Friday, February 21, 2014

WW2: Recommended Reading 7

AND NO BIRDS SANG by Farley Mowat

["Another entry on the WW2 shelf"]

I bought this book new, a very wise move. And No Birds Sang first came out in 1975, and there may be old copies sitting about on shelves in used book stores but I haven't seen any, so when I saw this lone and new paperback (republished 2012) at Chapters last week I nabbed it. Full Price - $19.95. I know, that's a lot for me. But worth every penny.

Mowat's name was mentioned three or four times in another recent new purchase re Operation Husky, the Allied invasion of Sicily during WW2, and I recalled he landed with Canadians on the same south eastern peninsula as my father, and on the same day, July 10, 1943. So, truth be told, I was sold on this book before I even laid eyes on it.

The book tells of Farley's early training as a young peach-faced Canadian infantry officer with the 'Hasty Pees', the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment, and later adventures in Sicily. E.g., in July, 1942 he left Camp Borden, Ontario for Saint John, New Brunswick and was shipped to Scotland. He landed in Greenoch, after slowly steaming up the Clyde, just as my father had six months earlier, and - again like my father - was soon sent by rail to Southern England for training.

After the war he wrote the following about his early days in the UK:

     Real battle training had been singularly lacking during my
     first few months with the unit, but in mid-December we were
     sent north to the Allied Forces Combined Operations Training
     centre on Scotland's Loch Fyne. Here we inducted into the
     mysteries of making as assault upon an enemy-held coast.
     (pg. 21)

From another writer, familiar with Combined Operations and assault crafts (ALCs) or barges, here are a few words about 'the mysteries':

     We did much running up on beaches so soldiers could dis-
     embark and re-embark, always watching the tide if it was
     flowing in or going out. You could be easily left high and
     dry, or broach too (i.e., go in sideways), if you weren't
     constantly alert. We took long trips at night in close single
     formation, like ducks closed up close... (On the Ettrickwe
     clambered up scrambling nets and Jacob's ladders and
     became very proficient because we learned just to use our
     hands... and we got so it took about three seconds to drop
     25 - 30 feet on scrambling nets. [pg. 16, "DAD, WELL
     DONE" Naval memoirs of Doug Harrison]

Farley continues:

     For two exhausting but exhilarating weeks we scurried up
     and down scramble nets swaying dizzily over icy waters
     from the sides of troop ships, loading and unloading our-
     selves from heaving little landing craft. By night, under the
     lash of winter rain, we practised what we had learned,
     pitching through heaving seas to stumble ashore in freezing
     surf on beaches that crackled with simulated machine-gun
     fire and glared palely under the light of flares. (pg. 21 -22)

[Ettrick, training vessel used by Combined Ops in Scotland:
Photo found at Combined]

["Members of RCNVR and Comb.Ops. on landing craft"] 

["This and above photo from collection of Lloyd Evans, Ontario"]

Admittedly I would want the book because Mr. Mowat underwent and describes the training my father went through while in the UK, 1942 - 43, and also tells stories related to the invasion of Sicily, including how he got ashore in landing crafts very close to where my father worked upon his barge. But, Mowat's style of writing and clear descriptions of people and events are more than most would desire. Brilliant, I say. 

["Tiny Sully is filled with fear before landing in Sicily"]

["Submarines lurk in the Mediterranean"]

["We've landed. Now what do we do?"] 

I highly recommend AND NO BIRDS SANG to any student of World War 2 (FYI - 75th anniversary of Britain's declaration of war against Germany coming up in September) just so that one will understand the context of the book's title. I think that alone is worth 20 bucks.

Photos by GH unless otherwise stated

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