by Martin Dowding
LATE IN the Second World War, between DDay, 1944, and VE-Day, 1945, almost 700 Canadian junior army officers volunteered to serve with the British Army in a scheme called Canloan. The Canadians, available due to the demobilization of some reserve units, went at the request of the British and served honourably in many famous regiments. More than 40 of them were awarded the Military Cross. Wilfred I. Smith`s Code Word Canloan (Dundurn, 346 pages, $29.99 cloth) is the story of their experiences throughout the European campaign, during which 75 per cent of them became casualties.
It may be the disparateness of Smith`s subjects that makes this book a somewhat repetitious read; or perhaps it is a result of the author`s professional activities as the Dominion Archivist of Canada (1968-1984). The large number of men in different regiments provides Smith the opportunity to gather, organize, and describe - i.e., what archivists do best. But, while he is a competent writer, he has prepared more a list of events and personal narratives than a truly historical treatment of events. The descriptions of training and accounts of the fate of POWs and the various battles such as Normandy, Arnhem, Italy, and the Rhine are well organized, but sometimes seem redundant.
What these men share is the fact that they were Canadian, junior officers, and all volunteered to serve with the British. They differ in having fought in many different places under varying circumstances. But in the end, that is probably the strong point of Code Word Canloan: what we get is many miniature histories, or snapshots really, of strategies, bravery and, too frequently, death. Probably few people have heard of Canloan, but it is worth knowing about, and this book provides a good introduction.