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Juno: Canadians At D-Day June 6, 1944

by Ted Barris

History often seems inevitable. Sixty years after the fact, when thinking about victory in the Second World War, we point to American industry, British pluck, the endless Russian steppe, and, yes, Canadian determination, and say that the Allied victory was predestined, and what could those Axis powers have been thinking.

It is easy to overlook that history is the sum of the decisions and actions of individuals. Victory, or at least the quality of that victory, hung on their outcome. There were days saturated with this potentiality, when actions had amplified consequences. One of those days was June 6, 1944 – D-Day – the Allied invasion of Normandy.

Writer and broadcaster Ted Barris furthers our understanding of the influence of individuals on that fateful day. Focusing specifically on Canadian D-Day efforts, the book uses veterans’ personal accounts to frame events. Many of the veterans Barris chronicles are those whose roles are often left out of traditional military histories. Included in the book, for example, are accounts from crewmembers on navy mine sweepers and torpedo boats, radar-jamming airmen and glider pilots, operating room assistants and military reporters, telephone line stringers, and even a trumpet player in an army dance band.

Barris is not just demonstrating the enormous scope of the landings, but reminding us that it was the decisions and actions of these individuals that added up to victory. For want of a nail the enormous gamble that was D-Day could very well have ended in disaster.

The veterans’ stories are skillfully interwoven with sufficient strategic and tactical detail to make this a useful book for budding historians, and an interesting addition to more traditional histories. There is some sense of a missed opportunity in the fact that Barris makes no conclusions about the citizen-soldiers and what, if anything, defines them and their time. Also, the book lacks maps sufficiently detailed to support such a finely drawn Canadian portrait of that day.