Military History

This series by historian Terry Copp examines many aspects of our military history. Guaranteed to fascinate.


Our Rescue Role At Arnhem: Army, Part 32

  One of the most moving ceremonies associated with WW II takes place every September at the Arnhem-Oosterbeek war cemetery in Holland. That is when Dutch schoolchildren stand quietly next to each grave and then on a signal place bouquets of flowers. Three quarters of the 1,760 graves are for men who served with the 1st British Airborne Division, 43 Wessex Div. or the Polish Parachute Brigade. These men died in the struggle to liberate Arnhem and to win control of a bridge across the lower Rhine River in September 1944. The poignant ceremony is part of a program that includes a parachute drop and the annual Air...
War Art

Tom Wood

Tom Wood's paintings depict life in the Royal Canadian Navy during WW II. From top to bottom: The Beach at Courseulles-sur-Mer and Stokers. There is a rusty, industrial look to Tom Wood’s war art. Raw sienna and grey are two of the colours that layer the canvases of this official Canadian war artist who painted for the Royal Canadian Navy from February 1944 until March 1946. Wood used these colours to create a sense of foreboding in his wartime depictions of the RCN at work on the cold sea. Born in Ottawa in 1913, Wood was mostly a self-taught artist who enlisted in the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve in May 1943. During his time as an official war artist, Wood painted in Newfoundland, England and on Canadian corvettes and frigates on the North Atlantic. He became a lieutena...

The March To The Seine: Army, Part 30

The Allied commanders planned the battle of Normandy as the first phase of a long deliberate campaign to liberate France. On D-Day plus 90–Sept. 6, 1944–they hoped to control an area bounded by the rivers Seine and Loire and then pause long enough to build up resources for a series of operations that would bring them to the borders of Germany. Hitler and his generals, meanwhile, poured all their resources into the defence of Normandy and so when the Allies broke through, the enemy could not muster enough troops to hold Paris or stop an Allied advance. The situation was so fluid that anything seemed possible, even a quick thrust to Berlin to end the war in 1944. General Bernard Montgomery became obsessed with this idea. On Aug. 17, when the battles around Falaise were still raging, ...
War Art

Frederick Horsman Varley

Frederick Horsman Varley produced a number of painitings that depict simple, disturbing truths about war. From top to bottom: The Sunken Road, For What? and Gas Chamber at Seaford. The war art of F.H. Varley is economical. It pulls no punches; neither does it glamorize. The thick oil sculpts bodies and land into one compelling image of colour and texture; we can’t really see where the land begins or the death ends. He presents simple, disturbing truths. Frederick Horsman Varley was born in Sheffield, England, in 1881. He studied art in Sheffield, then in Antwerp, Belgium, at the Académie royale des beaux arts, and immigrated to Toronto in 1912. In January 1918, he was appointed an official war artist, given an honorary commission and sent to France to paint. He was present duri...

Our Polish Comrades: Army, Part 29

Canadians have a particularly close relationship with the Polish Armoured Division that fought as part of the 1st Canadian Army throughout much of WW II. Many Polish veterans, unwilling to return to their country while it was under Soviet control, settled in Canada and this strengthened the connection. The Polish Armd. Div. was formed out of elements of the army that escaped from Poland and reassembled in France during the winter of 1939-40. Polish troops, serving under French command, fought in Norway and in the Battle of France. When Paris was declared an open city and rumours of an imminent surrender reached the Polish commander, General Wladyslaw Sikorski, all units were ordered to try to escape to Britain. Gen. Stanislaw Maczek’s 10th Mechanical Cavalry Brigade, which became t...

Reassessing Operation Totalize: Army, Part 27

On July 30, 1944, Lieutenant-General Guy Simonds summoned the senior officers of 2nd Canadian Corps to his main headquarters at the chateau in Cairon, northwest of Caen. There was complete silence as Simonds described the deeds that had won the Victoria Cross for Major J.K. Mahoney of the Westminster Regiment (Motor) in Italy just a couple of weeks before. Mahoney’s company, with a troop of light recce tanks from the Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians), had seized a bridgehead across the Melfa River and held it against repeated counterattacks. There was an edge to Simonds’ voice as he spelled out "the points in this episode" that he wanted "all officers to read and think about," and to discuss with their troops. The Westminsters, Simonds noted, were in their first major offensiv...