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