Hell and High Water: Canada and the Italian Campaign.


280 pages
Contains Photos, Maps, Bibliography
ISBN 978-1-55002-728-0
DDC 940.54'215





Reviewed by Trevor S. Raymond

Trevor S. Raymond is a teacher and librarian with the Peel Board of Education and editor of Canadian Holmes.


The Canadian war cemeteries in Italy are immaculately maintained, but they receive few Canadian visitors compared to the number who go to our cemeteries in northwestern Europe. In death, as they were in life, the thousands of Canadians who fought in the protracted and savage Italian campaign are eclipsed by the attention given their comrades who landed at Juno Beach and fought a murderous war through France and Belgium to Holland. Fortunately, in recent years there have been some fine narrative accounts of our army in Italy and Hell and High Water is another welcome contribution.


With Hell and High Water, Lance Goddard, producer of a television documentary about the Canadian army in France and Holland, provides a bridging text that gives context to the special value this volume has: nearly 240 photos and a dozen veteran’s recollections. Many fine histories tell us what happened; here we are told what it was like. Not that we can really imagine most of what these men endured, such as how it felt to lose a foot or to be confined in a tank with dysentery or to dive into a narrow trench for shelter and find oneself lying for hours on the corpse of a fellow soldier. Of course, the ordinary soldier is not privy to the large picture in any war. Jim Holman of the 38th Highlanders probably speaks for many when he says, “The problem with us footsloggers is we don’t know what we’re doing. We’re told to do something and you just go and do it. They say we’re going to spread out and we’re going to run attack across that field. You don’t know why … and when it’s finished you don’t know what you’ve done.”


I have two small quibbles. For one thing, the bibliography is brief and sketchy: citing “The National Archives of Canada” as a source does not say much. And, although Goddard quotes most of a famous, sarcastic song which grew among the British soldiers, it is disappointing that he does not include the poignant last verse of “The D-Day Dodgers” about the thousands of crosses left behind, and of the “the boys beneath them” who will forever stay in Italy. “More than 5,900 Canadians are buried in eighteen war cemeteries in Italy,” writes Col. Sydney Frost in the Foreword. That fact alone makes books like this essential. Lest we forget.


Goddard, Lance., “Hell and High Water: Canada and the Italian Campaign.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 12, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/28593.