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Books

Canadian troops' tale an emotional minefield

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/12/2014 (924 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Award-winning military historian and novelist Mark Zuehlke has focused his career on remembering the Canadian men and women and the tremendous efforts undertaken in the Second World War.

The most recent recipient of the 2014 Governor General's History Award for Popular Media -- the Pierre Berton Award -- Zuehlke is now up to 11 books in his successful Canadian Battle series.

In his latest, Zuehlke shares the extraordinary accomplishments of these troops and brings alive the heroic Canadian contributions that helped bring the conflict to an end.

Zuehlke notes little has been written about the Rhineland campaign, the Allied forces' plan to go overland and end the war in Germany. But, it seems, not for a lack of source material.

"When I find that little has been written about a battle or campaign, my first thought is that there must be little historical record to draw upon. Inevitably, this proves not to be the case."

By November 1944, the First Canadian Army was along the Maas River in the Netherlands. Assigned to hold the area as a starting point for a major assault on Germany, the Canadian troops faced a number of challenges.

Poor roads, continuing rain and snow and extremely cold weather challenged army engineers and fighting men alike. Stuck vehicles and accidents were common, leading to significant delays in troop movements.

"Many soldiers who endured that long, cold winter remembered it as the worst of their lives. Despite the dreadful conditions, the war raged on."

By mid-November, the Germans had amassed troops to defend their position, and both sides dug in. Artillery and support regiments moved underground, their dugouts reinforced by items scavenged from ruined houses.

Zuehlke doesn't only focus on the military decisions, but the relationships between the players. British commander Bernard Montgomery had a number of run-ins with American general Dwight D. Eisenhower as well as with some leaders of the Canadian armies. This affected how decisions were made and communicated.

After many infantry patrols and skirmishes and a small but deadly battle at Kapelsche Veer, the First Canadian Army was set to take part in a larger offensive in early February, code-named Operation Veritable.

The banks of the Rhine River burst, flooding many intended targets. They pushed on, leading the way into Germany and facing a stronger resistance than expected.

Zuehlke's mastery at blending first-person accounts with meticulous military research brings these stories to life. He effortlessly combines the source materials, helping bring the reader into the heart of the action.

Despite significant losses, the First Canadian Army only had a few days of rest before Operation Blockbuster began, taking them even further into enemy territory. The successes they had were hard-fought, with hundreds dying and thousands wounded.

Zuehlke's respect and admiration for the soldiers resonates as he details the sacrifices that led to victory and the war's end less than two months later.

His powerful combination of fact and emotion in Forgotten Victory will help Canadians better understand and remember the dedication of the young men and women who served.

 

Julie Kentner is a Winnipeg writer.

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