SWON Libraries Review - Passchendaele

Reviewed by: Billie Clements

Summary: The small Belgian town of Passchendaele was a significant test of Canadian courage and military expertise during WWI. In a controversial plan devised by British Field-Marshall Douglas Haig, allied forces were to attack headlong the German entrenchments around Passchendaele. The goal of this was to capture Passchendaele and the surrounding highlands. The allies wanted to push through the German lines to reach the Belgian coast and destroy German submarine bases. Other attempts to accomplish this had failed. A Canadian Corps nicknames the "storm troopers" was assigned the task. For this battle-tough group of Canadians, Passchendaele was a hell on earth. Men died from deadly chlorine gas, drowned in mud, and heavy artillery shelling. After five tortuous days, the Canadians seized Passchendaele, where all others had failed. Casualties numbered 16,000 and nine Victoria Crosses were awarded for extraordinary heroism. Prices to be paid by the troops were heavy but the Canadians proved their courage and valor. The campaign is debated to this day but never the heroism of the Canadians.

Evaluation: Passchendaele is a well-organized illustrated account of the courage of the Canadian Corps. The presentation of material brings the test of the Great War to a new perspective. As this book focuses on a small part of history it reminds us that there are many participants in any war. The part Canadians played in World War I is well-documented in the many photographs of the battle areas, maps, and explanations. The author documents the events through a series of photographs gathered from various sources. To the author's credit, this largely photographic history of the events surrounding the Canadian Corps' successful capture of Passchendaele reports both pro and con options of the frontal attack on the German entrenchments.

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