________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 12 . . . . February 6, 2009

cover Great Canadian Battles: Heroism and Courage Through the Years.

Edward Humphreys.
London, UK: Arcturus (Distributed in Canada by Saunders Book Company), 2008.
208 pp., hardcover, $14.99.
ISBN 978-1-84193-962-9.

Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.

Review by Val Ken Lem.

**1/2 /4


In his failed attempt to rally the regulars at the Battle of Queenston Heights, Colonel Scott had urged his men to redeem the honour lost at Fort Detroit. William Hull’s surrender weighed heavily on the United States, which, with winter descending, saw little opportunity to rid the British and Canadians from American soil. The Michigan Territory had been lost and much of Indiana Territory and Ohio were now under enemy control. Conversely, the only American forces in British North America were prisoners of war, held hundreds of kilometers from where they had been captured. To many in the southern republic, it seemed incredible that the British colonies to the north, with a combined population of 300,000, had proven themselves superior in battle to a united nation of some 8,000,000. (From: “The Battle of Frenchtown 22 January 1813.”)

Humphreys is an editor and freelance journalist who studied history at Concordia University. This contribution to Canadian military history spans four centuries in ten chapters but covers the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries in greatest depth. For example, chapter four on The War of 1812 features ten battles, while chapters for The First World War and The Second World War feature only five and four battles respectively. The final chapter, The Post-War Era, includes two battles only: one from the Korean War and The Second Battle of Panjwaye from the ongoing War in Afghanistan. The last three chapters seem rushed.

     Each chapter begins with an introduction that helps to provide much needed historical context for the individual battles described. Readers will need considerably more background knowledge to appreciate the place of individual conflicts recounted within particular wars. Each battle is described in one to eight pages, with three or four pages the norm. The book includes a great deal of factual information, including names of military personnel, places, and even references to other battles and wars (i.e. Battle of Stalingrad, and the Second Sino-Japanese War) that are not described more fully in the text. The text is complemented by numerous black and white illustrations, including photographs, portraits, and reproductions from early publications. The captions are informative, and Humphreys even notes inaccuracies, such as an artist depicting a British officer on a horse in the Battle of Sainte-Foy during the Seven Years’ War. Unfortunately, the sources of the images are not acknowledged. Only eight battles include maps showing a plan of attack or the positions of opposing forces. Readers would have benefitted from some small scale maps depicting locations of battles and other places named. This is particularly true in the first seven chapters: The Wars of New France, The Seven Years’ War, The American War of Independence, The War of 1812, The Rebellions of 1837, The Fenian Raids, and The North-West Rebellion.

     Motivated readers may need a dictionary handy to clarify some of the terminology used (i.e. redoubt, brig, corvette, schooner, carronade) and possibly a French-English dictionary to help translate a few passages printed in French. An atlas will also be helpful. The index is drawn from personal names and names of battles and wars. It is of no use when looking up other concepts found in the text such as the Acadians and the expulsion of the same, or names of specific native tribes like the Iroquois or names of communities such as Prescott that appears in several accounts but was not the site of a noteworthy battle. The bibliography contains about eighty entries, mostly from monographs, including entries in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, and newspaper articles from both The Globe & Mail and The New York Times.

    Overall, Great Canadian Battles is an informative but dry work that is best used as a supplementary resource. Readers can still draw out generalizations and have greater understanding of how warfare has changed over the centuries since early French settlers waged war with native allies, through the period of colonial wars when British and French officers and soldiers fought alongside local militias and native warriors, to the most recent war in Afghanistan where well-trained professional soldiers and reservists, both male and female, face new hazards in the form of suicide bombers as they seek to fulfill national and international goals in battle.

Recommended with reservations.

Val Ken Lem is the collections evaluation librarian and the liaison for History, English and Caribbean Studies at Ryerson University in Toronto, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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