It was a half-century of unprecedented upheaval and, according to Pierre Berton, the most remarkable period of Canada's history. Between 1899 and 1953, three generations of young Canadians marched off to distant battlefields to fight in four different wars, none of their own making. Berton, Canada's most prolific historian and himself a veteran of World War II, chronicles these years in his 47th book, Marching As to War. Canadians spent nearly 30 per cent of this period at war, fighting on the sun-baked African veldt, the fields of Flanders, the beaches of Dieppe, and the Korean highlands. The half-century also saw Canada transformed from an agricultural nation beholden to the British Empire to an industrial powerhouse closely linked to the United States.
Berton sparks Marching As to War to life with his trademark colourful anecdotes and characters. Among them is Lt.-Col. William Dillon Otter, commander of the Royal Canadian Regiment in the Boer War. The incredibly insecure Otter, whose previous command experiences included two embarrassing battlefield defeats, led his men into a charge against hidden Boer sharpshooters who mowed down the Canadian line. Things got even worse during World War I, Berton says, when a "lunatic" named Sam Hughs was appointed Canadian minister of the militia. "He was the strangest, most maddening politician in all Canadian parliamentary history, and certainly the most disastrous," writes Berton.
Berton's underlying theme is that three of the four wars he chronicles were unnecessary and unjust. Canadians got involved, he says, because of duplicitous media propaganda campaigns and pressure from the superpower of the day. Their sacrifices are a lesson for future generations, he believes. "In the act of remembering," Berton was quoted saying after Marching As to War came out, "we should learn from the past so we can handle the future." --Alex Roslin
“Pierre Berton entertained me royally. . . . Berton uses newspaper reports, memoirs, diaries and personal reminiscences with panache, leading us over vast historical terrain through the eyes of protagonists who were there.” -- Modris Eksteins, The Globe and Mail
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“Berton has written the Canadian story with style and grace. . . . scintillating.” -- J. L. Granatstein
“A superb testament to Berton’s prowess as a writer and an historian.” -- Calgary Herald
“Chock full of keen observation and interesting detail; a glance back at war from one of the country’s most eminent popular historians.” -- The London Free Press