Sunday, 24 May 2020

The Suicide Battalion: 46th Canadian Infantry on the Western Front (book review)

This review is taken from my Goodreads page.

The Suicide Battalion: 46th Canadian Infantry on the Western Front, World War One (Armchair general series)The Suicide Battalion: 46th Canadian Infantry on the Western Front, World War One by James McWilliams
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a free review copy from Sapere Books.

Like many battalions from across the Empire, the 46th was formed from volunteers willing to leave their civilian lives and go half way across the world to fight for King and country. It is still amazing to think that people would be willing to risk their lives to fight for the protection of a country so far away. In fact, given that Great Britain only entered the war due to Germany's invasion of Belgium to get to France then these brave Canadians gave their lives to protect countries beyond Empire. When one looks back to the times though it has to be remembered that North American countries were younger, their generations of immigrants fewer and the ties to the 'old country' would be stronger. Canadians marched through French towns on the way to war wearing kilts and whisky was the drink of choice for officers.

First published in 1978 this book is meticulously researched and is able to include first hand accounts from men who were still alive at the time of publication. It is a harrowing read. Immensely so. The descriptions of the injuries, the manner of death of so many young men, the conditions under which they lived, slept, ate, fought and died are harsher than more recent accounts. There is no gloss her, fear and horror sit alongside bravery.

And what bravery. There are tales that spring from the pages of comic books, of dashing sergeants running and shooting from the hip; of men taking out a dozen Germans and capturing scores more. To me, though, the real bravery is just climbing up that ladder and walking towards the enemy and the 46th did it time after time after time. The Somme, Passchendaele, Vimy, Valenciennes, the list of battles at which they fought is incredible and yet those same boys from South Saskatchewan kept going back to the line and going again. This isn't crazed bloodlust, this isn't hardened soldiering, this is a group of farmhands and clerks following orders, overcoming fear and honestly talking of the confusion of battle.

The start of the book will be a joy for military history fans but the numbers of battalions and the administration of armies didn't do much for me but once they arrive in England and then on to France it picks up and is as honest an account of how horrific war is as I have ever read. Rum was a welcome relief on the frontline and I raised a glass to them several times during reading this book.

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