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Days of Victory: Canadians Remember, 1939-1945

by Ted Barris

In contrast to the flood of titles released in 2004 to mark the 60th anniversary of D-Day, in this year of the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, the flood has become a trickle. It’s a disturbing indication that the last nine months of the war in Europe are of little consequence to Canadian military historians, publishers, and readers. This lost opportunity is all the more fraught when we consider that with each passing anniversary we have less and less access to living veterans as source material.

One of the few exceptions to this trend is writer and broadcaster Ted Barris’s Days of Victory – an important contribution to our understanding of the Canadian experience of the Second World War. Barris uses personal accounts of soldiers and civilians who experienced firsthand the six war years to explore certain stories within the larger story of the war. The book was originally released in 1995, and this “60th Anniversary Edition” shows signs of many small edits and adds two chapters on the liberation of Holland.

Although the book flows more or less chronologically, and veterans’ recollections are briefly provided for the more traditionally historic events of the war, most of the book chronicles lesser-known events: Canadian POWs; the ill-managed postwar repatriation system; the VE Day Halifax riots; the VE and VJ Day celebrations by Canadians around the world; and many others. The book is not a history of Canada in the Second World War per se, and is not a substitute for such. Rather it is an effective use of anecdote to plumb some details of the war while applying emotional colour and context to the lives of Canadians of the time. If Days of Victory is approached as such, it’s worth the while of any history reader.

But despite the importance of Barris’s book, it cannot fill that nine-month gap. Where are the histories of the river battles in northern Italy and the clearing of the channel ports in France? And where are the histories of the Scheldt and Rhineland campaigns, to supplement the work of historian Gen. Denis Whitaker in the 1980s? It is sad that in this anniversary year one of the standout books is a rerelease, that this year the canon did not grow. If not now, when?