Monday, November 7, 2011

Facts and fiction of war

Dieppe: Canada’s darkest day of World War II by Hugh Brewster (940.5421 BrD 2009) certainly provides the information to back up the title. What a disaster.

Brewster starts with the context of WWII and the Canada’s involvement. He provides lots of details on the planning and training that went into the Dieppe Raid, as well as the chaotic rehearsals and the final results. He leads readers to several of the beachheads and describes what the soldiers experienced as they attempted to carry out their orders to take the French coastal town of Dieppe.

The surprise element of the raid was quickly lost and Allied soldiers, mostly Canadian, were subjected to a barrage of gunfire that killed almost a? thousand on the beach, wounded close to 600 more and left another 1,900 soldiers to surrender and spend the next two-and-a-half years as prisoners of war. The value of the raid has been and still is debated, as none of the objectives were achieved and the causalities were astronomical. It is recognized that the lessons learned from Dieppe likely helped with the more successful 1944 invasion of Normandy. But was the sacrifice too great? And, who was responsible?

The best parts of this book are the numerous photographs of the men in training and in battle, portraits of both key people and ordinary soldiers, very clear maps, newspaper clippings, posters, sketches of the POW camps and personal items of some of the soldiers. These items help to enhance the feel of the time period and bring home the personal lives of the soldiers.

Big numbers often leave us removed from the personal sacrifice involved in historical events. So, I would recommend that you consider pairing this book with Prisoner of Dieppe: World War II, Alistair Morrison, Occupied France, 1942 also by Hugh Brewster (part of the I am Canada series). It captures the sense of excitement and worry at joining up to fight, the fatigue, boredom and camaraderie of training, and the fear, worry and stamina required in battle. Alistair Morrison is a fictionalized character that represents the many Canadian foot soldiers that joined in the fight against Nazi Germany. The book is written as a recollection of times past, from an old man to his grandson. It fills in the gaps left by the nonfiction book, by allowing us to get inside the head of a young man about to participate in a major moment in the Second World War. It also manages to include all the significant factual elements of the raid without being too dry and documentary. The second half of the book, detailing Alistair’s time as a POW is very evocative as this is given less emphasis in Dieppe: Canada’s darkest day of World War II. The starvation, tedium, abuse and attempts of escape by the prisoners are illuminating. There is a twist in the story, a secret Alistair has carried with him since the end of the war that relates to his time as a POW and his best mate.

Overall, the two books work well together. I recommend both books for grades 5 and up.

I would also recommend these excellent web resources to support teaching about the Battle of Dieppe.
CBC Digital Archives: The Contentious Legacy of Dieppe

Canada at War: The Dieppe Raid, August 1942

BBC History: Dieppe Raid

Today is Nonfiction Monday.  Check out Charlotte's Library to find out about other nonfiction children's literature from arond the blogosphere. Happy browsing.


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