It wasn’t all that long ago that Canada could wage war with the best of them. Despite our small population we still managed to deploy tens of thousands of troops as recently as fifty years ago (Korean War). The public school system doesn’t really focus on our military tradition these days – I certainly was oblivious to it for much of my life. Here are some Canadian deployment figures, just in case you’ve never seen them before. Boer War World War I World War II Korean War Gulf War Deployment 7,369 628,736 1,081,865 26,791 4,074 Died 224 66,573 44,927 516 [... read the rest ...]

Feb 062011
The Wilhelm Gustloff

The odds are good that if you ask someone to name the greatest naval disaster in history, they will tell you that it was the sinking of the Titanic in April 1912.  They will be no where close. As well known as the Titanic is, the loss of life – 1,503 people – pales in comparison to the number of people who were killed when the Wilhelm Gustloff was torpedoed by a Russian submarine on January 30th, 1945. With World War II winding down and the German eastern front collapsing before the Russian onslaught, the Wilhelm Gustloff – a luxury [... read the rest ...]

The D-Day Dodgers

History Comments Off
Jan 232011

Below is an anecdote regarding the veterans of the Italian Campaign in World War II. [via The War Amps] From the time Canadian troops landed in Sicily in July 1943, through to the epic battle of Ortona and beyond, the Italian Campaign was front page news. However, after the D-Day invasion of France on June 6, 1944, Italy became the forgotten war. For the rest of the campaign – another year of bitter and bloody struggle – the Canadians toiled in virtual anonymity. The Allied troops in Italy, in a questionable jest, became known as the D-Day Dodgers. The nickname [... read the rest ...]

I have written about my great-grandfather several times before. He fought in World War One and survived to tell his tale, and when Canada joined World War Two, he signed up again – lying about his age in order to enlist. (Norman was technically a few years too old to fight in WW2, by the letter of the law.) Below is a copy of the letter that Norman Peterkin left for his children as he again risked his life for his country. The letter is written on four pages of Department of National Defense letterhead in beautiful flowing script. St. [... read the rest ...]

Dec 212010

Death Was Our Companion: The Final Days of the Third Reich, by Tony Le Tissier, is a compilation of memoirs, interviews, and journals from German soldiers who fought on the Eastern Front as the Russians rolled them into Berlin in the spring of 1945.  The individual accounts are supplied without embellishment, and present a much more personal history of the final days of Nazi Germany than anything that you will find in a history textbook. While it is easy to claim that all Germans were monsters during the second world war, that blanket assertion misses the individual truths:  many ordinary [... read the rest ...]

This is simply amazing:  aerial footage of some of the battlefields of world war one, shot in 1919. The trench networks are particularly striking, and the craters caused by constant shelling tell a horrifying tale.

11:00, 11/11

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Nov 112010
11:00, 11/11

Today is Remembrance Day, a time to remember those who have fought for us on foreign fields, and those who still fight today. If you were not there and thus cannot remember, then it is a time to learn about the men and women who gave us everything. On May 3, 1915 Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae wrote ‘In Flanders Fields’, a poem that every Canadian child learns in school around this time of year.  It’s a powerful piece, and to hear it read by an aged veteran is one of the most profound experiences I’ve ever had. In Flanders [... read the rest ...]

Nov 102010
Norman Peterkin: Torpedoed

Norman Peterkin, my great-grandfather, fought in both World War One and World War Two and survived to tell his tale. During WWII he served as a medical officer, which is not to say that he had an easy time of it, nor that he never saw combat. In fact, Norman Peterkin nearly lost his life in the waters of the Mediterranean when the ship he was serving on was torpedoed and sunk en route to Italy. For years after the war Norman carried shrapnel from the incident in his leg, and I imagine that he was lucky to get off [... read the rest ...]

Nov 092010
Bob Bates: As I Remember

A few years ago Larry Bates was kind enough to send me some words penned by his father for the Memory Project about his experiences during the Second World War. Here they are: AS I REMEMBER By Bob Bates Some Comments On Living Conditions ITALY – On the Adriatic Coast, November 1943 – May 1944 My purpose in writing these memories is not for self-aggrandizement, but to respond to some requests to tell it like it was for the 1st Canadian Infantry Division. My part of this was as a radio operator/signaler in the 77 Battery, 3rd Field Regiment, Royal [... read the rest ...]

Nov 082010
James Thorpe - March 6, 1916

The The Canadian Letters and Images Project (CLIP) is an excellent resource for anyone who would like to try to understand more about the men and women who fought in World War I and World War II. The web archive contains letters, postcards, photographs, newspaper clippings, and other memorabilia of members of the Canadian Armed Forces. I have chosen a letter that was written by James Thorpe, a Lieutenant in the Canadian Machine Gun Corps, on March 6, 1916 while he was in Flanders (Belgium). James was killed three months later. Flanders 6th March 1916 Dear Ma and Tax: By [... read the rest ...]

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