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Nations at war
Brown, Gordon and Terry Copp. Look to Your Front...Regina Rifles: A Regiment at War, 1944-45. Waterloo, Ontario: Laurier Centre for Military Strategic and Disarmament Studies, 2001.
Preface; photos; maps; diagrams; sidebars; Index
Appendices: Some Men to Remember; Lest We Forget; Honours and Awards; The Honour Roll; Award Citations
Although the Regina Rifles already have a regimental history (edited by Eric Luxton and published in 1946), they're fortunate to be able to add this fine volume to their bibliography.
Gordon Browna veteran of the battalionand Terry Coppa distinguished Canadian military historianhave joined forces to produce another in a growing string of outstanding recent works on Canadian ground forces. See, for example, South Albertas: A Canadian Regiment at War by Donald E. Graves and The Royal Canadian Armoured Corps by Marteinson and McNorgan. Like those two books, Look to Your Front...Regina Rifles ("with its title taken from a command to bring the Regiment to attention on parade") offers informative text and distinctive photos in a very stylish package that has been assembled with great skill and care.
The book briefly covers the formation of the unit, its arrival in the UK, and its training there in the first chapter. The second chapter moves directly into the D-Day landings at Courseulles-sur-Mer in Normandy. From there the battalion seems to be in combat or on the march non-stop through the costly Normandy campaign, in the pursuit to Calais, at the Leopold canal in Belgium, in the flooded fields of the Netherlands and Germany, and straight through to the end of the war.
For each of the eleven chapters, Copp writes third-person introductory material outlining the unit's operations and placing them within the context of the larger battles and campaigns in which they occurred. Each chapter is then rounded out with first-person contributions from veterans who took part in operations with the Reginas. These range from a few paragraphs to a few pages in length. Brown himself writes quite a few of these first-hand accounts, including most of the longer ones, and his accounts make for some very interestingand exciting!reading. The contributions from the other "Regina Johns" also grab the reader's attention, and for the most part prove to be quite polished. Either the battalion contained a remarkable number of soldiers with highly developed literary skills, or else their words have been honed a bit for use in the book. In any event, the cumulative effect provides good details about the conduct of Canadian operations as well as a great deal of inside information about many small actions on the route from Normandy to Germany and the lives of the troops along the way.
Here's an excerpt from one of Brown's pieces, this one about the engagement at Cardonville in Normandy:
"...I quickly crawled through the wall and dashed past the barn, across the courtyard and to the back of the house. Just as I reached the door, I heard the unmistakable chatter of a Sten gun, the short, all metal Tommy gun issued to British and Canadian soldiers. Someone had fired at the tanks in the orchard!
"I cursed as I stepped into the old building muttering "there goes the old ball game." Dick Roberts and I hastily briefed the commanders of the two forward platoons and asked them to be especially alert for an infantry attack now. The tanks were obviously waiting for their Panzer Grenadiers to arrive.
"We then ran to the barn which had been set ablaze by flame throwers or incendiaries. All hell was breaking loose in the orchard. The tanks were firing wildly and tracer bullets darted everywhere. The barn, full of dry hay, would burn to the ground quickly. Inside were two of our soldiers looking after our main ammo supply which unwisely had been stored there. We grabbed as much as we could and with the superhuman assistance of Rfn Frame, our Company runner, were able to get most of the ammunition out and over to the house. Then we took cover, as there was nothing we could do now for our comrades in the orchard. The tanks set all the vehicles on fire and were busy mopping up the slit trenches, running over weapons and crushing everyone and everything in their path.
"From the relatively secure position of the stone house, we watched with horror, helpless to do anything. The whole place was lit up brightly from the flames and the heat was intense. A huge wooden gate was all that stood in the way of the tanks if they wished to enter our walled enclosure, so we had pulled a chain of small, (#75 grenades) anti-tank mines just inside and across the gateway.
"A tank lumbered up and knocked the gate back while we fired Machine Guns and rifles, the bullets bouncing wildly off the turret. Apparently, the tank commander decided he didn't like the thought of being trapped inside our walls or perhaps he had seen the anti-tank mines. But for whatever reason, the tank backed slowly out of the gateway and disappeared along the trail beside the east wall. We could not see tanks because of the high stone fences but we could certainly hear them as they circled the place and occasionally made attempts to breach the walls, and rattled MG bullets off the house. But they could not occupy the position unless they came inside and they dared not do so without infantry support."
The text is interspersed with remarkably crisp photographs of Canadian soldiers and the terrain across which they fought. Especially noteworthy are large numbers of panoramic aerial views of their battlefields and, in particular, photos of the Courseulles-sur-Mer area in the immediate post-war years.
Look to Your Front...Regina Rifles is done very professionally, a joy to look at, and a pleasure to read. Recommended to anyone who enjoys unit histories or the thoughtful tales of men who found themselves, sometimes bewilderingly, in the thick of battle.
Available from online booksellers, local bookshops, or
directly from Laurier Centre for Military Strategic and Disarmament Studies.
Thanks to the Laurier Centre for providing this review copy.
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Reviewed 29 July 2001
Copyright © 2001 by Bill Stone
May not be reproduced in any form without written permission of Stone & Stone