Gerry B's Book Reviews

Amazing Stories – WWI, WWII and the Canadian Navy

This year marks some very significant, historical anniversaries that should be remembered by all of us with gratitude. For example, it was 65 years ago on May 8, 1945, that V-E Day (Victory in Europe) was declared. Thus ending the second of two horrendously bloody conflicts in Europe to occur during the 20th century—the first being WWI, which ended on November 11th, 1918.

Similarly, on August 14th, 1945, V-J Day (Victory in Japan) was declared in United States. This conflict saw the first—and mercifully the only use of atomic weapons in warfare.

This year is also the centenary of the Canadian Navy (1910 – 2010).

I have therefore selected three books; one each on the First and Second world wars, and one commemorating the Canadian navy. All three are part of the “Amazing Stories” series published by Altitude Publishing Company.

About Amazing Stories: Amazing Stories™ features a variety of titles to entertain, delight, and fascinate. Dedicated to great storytelling, these true Canadian stories range from funny to daring to purely inspirational. The books are identified by genre – History, Biography, Women, Animal, Human Interest, Mystery, Romance, Business, etc.,– to help you identify the books that you are interested in, either for yourself or as a gift for others.
Each book tells the story of a fascinating Canadian or an event that has happened somewhere in Canada, from the earliest days up to the present. Taken as a whole, the series presents a portrait of the entire country, raising issues – such as regional differences, historical precedent, and cultural uniqueness – that contribute to the wider definition of Canadian identity.
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Mysteries, Legends and Myths of the First World War: Canadian Soldiers in the Trenches and in the Air – by Cynthia J. Faryon

Publisher’s blurb: This book offers a fresh, close-up look at the First World War as it was experienced by ordinary Canadian soldiers. This is the war as it was experienced by the tens of thousands of young Canadians. Reading their accounts offers a no-holds-barred picture of fighting, life in the trenches, the human cost in lives lost, and the physical and emotional aftermath for survivors.
About the Author: Cynthia J. Faryon is an internationally published author and freelance writer. Originally from Victoria, B.C., she now resides in Richer, Manitoba with her husband and their two dogs. Faryon focuses her writing on Canadian content, covering topics such as travel, family issues, biography and history.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

I don’t think I could possibly do greater justice to this collection of vignettes than Cynthia Faryon’s superb prologue (quoted below in part). In it she puts herself in the mind of Edgar Simpson fighting in the trenches of WWI just before he is killed by enemy fire:

“I’ve got a feeling in the pit of my stomach that I’m not going to survive the day. I hope it’s only the usual fear and the strain of the inhuman conditions getting to me: the mud, exploding shells, human body parts flying through the air—and always, always being wet.”

“Oh my God, the shelling has started and look—smoke is covering no-man’s land, and I can see the enemy cutting through the rolls of barbed wire between us and them!

There are more German’s coming at us than I can count. They look like apparitions with bayonets. I’m shooting, and all down the line machine guns are chattering and men are falling. The water in the bottom of the trench is turning red with blood. There are bodies everywhere and wounded men are falling.

I sense the bullet before feeling it.

In stunned disbelief I look at my chest, at the hole and the blood. I look around for help, but my buddies are busy fighting for their own survival.

Darkness. I feel my body hitting the ground.

What next? Death is coming quickly and I’m engulfed in painless warmth. Then with a flickering consciousness, I’m leaving my body. The fear is gone and I’m strangely emotionless.”

In this imagined episode she has captured the fear, the sense of duty, the poignancy and the sacrifice of one ordinary soldier, in this case Edgar Simpson of Winnipeg, for all the others in the so-called “war to end all wars.”

Other stories included are similarly poignant, or heart-touching, such as “A Bear Named Winnipeg” (the true story of “Winnie the Pooh”), “In Flanders Fields,” and “The Hero of the Halifax Battle.”

Highly recommend, and a “Must Read.”

Unbelievable Canadian War Stories: Well Beyond the Call of Duty – Pat MacAdam 

Publisher’s blurb: Often little-known but extraordinary, the quiet heroes of one of the most destructive wars in his-tory left indelible impressions among those whose lives were touched by their actions. Up against firing squads, torpedoes, rogue waves, P.O.W. camps, and all the living hells of warfare, they persevered, they saved lives, and they valiantly served their country. Distinguished and decorated, these men used unconventional methods and quick-thinking tactics to excel on the front lines.

About the Author: Patrick (Pat) MacAdam is a native Cape Bretoner who has made Ottawa his home since 1959. He holds bachelor’s degrees in arts and education from St. Francis Xavier University. He paid his way through university by writing for the Sydney Post-Record, Halifax Chronicle-Herald and Fredericton Daily Gleaner. He spent three summers in the Canadian Officers Training Corps in Camp Borden, Ontario, and Halifax, Nova Scotia, and was commissioned a lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps. His entire professional life has been in public relations and politics. He was a researcher, speechwriter, and aide to Prime Minister John Diefenbaker from 1959 to 1963. In 1983, he joined his university friend, Brian Mulroney, as his first employee and most senior aide.

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The design of the new Canadian War Museum used the theme “ordinary Canadians doing extraordinary things. This book contains vignettes of some of them from the heroic to the outrageous, but always getting the job done in the service of their country and the rest of us. Therefore, it is important that these—representative—deeds of courage and valour be remembered on behalf of those who have gone before.

Indeed, many of them have already been forgotten. For example, “Canada’s Most Decorated Hero of WWII,” Johnnie Fauquier, who was buried in Ottawa’s Beechwood Cemetery with full military honours and then forgotten.

“Had Johnnie Fauquier been an American,” observes Pat MacAdam, “Hollywood might have passed over Audie Murphy, Congressional Medal of Honour winner and United States’ most decorated soldier, for star treatment. The movie “To Hell and Back,” which starred Audie Murphy himself, told the story of his heroism.

“Johnnie Fauquier went to hell and back 100 times on bombing raids over Berlin, other key German targets, and the Peenamunde V2 rocket bases on the Baltic Sea. The normal tour for a bomber piolet was 30 raids. He did three tours and then some. He was the first Canadian to comman a bomber squadron in battle, commanding both the crack RCAF 495 Pathfinder Squadron and later the RAF’s legendary Dambusters, Johnnie Fauquier was awarded the Dstinguished Service Order Medal (second only to the Victoria Cross) three times—more than any other Canadian warrior. He also wore the distinctive ribbon of the Distinguished Flying Cross on his tunic.”

Yet, his plain grey granite grave marker simply records that Air Commodore John Emilius Fauquier is at rest there.

Highly recommended for those of us who want to remember.

 

Unsung Heroes of the Royal Canadian Navy: Incredible Tales of Courage and Daring During World War II – Cynthia J. Faryon

Publisher’s blurb: At the outbreak of World War II, the Royal Canadian Navy consisted of just 13 warships and about 3000 permanent and reserve members. By the war’s end, however, it had grown into the third largest navy in the world, with 365 warships and more than 100,000 personnel. The men and women of the Royal Canadian Navy came from all corners of Canada to fight in the sea war against the enemy. Together, they exceeded even the highest expectations of their allies.

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These are the stories of the men who go down to the sea in ships, and those ships they sail in. Like all war stories these are filled with acts of courage—both individually and collectively—pathos, skill and daring. Even the mascots are remembered as a dog named “Bunker B”—a listed casualty when the Athabaskan  sank under fire—and a cat named “Ginger” on her sister ship, the HMCS Haida.  

In a chapter named “Abandoned Ship, Abandoned Survivors” it tells the heart-breaking and hear-warming story of what happened when duty clashes with the natural instincts of loyalty and compassion. In war, duty wins.

“The Haida trembled and vibrates as the turbines throb. Petty Officer HP Murray and Telegraphist SA Turner are still on one of the scramble nets trying to rescue survivors as the ship starts to move. They look at the hands reaching out to them and grab for one more. The ocean current around their legs gets stronger and, handing off the last of the survivors, they both struggle to unhook themselves from the nets. The waves are now waist high, and the force is making it impossible to climb up. Hands from above reacdch down, gripping … pulling … tugging, but it is no use. The Haida picks up speed and suddenly the rope breaks. The wake surges over the two men and washed them straight into the turning screws.”

On the other hand.

“Far out in the Channel, the Haida’s cutter is slowly making its way home. The men are wet and cold. But with hard tack, water, and malted milk tablets, they are better off than those left at the site of the sinking. Suddenly, on the horizon looms a German mine sweeper thqt changes course and heads directly for the small boat. Darting into a mine field, the men pray the Germans will give up. For a moment it looks as though the vessel is planning to fire on them. It hesitates, then swings around, leaving the survivors to their fate. Every man on that little boat knows their situation is desperate and that the odds are against them.

“The Haida’s cutter is finally spotted by a squadron of RAF planes and the exhausted survivors are picked up by an Air/Sea Rescue launch and taken to Penzance. By midnight they are resting, warm, and comfortable. But a disquieting thought stays with them all. “What about the rest of the gang?””

Like the others, this comes highly recommended for truly inspirational reading that will leave you with goose-bumps and a warm feeling in your heart!

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In memory of my sister Beverley Hill, 1934 – 2010.

See a preview of my up-coming novel, Coming of Age on the Trail, read an excerpt.

See an alphabetic list of titles and authors reviewed.

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May 7, 2010 - Posted by | Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Non-fiction

2 Comments »

  1. I have been attempting to purchase some of the books in the Amazing Stories series. However, I believe Altitude Publishing went out of business two years ago. Is there another source of these books?

    Thanks and regards,

    W. R. Wood

    Comment by Robert Wood | June 11, 2010 | Reply

    • Hello Robert

      Thank you for bringing this information to my attention. I purchased my copies at a Chapters/Indigo outlet. However, I just checked Amazon.ca, and found that they are available hrough them.

      Thanks for droppinng by Gerry B’s Book Reviews.

      Gerry B

      Comment by Gerry B. | June 11, 2010 | Reply


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