Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Cinderella Army: The Canadians in Northwest Europe, 1944-1945

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Cinderella Army: The Canadians in Northwest Europe, 1944-1945

Article excerpt

Terry Copp, Cinderella Army: The Canadians in Northwest Europe, 1944-1945 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006), xi + 392pp. Cased. £28. ISBN 0-8020-3925-1. Paper. £20. ISBN 0-8020-9522-4.

Visiting Edinburgh, Terry Copp delivered one of the most effective lecture performances I have ever experienced. Addressing Scots ex-servicemen, veterans of 52nd Lowland Division who had fought alongside the Canadians in the Netherlands, he challenged the verdict of official war historian C.P. Stacey that Allied soldiers who emerged from the Normandy campaign were 'battle-hardened' and ready to sweep Hitler aside. Rather, he argued, they were men who had learned to avoid unnecessary risks as they tackled mundane but deadly tasks. It was a dangerous argument: a single wrong word would have alienated the audience. In fact, they nodded vigorous agreement: this professor from Canada understood and empathised with their experience. I tell the story because it encapsulates Copp's latest book, which roundly argues that in the last year of the European war Canadian forces 'played a role out of all proportion to their numbers' (p. 289). In summary accounts, everything post-Normandy seems a triumphant tailpiece, with US and British forces sweeping into the Ruhr, leaving the Canadians to mop up bypassed and demoralised Germans. This headline version is misleading in four respects, each involving High Command planning failures. First, despite fears of another 1914- 18 slogging match, nobody foresaw that infantry would suffer disproportionate casualties. Constituting fewer than 5 per cent of Allied forces, Canadians had the smallest available pool of available reinforcements. Copp dismisses legends of untrained cooks being thrown into combat, but he is sombre in stressing the psychological toll of battle fatigue. Second, Eisenhower's strategy involved swinging due east, so exposing their left flank in a region where the coastline runs northward. Thanks to tough localised actions by the Canadians, no Ardennes-style counter-attack was launched out of Holland. …

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