Th­ese seven books shine a light on the hu­man sto­ries be­hind ev­ery war

The Globe and Mail (BC Edition) - - PURSUITS -

As Re­mem­brance Day ap­proaches, along with it the 100th an­niver­sary of the end of the First World War, Shelby Black­ley looks at books that ex­plore war from a va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent view­points The Fighters BY C. J. CHIVERS SI­MON & SCHUS­TER, 400 PAGES

“Stay with me here.” As a sol­dier looks down on an in­jured com­rade, he re­peats the words. “Hey, stay awake. Stay with me.”

Once you start, you can­not put this con­tem­po­rary his­tory down. The Fighters is told as a nar­ra­tive through the ex­pe­ri­ences of six U.S. com­bat­ants from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The per­spec­tives are unique and rich – and mostly heart­break­ing. Chivers, an in­fantry vet­eran turned Pulitzer Prize-win­ning war cor­re­spon­dent, be­gins with what led to the har­row­ing World Trade Cen­ter at­tack in Septem­ber, 2001, and takes read­ers to a decade later, when troops in those re­gions still num­bered al­most 100,000.

The fi­nal chap­ter nar­rows in on a meet­ing be­tween Ge­orge W. Bush and for­mer Navy corps­man Dustin E. Kirby in Novem­ber, 2013. Kirby had been shot in the head; it’s a mir­a­cle he sur­vived. What he went through was clearly life-chang­ing and as he sits with his mother across from the U.S. pres­i­dent who ush­ered in the coun­try’s cur­rent era of war, we feel the real im­pact of con­flict. Chivers makes a case for how hu­mans were dis­pos­able dur­ing th­ese events, a sen­ti­ment car­ried through to the fi­nal page. In a year when many au­thors have fo­cused on the cen­te­nary of the First World War, Chivers of­fers a de­fin­i­tive look at the mo­ral dilem­mas and suf­fer­ing of those en­gaged in mod­ern war­fare.

A Fam­ily of Broth­ers: Sol­diers Of The 26th New Brunswick Bat­tal­ion In The Great War BY BRENT WIL­SON GOOSE LANE EDI­TIONS, 296 PAGES

The 26th Bat­tal­ion from New Brunswick was formed in 1914 and reached the fronts of the First World War in Septem­ber, 1915. It was the only New Brunswick in­fantry bat­tal­ion to con­sis­tently serve there, un­til the Armistice in 1918. More than 5,700 sol­diers passed through its ranks – af­ter many of its bat­tles, the bat­tal­ion had to be vir­tu­ally re­built. The heart-wrench­ing sto­ries of some of its mem­bers are re­flected in A Fam­ily of Broth­ers.

Au­thor and pro­fes­sor Brent Wil­son chron­i­cles their col­lec­tive lives in a raw, au­then­tic way, such as the story of an On­tario sol­dier who joined the bat­tal­ion in 1916 as a re­in­force­ment. He sent a let­ter home, in which he talks about join­ing a group of vet­er­ans all from the same prov­ince as a rookie “out­sider.” He was ner­vous, he writes, but in the end “it was like join­ing a fam­ily of broth­ers.”

Wil­son’s strength is his abil­ity to tell the story away from the trenches: He of­ten looks at what hap­pened to sol­diers who went on leave, were not on the front lines or were too in­jured to fight. He also ex­am­ines the over all sup­port of the troops in New Brunswick, paint­ing a more com­plete pic­ture of how Canada aided in the war. Sol­diers came from all cor­ners of the prov­ince, even some places that no longer ex­ist to­day.

The legacy of the 26th, as Wil­son ar­gues, is syn­ony­mous with Canada’s most piv­otal mo­ments from the First World War: They fought key bat­tles in Ypres, the Somme, Vimy Ridge, Hill 70, Pass­chen­daele, Amiens and the Hun­dred Days cam­paign. With that in mind, the bat­tal­ion’s let­ters, doc­u­ments, pho­to­graphs and war di­aries, as col­lected and re­counted by Wil­son, be­come es­sen­tial read­ing on the Great War.

Dam Busters: Cana­dian Air­men and the Se­cret Raid Against Nazi Ger­many BY TED BAR­RIS PA­TRICK CREAN EDI­TIONS, 480 PAGES

Dam Busters re­counts the events of May 16, 1943, when the Op­er­a­tion Chas­tise air raid took place over Nazi Ger­many, us­ing bombs de­signed to break through the dams of the Ruhr River. The 10,000-pound de­vices were in­tended to de­stroy dams pow­er­ing the Nazi in­dus­trial mil­i­tary com­plex build­ing, which housed weapons, and knock out wa­ter, iron and steel pro­duc­tion.

Nine­teen crews were or­dered to fly at tree level, each with one of th­ese be­he­moth bombs, into Nazi ter­ri­tory. It was no easy feat, to say the least, and this mo­ment, cap­tured so in­tensely by Ted Bar­ris, gave the Al­lies an edge in the even­tual vic­tory of the Sec­ond World War.

A quar­ter of the air­men were Cana­dian. Bar­ris found Canada’s last sur­viv­ing dam-buster who par­tic­i­pated in the raid. Through his ac­count, and through in­ter­views with other vet­er­ans, fight logs and maps, Bar­ris tells the jaw-drop­ping story of a night that changed the war – one many for­get when they think of the Sec­ond World War.

On the 75th an­niver­sary of the year of that piv­otal night,

Dam Busters is an un­ex­pected read, be­cause we don’t nor­mally think about Cana­dian war his­tory this way. We rarely hear about the Cana­dian sol­diers on the front lines of cru­cial tac­ti­cal op­er­a­tions. In an in­ter­view, Bar­ris said he wanted to re­veal Cana­di­ans as war­riors. Dam Busters of­fers a fresh look at an over­looked tale.

Safe Haven:

The Wartime Let­ters of Ben Bar­man and Mar­garet Pen­rose, 1940-1943 EDITED BY ROD­ER­ICK J. BAR­MAN MCGILL- QUEEN’S UNI­VER­SITY PRESS, 264 PAGES

Pre­sented as a se­ries of let­ters, this books tells the story of a young boy in Bri­tain whose par­ents sent him to live in Lon­don, Ont., with a fam­ily friend dur­ing the Sec­ond World War. The story of his voy­age to Canada alone is enough to en­tice you to keep read­ing about how he han­dles the psy­cho­log­i­cal trauma that came with such a dis­place­ment. A gut-wrench­ing back-and-forth about a boy es­cap­ing war but miss­ing his fam­ily.

Pan­dora’s Box:

A His­tory of the First World War BY JORN LEON­HARD BELK­NAP PRESS, 1,104 PAGES

For a full, de­fin­i­tive look at the First World War that doesn’t stop at the Armistice, Pan­dora’s Box is your long read of the month. What makes it so com­pelling is the anal­y­sis of events af­ter the peace agree­ment of 1918, com­plete with a po­lit­i­cal map of the world and a stark look at the in­tense vi­o­lence that per­sisted in Eu­rope.


East Flam­bor­ough, now known as the town­ship of Flam­bor­ough, lo­cated just north­west of Hamil­ton, Ont., and about an hour out­side of Toronto, was a ru­ral area not com­monly dis­cussed in the con­text of the First World War. This book takes a mi­cro look at how what was hap­pen­ing over­seas af­fected even the small­est com­mu­ni­ties in Canada. Read this if you en­joy unique per­spec­tives and un­told sto­ries.

1917: War, Peace, and Rev­o­lu­tion BY DAVID STEVEN­SON OX­FORD UNI­VER­SITY PRESS, 512 PAGES

The First World War took place from 1914-18, but rarely does an au­thor look at a sin­gu­lar year, as David Steven­son does in this de­tailed ac­count of 1917. What stands out in this telling is how the war could have ended ear­lier. Read this if you want an in­ter­na­tional view of the un­der­ly­ing forces that pro­longed it all.

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