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Guns of victory.

by George Blackburn $34.99, McClelland and Stewart

Any of the multitude of readers who enjoyed George Blackburn's Guns of Normandy would agree that it would be a tough act to follow. The author has, indeed, equalled or (in the opinion of some knowledgeable critics) surpassed his earlier work with The Guns of Victory.

The book is an excellent blend of personal experience and the "big picture" describing the operations of the Canadian First Army during the last eight months of the Second World War in Europe.

The author writes of his experiences with the 4th Field Regiment, RCA, which for this ex-infanteer, at least, proved to be a real eye-opener. For instance, while advancing to contact, rifle companies are usually rotated so that the task of the more dangerous "point" is shared -- not so for the Arty Forward Observation Officer who almost invariably is up in front with the leading company. Blackburn's affinity with the infantry -- especially with the RHLI (the Rileys) whose CO, Denis Whitaker, was himself a military author of high repute -- is evident. In turn, the efforts of the gunners were recognized by the units that they supported.

There is a wealth of personal detail -- the living conditions and the emotions of the sharp-end soldier are all well described. There are a host of anecdotes and vignettes, realistically described, that put the reader in the picture more effectively than most books I have read. Nor is humour lacking -- the story of an adopted chicken, "Gunner Hardtack," merits a book in itself.

The descriptions of the Scheldt battles, the bitter winter and the final Rhineland offensive are vividly written. It is unfortunate that while accounts of the Normandy Landings abound, so many Canadians have little or no knowledge of these later ordeals. Perhaps Blackburn and Brigadier Whitaker's works will help to overcome this discrepancy.

While the dull statistics frequently found in wartime accounts are missing, the author does provide occasional figures which fit in perfectly, and provide provocative pictures of, for example, relative casualties suffered and the sheer weight of artillery fire brought down on the hard-fighting enemy (and by inference, the tremendous logistical challenge of keeping up the ammunition supply). Perhaps an indication of how much the book had "got to me" was when I read the final chapter, which described the final "Resting of the Guns" after VE-Day, prior to their hand-over to the Dutch. I could almost feel George Blackburn's emotions as he bid farewell to his faithful metal comrades-in-arms of such an eventful year, and I even shed a surreptitious tear myself.

The author has promised a "prequel" telling the story of his unit from the arrival of a mixed bag of recruits in 1939 until its landing in Normandy in 1944. I look forward to reading it.

Review by Les Peate
COPYRIGHT 1997 S.R. Taylor Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Esprit de Corps
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 1997
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