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Cinderella Army: The Canadians in Northwest Europe 1944–1945

by Terry Copp

First Canadian Army, known as the Cinderella Army, was the smallest of the Allied armies that fought the final nine months of the Second World War in Northwest Europe. The moniker derives from its role on the “long left flank” of the Allies, fighting what seemed like low-priority, attritional battles far from the limelight of the victorious sweeps through France, Belgium, and ultimately Germany. The Canadians were not invited to the ball.

In his new survey, Cinderella Army, professor Terry Copp does not try to dispel the metaphor. Amidst the increasingly fractious disputes between the British and U.S. generals about the best way to end the war, the Canadians appeared forgotten, relegated to tasks like the mundane and dangerous siege warfare at the Channel ports. Indeed, Copp shows that even when fighting its most important battles – clearing the Scheldt estuary to open the port of Antwerp – First Canadian Army did not have the attention of the senior Allied command. More importantly, neither did they have access to the assets that came with that attention.

As indicated in the book’s preface, Copp has borrowed from his previously published material, including his fascinating work on battle exhaustion and applied operational research. This new book can replace the final three books in his 1980s series Maple Leaf Route, text from which is used extensively in Cinderella.

The book is certainly a worthy addition to the limited published material on the final campaign in Northwest Europe. It is not specifically intended for the new reader of Canadian military history – implicit in the writing is a basic knowledge of the overall campaign, as well as military nomenclature and hardware. And the absence of an order of battle will leave the well-read only marginally less bewildered than the novice.

Copp has shown that between isolated incidents of both brilliance and ineptitude were countless incidents of skill, courage, and perseverance needed to get the job done. And unlike the fairy tale, for this Cinderella the only happy ending was the ending of the war itself.