They Never Rationed Courage: Letters Home from the War, 1940-1945


240 pages
Contains Photos
ISBN 1-55128-026-4
DDC 940.54'8171





Reviewed by J.L. Granatstein

J.L. Granatstein is a professor of history at York University, the
co-author of the Dictionary of Canadian Military History and Empire to
Umpire: Canada and the World to the 1990s, and the author of The Good


Tom Patterson is best known as the founder of the Stratford Festival,
but he was also a soldier in the Canadian army during World War II. His
book, apparently put together by friends from the letters he had written
home from overseas, will be of interest to Stratford fans and, to some
extent, students of the war. The letters are about his friendships and
family tragedy (including the death of his father at home and that of
his brother in action in Italy), his intellectual awakening, and the
war—virtually in that order. The great value of Patterson’s book is
that you can see in the in the letters the sense of weariness that
overtook some of the Canadian divisions during their four-year wait in
Britain. The military pursuits faded away perceptively, and Patterson,
like tens of thousands of soldiers, gradually began to think more about
education and a postwar job than about the war. Then, in mid-1944, the
Canadians (those who had not been sent to Italy earlier) saw action, and
the killing began.

There is a story here that could have made some important points. But
there is no introduction to fill the reader in on the background, not a
word on why Patterson enlisted, nor even a clue as to which corps he
belonged to. Eventually we can figure out some of these things, but this
is no way to present a book, and Patterson has not been well served by
his friends. An afterword in which he adds a few comments simply does
not suffice.

Still, there is much of interest. Young Sergeant Patterson of the
Dental Corps is no prophet, and the letters are full of strategic
wishful thinking. The Germans had tried to invade England, one 1940
letter notes, and there were 60,000 dead Germans in the Channel to prove
it. Another feature is the utter hatred for Mackenzie King and the
contempt for Quebec’s lukewarm attitude to the war; this attitude
alternates with the author’s contempt for the slackers and poor
officers with whom he serves, but there is never any attempt at
understanding the problems that King, Quebec, or the incompetent faced.

This could have been an important book, one that, because of
Patterson’s postwar role in the development of the arts, might have
reached a wide audience. Regrettably, this will not happen.


Patterson, Tom., “They Never Rationed Courage: Letters Home from the War, 1940-1945,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 14, 2024,