Cat No.: CA0298:The 66th Canadian Field Artillery was recruited in Montreal but, judging by the included Nominal Role, it was manned as much by men from outside Montreal as by those from within it. This, in its own right, is somewhat remarkable since the recruitment took place in March of 1916 and it might have been thought that enthusiasm for joining up would have waned with the duration of the fighting and with the reports of the deaths reaching home. Not So! The recruitment office was inundated with applications and could easily have filled every position twice over.
The format of the story is familiar: Basic training here in Canada followed by more advanced training in England before joining the fighting at the front. Movements in response to the changing fortunes of the conflict and finally the 'push towards the Rhine followed by a period of occupation. This qualifies it as a book of interest to those who have connections with the fighting unit but does not make it anything exceptional as a history of events. And yet this book stands out in its genre for a very specific reason:
Anyone familiar with military unit histories will recognize that they are mostly the work of one or two dedicated individuals, who have had, at least, a little time to reflect on events, and who have taken time to consult the official records as well as with others who had lived through the experience. This gives their history a certain detachment and, supposedly, the advantage of distance from the events being reported. But this is exactly where the specialty of this book starts:
This is a work ground out to use the words of the Preface, in the course of a day, by many individuals who were right there. It was written as they waited to return to their interrupted civilian lives, with all the drama and reality of their experience still fresh in their minds. This may not have produced the maturity of hindsight which is frequently the aim of such a work but it does bear the freshness and honesty that comes of immediacy. Nor were its joint authors great literacy spirits, they were just recruits who felt the need to write down their experiences. This is not great literature in the classical sense. What it is, is an honest, spontaneous, first hand, close up, recounting of a life changing experience, written as much for the authors own use in their own latter years as for the benefit of us newcomers.
An exceptional opportunity to live the experience through the eyes, ears and minds of a handful of those who survived.
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