Thursday, May 1, 2014

WW2: Recommended Reading

Champagne NAVY by Brian Nolan, B.J. Street

Canada'a Small Boat Raiders of the Second World War

This informative, fast-paced book tells the story of many events involving 72 - 115 foot boats designed to patrol coastal waters, e.g., the English Channel, and harass the enemy during WW2. The introduction states 'motor torpedo boats and motor gunboats were the smallest fighting craft in the Royal Canadian Navy during the Second World War. To be accurate they should be referred to as ships...' And to be more accurate, they should be considered among the fastest of ships in the Navy, and service aboard should be considered more dangerous than almost any other work.

The book was published in 1991, comes in at 246 pages, and caught my attention early when I read that as some Canadian sailors initially arrived in the UK they were 'dive-bombed by a Stuka... just off the Isle of Wight', the same waters where my father (a member of RCNVR and Combined Operations) was harassed by dive-bombing Junkers 88s in 1942 while aboard HMS Ettrick, a troop-ship mentioned in the same paragraph by these future 'small boat raiders'.

On the back cover I also read 'Champagne NAVY is a popular account of Canada's forgotten sailors...' and immediately felt some allegiance to the account. Many men, including my father and fathers of my friends, arrived home after several years of service to a few words of welcome, a notice to return to work and encouragement to resume 'a normal life'. The authors write: For all the publicity the small-boat sailors received and the hoopla they endured during the Second World war, it seems odd that when they returned to Canada in 1945 they were soon as anonymous as when they left their native soil.

I say anonymity was typical of the times. Mens' silence was expected.

That being said, I recommend this book to all students of WW2. At the conclusion one will know more about the sacrifices of brave men who raced across channels and seas in oft-times out-manned and out-gunned boats to guard valuable troops, protect coastal waters and harass German E-boats, mine sweepers and merchant ships. And though the writing is not flamboyant there are several gripping episodes and the occasional paragraph that can be considered 'prose of war'.

see other sunrises

there had been much to celebrate.
when the officers and men awakened
on that day in May in 1945,
it was the first dawn
in nearly 6 years
that was not accompanied
by a promise of death.

the crews knew that
they would most surely
see other sunrises.

it was the first time
in a spectacular year of warring
that they knew they would not be
called on to go to sea to kill
and destroy the enemy.

victory meant, too,
they could now go home.

(page 240)

Photos by GH

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