Lest we forget – stepping up

As the Japanese signed the surrender documents on the USS Missouri few would question the role played by Canada in World War Two.  Like other members of the British Empire they had donated financial, moral and physical support to the Mother country in Britain’s time of isolation.  The Canadian military had as well grown quite dramatically over the same period.

The Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) was now the third largest in the world, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) was the fourth largest, while the country increased as the Axis powers were reduced the fact remained that Canada mobilized like it had never done before or since.

To give some scope to this, the RCN at the start of the war had six Destroyers and a few other smaller ships.  By the end of the war the Navy had 2 small escort carriers, five cruisers, 28 destroyers, 70 frigates, 121 Corvettes (a small antisubmarine warship),  and 104 other support ships.

At the end of World War One much of the Canadian military forces had disipated.  Without an existing threat to the Empire or to Canada, as the end of the War had removed much of the latent hostility that had built up with the USA.  Much of the whole undefended border ideal was a modern invention.  Until World War One there were still plans in the Canadian Government files on how to defend the country from an invasion by the USA.

With the rebuilding of Germany under the Nazis, Canada began once again to build up forces.  However, it was the war itself that brought real developments.  After the defeat at Dunkirk, the British relied on their dominions (Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada) to supply troops, food, and protection of the shipping.  It was the battle of the Atlantic where Canada was heavily involved.  Much of the build up of the RCN and RCAF came about because of the practical need for convoy protection.  After mid 1941 the USN would also be involved but before this the RCN covered much of the North Atlantic.

On the ground the Canadian forces were largely merged with the British.  Unlike in WW1 when much of the Canadian forces were contained in one Corp.   However, three major events are remembered by the Canadian military for various reasons.

Dieppe: A small costal town in Northern France, during early 1942 with Russia under serious pressure they wanted the British and Americans to open a second front in Europe to take the pressure off of them.  Lord Mountbatten developed a battle plan to launch a large scale raid which would hopefully divert troops to the west.  It was not to be an invasion but rather to be seen as a pinprick which would leave the Germans reacting to the British.

Canadian forces who had been playing a back up role in the United Kingdom for much of the early war were seen as the best force to lead the assault.  Along with them were British Commandos and the American Rangers (The first US ground troops to see action against the Germans).

Nearly 5,000 Canadian troops, 1,000 British troops and 50 Americans landed in late August at Dieppe.  Under intense fire from the get go, the Commandos and Rangers were relatively successful but the Canadian “raiders” were in serious trouble.  In some cases the pebble make up of the beach caused all sorts of problems for the Canadian tanks and troops.

Because of British planning failures, and bad on the ground decisions, like no air cover, no pre raid artillery from the naval forces, left the Germans intact and able to pour down fire on the Canadians.

Of the 6000 troops in the raid, 2000 were captured another 1000 killed, 900 of which were Canadians.  It was considered by some a great lesson for D-Day but most saw it as a total fiasco that need not have happened.

Hong Kong: With the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor still to come Canadian troops were moved into Hong Kong to protect the colony from the Japanese who were in the midst of fighting the Chinese mainland.  The two regiments were from Winnipeg and Quebec.  The argument was made by the British that they could hold out against the Japanese with reinforcement.

On December 8th 1941 the Japanese attacked Hong Kong.  1000 Canadian troops were outnumbered by a much more experienced Japanese force.   By December 25th the British forces surrendered.  290 Canadian troops died in the battle, 260 more died in captivity to the Japanese.

D-Day and Holland: While Canadian troops were involved heavily in the Italian Campaign the first real all Canadian battle happened on D-Day.  At Juno Beach 14,000 Canadian troops stormed the beaches.  They achieved the first real success in the campaign as they achieved all of the their objectives on the first day.  Losses were relatively light as they had only 1000 casualties, 350 of which died.

The Canadian forces, as did the rest of the Allies moved ahead against the German troops in disarray.  The Canadians finished off their successful run after D-Day the Canadian 1st Army was deeply involved in closing the Falaise Pocket, a mostly failed attempt to catch the rest of the German troops before they could escape the Allies.

However, as 1944 ended the Canadian forces were reunited in Holland and Canada Corp lived again fighting to take Arnhem after the failure of Market Garden earlier in the year.  The Canadian forces had in the earlier months been working up the coast of France, retaking Dieppe for the first time since 1942 and eventually invaded Belgium.

The Canadian forces were tasked with pushing the Germans out of Holland in March and April of 1945.  During much of the battles they faced flooding as the Germans opened the dikes in order to make it as difficult as possible.  By April 28 all German troops were in retreat and Holland had been cleared.

The result of the Canadian liberation the Dutch have ever since donated 10,000 tulip bulbs to the Canadian government each year since.  Many celebrations have occurred since between the two countries.

As at the end of World War One a lot of national pride was wrapped up in the successes of the Canadian military.

LDS members were no different.  However, one side effect of the war was that Canada was ruthless to its indigenous Japanese population, much worse in fact than the Americans.  Japanese people in British Columbia had all their property seized, they were often sent thousands of miles away to serve in internment camps, or even shipped back to Japan in some cases.

For LDS people the war was brought home.  First because in Southern Alberta a POW prison existed in Lethbridge.  Second because the Japanese internments were often sent to the area.  Many Japanese people were sent to live in Raymond and Taber areas working sugar beats and other crops. They joined other groups of Japanese people who lived in the Raymond area who had moved their at the beginning of the century.

This forced internment led to permenant settlement.  As the LDS church and the Japanese-Canadians worked together in Raymond, including the construction of the first Buddhist temple in Southern Alberta they made a life for people who were dislocated by their own government.

The Japanese people would also come to live in Lethbridge.  As did some of the Dutch war brides and former German POWs. In 1967 the Japanese Canadians created the Nikka Yuko Japanese Gardens in Lethbridge twenty years after the war ended as a symbol of peace and friendship between Japan and Canada.

For more information about Canada’s role see Canada at War.

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