Canada's History : 2020-08-01

TRADING POST : 21 : 21


1939 1945 ON ALL FRONTS From the home front to the front lines, Canadians everywhere did their bit to help the Allies win the Second World War. by Tim Cook W hen Britain and France went to war with Germany on September 3, 1939, Canada had a decision to make: Stand with its allies or stay neutral. Canadians chose war. Tens of thousands enlisted in the army, navy, and air force, but Canada was deeply unprepared. Even as our government sent troops to defend England, shored up defences on Canada’s coasts, and engaged in naval convoy work, the fall of France in June 1940 to the mechanized and marauding German forces came as an utter shock. Stunned by France’s defeat, the Liberal government of William Lyon Mackenzie King ushered in limited conscripti­on for home defence. With much of continenta­l Europe occupied, a new resilience — tinged with panic — drove the creation of new military units and an intense accelerati­on of weapons production. The shocking German victory, and the follow-on threat to Britain by attacking aerial armadas, forced Canada to expand its commitment rapidly. Canadians would go on to serve and to fight around the world: in the Pacific and Far East, especially in Hong Kong and Burma; in the Mediterran­ean and Italy; on the oceans, primarily in the crucial Battle of the Atlantic; and in the air war to defend Canada and Britain, and then to take the war to the Germans in the skies over many countries. Finally, Canada made an immense contributi­on in the land campaign to liberate Europe, which began on D-Day, June 6, 1944, and continued in tooth-and-nail combat through France, Belgium, the Netherland­s and Germany. As James Alan Roberts, a pre-war ice cream salesman who rose in the army to the rank of brigadier, wrote after the war, “Canada is not a warlike nation [but] we played an unbelievab­ly important role … in the defeat of Hitler’s Germany.” Unlike the United States, Canada was engaged with the war from the start. The Americans initially stayed neutral, believing that North America was safe from invasion and that the calamity in Europe did not demand the sacrifice of American lives. That changed with the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, and German dictator Adolf Hitler’s ill-advised declaratio­n of war on the United States a few days later. The Americans were not ready. On the East Coast, German U-boats savaged shipping along the seaboard from early 1942. Fortunatel­y, by then the Royal Canadian Navy had won hard-earned experience in fighting the enemy and 21 AUGUST–SEPTEMBER 2020