CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 12 . . . . February 2, 2007
Voices of World War II: A Collection of Oral Histories.
St. John’s, NL: Jasperson Publishing, 2006.
174 pp., pbk., $15.95.
World War, 1939-1945-Personal narratives, Canadian.
World War, 1939-1945-Veterans-Newfoundland and Labrador-Biography.
Soldiers-Newfoundland and Labrador-Biography.
Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.
Review by Thomas F. Chambers.
For most of us this was our first action. Incidentally, there were three of us from Newfoundland in the one tank. I was the gunner, my good buddy, Len Williams, was the driver, and Ken Griffiths was the co-driver. In my tank our objective was Carpiquet, which was an airport just outside Caen. We got to our objective all right, as a matter of fact we got a half dozen tanks right on the airport. But they (the Germans) had the bloody thing ringed with 88's, which are anti-tank, anti-aircraft guns. The 88-mm was one of the most advanced weapons ever invented. If they fired at you, and even if they missed, it could make you wet in your pants. As a result we had to fall back and we consolidated for the day.
The next day we realized that Jerry (the Germans) had gotten into our encampment the night before. I think we lost about 21 tanks, but they did not drive us back. We stayed there and we accounted for more than our losses between tanks, half-tracks, and one thing or the other. This was the biggest tank battle that we had in the entire war. The enemy was made up of the 21st and 1st Panzer Divisions. Most of these troops had been and still were Hitler Youth. These were the do-or-die people because they were so indoctrinated with the brainwashing and all the bullshit.
Voices of World War II is an oral history which contains the reminiscences of 39 men and 3 women who served in World War II in some branch of the allied armed forces such as the Royal Navy or the Royal Air Force. All but two were born in Newfoundland. One, an American, married a girl from Newfoundland and lives in California. The other was born in England but lives in the province. The book is divided into eight chapters by branch of service with each chapter containing the stories of those who served in the particular branch. The stories vary in length with none more than seven pages. Several simply mention the names of men who served but had died before the process of interviewing began.
Oral histories are usually told by those who are not leaders. They are unknown individuals who do not have biographies written about their careers. Their stories are usually never heard outside of a small circle of family and friends. Oral histories give them a place in books they would not normally have.
Voices is no exception to this rule. None of the men and women whose stories are told were admirals or generals. They were not leaders, but followers, but many did heroic things and their stories deserve to be told. War often brings out the best in people and brings qualities to the surface people did not know they possessed. There are numerous examples of heroic acts in Voices as well as examples of much that was routine.
The weakness in an oral history is that everyone's memory fades and the greater the distance from the events experienced, the greater the memory loss. Such histories should, therefore, be used with care. Gene Quigley, who collected these histories, started interviewing veterans in 2003, 58 years after the Second World War ended. The memories of his veterans are bound to be faulty. Quigley admits this in his introduction. Even one of the veterans said, "I am not sure" about what happened when the fighting began. Some of Voices could, therefore, be historical fiction. Without the recording of these interviews, however, the memories of these veterans, faulty or not, would be lost forever. Whether accurate, or not, Voices could be used for recreational reading.
Some of the experiences retold in Voices are very exciting. One of these is the account of the naval career of Angus Saunders Pardy who served aboard a sailing ship, HMS Farouk. Pardy became a German prisoner of war when the Farouk had to spend time in Egypt for repairs. He was sent into the desert to fight Rommel's forces, was captured, heard the Field Marshall address the prisoners, and was then released. On another occasion, the Farouk was torpedoed, and he spent eight hours in the water swimming to Syria.
Each history is illustrated with functional black and white photographs of the person whose story is told. There is a brief list of eight references, but no index or other teaching aid. The references, which include an item from a copy of Reader's Digest and a document in the Newfoundland Provincial Archives, are of little value. Any good library contains excellent books on the Second World War for those wanting more information.
Little information is given in the book about Gene Quigley who interviewed those whose stories are told. He has a B.A. from Memorial University, lives in St. John's, and this is his first book. He wrote a brief introduction to the book and very short chapter introductions. His work and the stories of the voices that are heard are written at a level suitable for a teenage audience.
Thomas F. Chambers, a retired college teacher, lives in North Bay, ON.
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