. : 457.

(67) J. Vance, ‘An Open Door to a Better Future. The Memory of Canada’s Second World War’, Second World War : 461-477.

(68) Ibid. : 475.



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