BOOKS AND RE­MEM­BRANCE

Wartime in­spires both true and fic­tional sto­ries, Pat St. Ger­main says.

Calgary Herald - - BOOKS -

Dam Busters: Cana­dian Air­men and the Se­cret Raid against Nazi Ger­many Ted Bar­ris HarperCollins Canada

Sea­soned jour­nal­ist-his­to­rian Ted Bar­ris turns a spot­light on a trag­i­cally heroic ef­fort to de­stroy key Ger­many mil­i­tary in­dus­trial cen­tres dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, the in­fa­mous overnight dam busters raid on a trio of hy­dro­elec­tric dams in the Ruhr Val­ley on May 16-17, 1943.

High­light­ing the role played by Cana­dian air crews — pi­lots, nav­i­ga­tors, gunners and bomb aimers — as well as Bri­tish, Aus­tralian and even U.S. air­men trained in Canada un­der the Bri­tish Com­mon­wealth Air Train­ing Plan, Bar­ris of­fers an ex­haus­tively re­searched his­tory of the raid, from its in­cep­tion, plan­ning and train­ing stages through its ex­e­cu­tion and af­ter­math.

Among the 133 men who em­barked on the mis­sion aboard 19 spe­cially mod­i­fied Lan­caster bombers were 29 Cana­di­ans, hail­ing from small towns like Wil­liams Lake, B.C.; Ponoka, Alta.; and Moose Jaw, Sask., as well as ur­ban cen­tres across the coun­try. Eight planes and 53 air­men didn’t make it back, in­clud­ing 14 Cana­di­ans.

Mythol­o­gized in the 1955 Bri­tish movie The Dam Busters, the plan con­ceived by Bri­tish en­gi­neer Barnes Wal­lis re­quired the crews to fly at dan­ger­ously low al­ti­tudes to re­lease pur­pose-built bounc­ing bombs from a height of just 60 feet. Made to evade tor­pedo nets, the bombs skipped across the wa­ter to their tar­get, sink­ing to a de­liver a lethal blow. While the dams were re­built within three months, the raid re­sulted in mass ca­su­al­ties, dev­as­tat­ing flood­ing and whole­sale destruc­tion of bridges and in­dus­trial plants, forc­ing Ger­many to re­di­rect at­ten­tion to re­build­ing in­fra­struc­ture and, ar­guably, thwart­ing sim­i­larly dev­as­tat­ing at­tacks on Al­lied Forces. It came at a high cost — one wor­thy of re­mem­brance 75 years on.

That’s My Baby Frances Itani HarperCollins Canada

Mu­sic has a spe­cial power to trig­ger mem­ory, and it plays a key role in Frances Itani’s fol­lowup to her 2012 Sco­tia­bank Giller Prize-short­listed novel, Tell. In that novel, set in the af­ter­math of the First World War, a dis­fig­ured vet­eran and his wife adopt a baby girl, Hanora. Her quest to learn the iden­ti­ties of her birth par­ents is at the cen­tre of That’s My Baby, which spans sev­eral decades, from Hanora’s 18th birth­day to her se­nior years, when she’s be­come care­giver to her cousin Bil­lie, who suf­fers from de­men­tia.

While she doesn’t know it, Bil­lie holds the key to un­lock­ing the mys­tery of Hanora’s birth, stem­ming from a prank they played as young women em­bark­ing on an ocean voy­age to Eng­land on the eve of the Sec­ond World War. And by chance, jour­nal­ist Hanora is given a piece of the puz­zle when she be­gins work on a bi­og­ra­phy of an artist who once lived near her home­town.

Itani, who has set pre­vi­ous nov­els against the back­drop of war (Deafen­ing, Re­quiem) ex­plores themes of love, loss and dev­as­ta­tion on two bat­tle­fronts in this evoca­tive tale, as Bil­lie’s strug­gle with de­men­tia takes its toll on both women.

Win­nie’s Great War Lind­say Mattick and Josh Green­hut, il­lus­trated by So­phie Black­all HarperCollins Canada

The story of Win­nie-the-Pooh’s name­sake bear, Win­nie’s Great War should come with a warn­ing. It’s a heart­breaker, pos­si­bly more so for adults than for its in­tended au­di­ence, ages 8-12.

Pre­sum­ably, most Cana­di­ans know the per­ti­nent facts: En route to Eng­land, First World War vet­eri­nar­ian Capt. Harry Cole­bourn adopted a tiny black bear cub in White River, Ont., named her for his home­town, Win­nipeg, and took her to live at the Lon­don Zoo while he went to bat­tle. There, she was vis­ited by author A.A. Milne and his son Christo­pher Robin, and the rest is lit­er­ary his­tory.

Cole­bourn’s great-grand­daugh­ter, Lind­say Mattick, and il­lus­tra­tor So­phie Black­all ex­pand on their 2015 pic­ture book Find­ing Win­nie in the new book, co-writ­ten by Josh Green­hut, as Mattick tells the “real story” of his toy bear to her young son Cole. The bio be­gins be­fore Win­nie is or­phaned, so brace your­self — like Bambi, she suf­fers a ter­ri­fy­ing loss early on. And war takes a toll on her hu­man friends and their war horses, too. But there’s plenty of mis­chief and magic to give the well-told story an uplift­ing frame. Rec­om­mended read­ing for all ages.

Ted Bar­ris re­counts the role Cana­di­ans (and oth­ers) played in the fa­mous Dam Busters raid of 1943.

Win­nie’s Great War

That’s My Baby

The Dam Busters

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