The best books by Canadians on their World War 2 service

The Books I Picked & Why

And No Birds Sang

By Farley Mowat

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.


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

By George Blackburn

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.


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A Thousand Shall Fall

By Murray Peden

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.


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Not All of Us Were Brave

By Stanley Scislowski

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.


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

By Charles Cromwell Martin

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.


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