CANADIANS BEHIND ENEMY LINES, 1939-1945
Volume 10 Number 4.
During the Second World War, it quickly became apparent that there were great potential military benefits to be gained by having Allied agents working behind enemy lines in the occupied countries of Europe and Asia. So, in mid-1940, two distinct organizations were formed. MI9, a division of British Intelligence (MI6), was organized to provide an escape and evasion organization to assist downed Allied airmen and escaped POWs. The British Special Operations Executive (SOE) was established "to encourage resistance in enemy-occupied Europe and Asia by sending agents to help organize and train local volunteers in sabotage, industrial demolition, ambush, disruption of communications, and to collect information."
Obviously, this was very dangerous work. Capture invariably meant extended torture followed by slow and painful execution. The ability to avoid detection was essential to effective operation. So Canada became a major source of acceptable candidates because it could provide French-Canadians, Chinese-Canadians, and ethnic-Canadians from Eastern Europe, Italy, and the Balkans, Such agents could not only operate in the language of the area without detection but also often had personal experience in the areas and knowledge of local customs.
The dangers, of course, were not only from the enemy: collaboration was widespread and even the resistance groups were sometimes more concerned with fighting each other than the common enemy.
Canadians Behind Enemy Lines attempts to provide a survey of the role of Canadians in this aspect of the war and to briefly tell the story of several of the notable individuals. This was a difficult task because the record is far from complete and many of the stories were lost forever when the agents were lost. The account is, of necessity, sketchy in places, but is well handled and does provide a quite complete overview.
The author, Roy MacLaren, is Chairman of CB Media Ltd., publisher Canadian Business and Energy magazines, and is a Member of Parliament. He has a background in diplomacy, business, and government. His interest in the special role of Canadians in world affairs is a longstanding one as shown by his earlier books, Canadians in Russia, 1918-1919 and Canadians on the Nile, 1882-1898.*
Canadians Behind Enemy Lines is a fast-paced, easy-reading book that maintains the reader's interest and still manages to provide a large amount of information and analysis. There is an emphasis on the situation the agent was in that draws the reader into a personal identification with the dangers, the successes and the failures of those portrayed. Numerous pictures of the people, the places, and the events documented enhance the effect. There is also a very useful index and extensive bibliography and footnotes to assist researchers.
This book is highly recommended for libraries with a significant clientele of war buffs or that support research on World War II. It would be especially useful in high school and public libraries.
*Reviewed vol. VII/1 Winter 1979 p.32.
Neil Payne, Kingston C. V. I., Kingston, ON.
1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995
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