D-Day: Canada’s 24 Hours of Destiny
May 15, 2004

Author: Lance Goddard
Published by: Dundurn Press, Toronto
Retail Price: $29.99 Cdn  $26.99 US

Book Review by BGen James Cox
© 2004 FrontLine Defence (Vol 1, No 3)
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then this is a long book – which is fitting coverage of “the Longest Day.”

D-Day, the book, is a compact (at little over 230 pages) companion piece to the documentary, also titled D-Day: Canada’s 24 Hours of Destiny, which marked the 60th anniversary of D-Day with its broadcast on June 6, 2004. This book should be found in every Canadian home.

While the many pictures are interesting, the real value comes in the stories. Author, producer and winner of many prestigious media awards, Lance Goddard offers an intriguing and inspiring look at detailed actions on D-Day, June 6, 1944, not from the perspective of senior officers or higher headquarters, but from the view of Canadians at the “bleeding” edge of the battle. Reading Goddard’s book is like looking at the war through a cheese grater. Each hole gives you a rough glimpse of the personal space around a soldier, sailor or airman engaged in action. Each one is gripping in its simplicity, poignancy and “Canadianess.” These are stories of Canadian boys, saved until now in mature and greying minds, but told as if it were yesterday. The manner of telling implicitly reveals the innate Canadian habit of understated bravery, black humour in times of danger and the enduring (and endearing) Canadian serviceman’s aversion to “bull–.”

By periodically standing back from the cheese grater, one can view the entire mosaic and be reminded of the immense contribution made by these men.

Early chapters cover the prelude to D-Day and provide a good narrative review (not an authoritative history) of wartime events and military preparations leading up to the allied invasion of Normandy. They make the interesting point that Canadian servicemen training in England were acutely aware of the unsuccessful Dieppe raid and in many ways, were eagerly awaiting a chance to show that Canadians would not be repelled a second time.

To a man, they wanted to “get on with it.” The personal stories in the chapter entitled “Ready to Go” expose a youthful enthusiasm to finish the seemingly endless training in England and a naïve, but professional eagerness to engage in some real fighting. All of them received sobering doses of reality, to varying degrees, on and over the Normandy beaches.

The book proceeds to cover D-Day hour by hour. Shortly after midnight on June 6, 1944, Canadian paratroopers were dropped onto the French countryside. For the next seven hours, their stories are similar, but never the same – landing in the dark, usually nowhere near where they were intended to be; randomly joining up with other groups of lost paratroopers; somehow finding their way to an objective or target and destroying it; fighting-off sometimes fierce German counter attacks and then finally joining their parent units during the hours that followed. It was already a long, busy day for Canadian paratroopers when the landing force arrived.

The bloodiest hour begins at 0800 (8:00 am) as all three services – navy, army and air force converge to assault the enemy on Juno Beach. Individual stories show how the actual invasion had so many different impacts on those participating. By the end of the day, the Canadians had made it further inland than any other Allied force and, with memories of Dieppe, were ashore to stay.

Goddard appropriately gives the last word to the 33 soldiers, sailors and airmen whose stories graced earlier pages, allowing them add to their final thoughts about the whole affair. Every one of them was proud to have been involved in D-Day and proud of what they did.

Except for the odd exaggeration (to which all “old” soldiers, sailors and airmen are entitled), the vignettes are matter-of-fact renditions of the way events were remembered. Readers hoping for a first-hand account of a specific battle will not find it. What they will find, is a treasure of discreet, brief, personal glimpses of the battlefield at a specific moment in time, not as it actually was, but as it was perceived by those telling their story.

Goddard has done an admirable job in giving the people who actually did the fighting an opportunity to speak for themselves. Canadians need to hear their stories. As well as being a must-buy for every Canadian home, D-Day: Canada’s 24 Hours of Destiny should be required reading in every Canadian high-school.

BGen (ret) Jim Cox ran the intelligence staff under General Wesley Clark at SHAPE, in Mons, Belgium from 1998-2001. He has since pursued graduate level advanced intelligence studies with the Royal Military College of Canada and hopes to continue with Doctoral studies in the field this summer. He also serves as the Executive Secretary of the Canadian Association for Security and Intelligence Studies.
© FrontLine Defence 2004