The best books by Canadians on their World War 2 service

Who am I?

Since the mid-1990s, I’ve written thirteen volumes in The Canadian Battles Series—more than a million words on the battles, campaigns, and experiences of my nation’s army during World War II. I started this because Canadians were usually no more than a footnote in the WWII histories written by American and British historians, despite having been the third-largest army serving alongside their armies in Italy and Northwest Europe. Realizing that the Canadian story would only be told if we wrote it ourselves, I embraced the task and continue to do so thirty years later.


I wrote...

Juno Beach: Canada's D-Day Victory -- June 6, 1944

By Mark Zuehlke,

Book cover of Juno Beach: Canada's D-Day Victory -- June 6, 1944

What is my book about?

On June 6, 1944, the greatest armada in history stood off Normandy and the largest amphibious invasion ever began as 107,000 men aboard 6,500 ships pressed toward the coast. Among this number were 14,500 Canadians, who were to land on a five-mile-long wide expanse of sand in front of three bucolic Norman villages—code-named Juno Beach. Sheltered inside the villages and behind a six-foot-high sea wall, hundreds of German soldiers sheltered inside concrete bunkers and deep trenches waited to strike the assault wave with some ninety 88-millimetre guns, fifty mortars, and four hundred machineguns. Extending from the sea wall into the surf itself were ranks of tangled barbed wire, tank and vessel obstacles, and a maze of mines. Of the five Allied forces landing that day, they were scheduled to be the last to reach the shore. Juno was also the most exposed beach, their day’s objectives nine miles inland were farther away than any others, and the opposition awaiting them was believed greater than that facing any other force. At battle’s end, one out of every sixteen Canadians in the invasion force was either dead or wounded. Yet their grip on Juno Beach was firm and—at six miles inland—the Canadian advance was the deepest achieved on June 6. 

The books I picked & why

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And No Birds Sang

By Farley Mowat,

Book cover of And No Birds Sang

Why this book?

Canada’s most famous nature and environmental issues author also served as a lieutenant in the Canadian army during World War II. He joined the infantry in 1940 after being turned away by the Royal Canadian Air Force due to his youth and apparent frailty. When his Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment landed on Bark West Beach in Sicily on July 10, 1943, Mowat began a long march through combat that would only eventually end with the war’s end in the Netherlands. But it was the intense experience of combat from that searing hot July day to the end of December 1943 that indelibly shaped his thoughts on war, humanity—or lack thereof—and are captured so vividly in gripping prose by Mowat. Undoubtedly one of the finest World War II memoirs ever.

And No Birds Sang

By Farley Mowat,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked And No Birds Sang as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Turned away from the Royal Canadian Air Force for his apparent youth and frailty, Farley Mowat joined the infantry in 1940. The young second lieutenant soon earned the trust of the soldiers under his command, and was known to bend army rules to secure a stout drink, or find warm -- if nonregulation -- clothing. But when Mowat and his regiment engaged with elite German forces in the mountains of Sicily, the optimism of their early days as soldiers was replaced by despair. With a naturalist's eyes and ears, Mowat takes in the full dark depths of war; his moving…


The Guns of Normandy: A Soldier's Eye View, France 1944

By George Blackburn,

Book cover of The Guns of Normandy: A Soldier's Eye View, France 1944

Why this book?

Why two books instead of one. Well, because the two are equally excellent accounts that taken together span the combat service of a young Canadian artillery forward observation officer (FOO). The life span of many FOOs was short, the long antennas of the wireless sets they carried out front with the advancing infantry to call in artillery support were magnets for Germans snipers. But Blackburn beat the odds and survived to write this remarkably frank and honest memoir of eleven months of almost constant battlefield action. Over this course of a journey from Normandy through Belgium, the Netherlands, and into northwestern Germans in the final push, the reader feels literally by Blackburn’s side and inside his thoughts and emotions. From early confidence in his abilities and training to a slow descent toward fatalism and a simple grim determination to survive, Blackburn’s journey is both highly individualistic and simultaneously an epic tale with which every soldier of the war could identify.

The Guns of Normandy: A Soldier's Eye View, France 1944

By George Blackburn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Guns of Normandy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the weeks after D-Day, the level of artillery action in Normandy was unprecedented. In what was a relatively small area, both sides bombarded each other relentlessly for three months, each trying to overwhelm the other by sheer fire power.

The Guns of Normandy puts the reader in the front lines of this horrific battle. In the most graphic and authentic detail, it brings to life every aspect of a soldier’s existence, from the mortal terror of impending destruction, to the unending fatigue, to the giddy exhilaration at finding oneself still, inexplicably, alive.

The story of this crucial battle opens…


A Thousand Shall Fall

By Murray Peden,

Book cover of A Thousand Shall Fall

Why this book?

As a pilot with Bomber Command, Murray Peden flew thirty combat missions and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. While many bomber veterans have written solid memoirs to their experiences, this book is also a fine examination of the Bomber Command Campaign. To my knowledge, no other memoir of Bomber Command garnered the praise of its British Commander, Royal Air Force Marshal, Sir Arthur (Bomber) Harris. “I consider it not only the best and most true to life ‘war’ book I’ve ever read about this war, but the best about all the wars of my lifetime,” Harris wrote. Not only does it relate the story of Bomber Command operations, but it authentically captures the flavour of life experienced by its aircrews both during missions and in the downtime between. Peden was a gifted writer with a mastery of language that combined with a keen ability as a witness to war and air force life that makes this book a classic of war memoir.

A Thousand Shall Fall

By Murray Peden,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Thousand Shall Fall as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of the finest war memoirs ever written.

During World War II, Canada trained tens of thousands of airmen under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. Those selected for Bomber Command operations went on to rain devastation upon the Third Reich in the great air battles over Europe, but their losses were high. German fighters and anti-aircraft guns took a terrifying toll. The chances of surviving a tour of duty as a bomber crew were almost nil.

Murray Peden's story of his training in Canada and England, and his crew's operations on Stirlings and Flying Fortresses with 214 Squadron, has…


Not All of Us Were Brave

By Stanley Scislowski,

Book cover of Not All of Us Were Brave

Why this book?

Stan Scislowski’s Not All of Us Were Brave is a deeply honest portrayal of war from the perspective of a private soldier. Serving with the Perth Regiment, Scislowski was in the thick of virtually every battle that I Canadian Corps fought from January 1944 to January 1945. His masterful recounting of combat and the grind of military life when not on the sharp end if unforgettable. There are moments of remarkable courage intermingled with numbing fear and despair wherein it is never certain how Scislowski or his comrades are going to respond to the latest danger and usually chaotic mission. Mere chance determines those who live and those who die. Scislowski survives, but not before descending into post-traumatic stress disorder that takes him from the field. As with battle, Scislowski is brutally honest about this experience as well. In my Canadian Battle Series books about the Italian Campaign, many passages from 'Not All of Us Were Brave' have often been cited for accurately capturing the experience of soldiers in a particular time of combat.

Not All of Us Were Brave

By Stanley Scislowski,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Not All of Us Were Brave as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Wonderfully insightful guidance on the crucial issue of change in our lives, which explains both how to handle change and how to create it - from the bestselling author of The Purpose of Your Life and The Celestine Experiential Guide.

In her previous books, noted intuitive counsellor Dr Carol Adrienne helped readers use intuition and the power of synchronicity to identify their purpose in life. Now, in this time of social and economic turbulence, she helps them take the next step: staying true to one's purpose and moving forward rather than staying stuck.

In this timely and invaluable handbook, Adrienne…


Battle Diary: From D-Day and Normandy to the Zuider Zee and VE

By Charles Cromwell Martin,

Book cover of Battle Diary: From D-Day and Normandy to the Zuider Zee and VE

Why this book?

On June 6, 1944, Charles (Charlie) Martin was twenty-four and one of the youngest Company Sergeant Majors in the Queen’s Own Rifles. He was also one of the first Canadian soldiers to pile out of a landing craft onto Juno Beach in the face of heavy German machine-gun fire. From that day on the beach to when he was finally wounded for the first time on April 16, 1945, Martin was always at the forefront of the battle. While an excellent account of his combat experience, Martin also deeply examines the role of a Company Sergeant Major in leading and running an infantry company during the war. And he provides detailed descriptions of how such a company conducted itself during specific types of combat from patrols, to set-piece assaults, to setting up defensive positions. For anyone wanting to understand the experience of soldiers in World War II, Battle Diary is a must.

Battle Diary: From D-Day and Normandy to the Zuider Zee and VE

By Charles Cromwell Martin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Battle Diary as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A fast-paced account by a soldier who was twice decorated. Charlie Martin, company sergeant-major in the Queen's Own, was with his beloved A Company in all of the significant Normandy actions.


5 book lists we think you will like!

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