In Pierre Berton’s ‘Vimy’, the reader is taken on an adventure following multiple Canadian soldiers who bravely fought in world war one. It is tough for any author to capture the real horrors of war, but in his non-fiction historical masterpiece, Canadian author and historian, Pierre Berton, does an excellent attempt to do just that. With accurate quotes and images it feels as if you have ventured across the cold Atlantic ocean, just as young Canadians did almost one hundred years ago.
In 1914 Britain joined a war that had already had its first battles, primarily between the German and the French.
Because Canada was under the rule of the king and not its own country (yet), she automatically joined on the side of Britain. When this happened, there was much commotion in Canadian streets. “All Across Canada from Toronto to Quebec and Calgary to Vancouver, men were rushing to enlist. ” (Berton 17) Many were turned down. Some because they were too unfit some because they wore glasses and some because they were too small.
But the most popular reason was because the boys were too young.
The legal age to enlist in Canada is eighteen but it was not uncommon for boys who were only seventeen or even younger to lie about their age. Boys were over the moon to get out of school early, some quitting after just grade ten. It was the thing to do back then. Like modern commercials we see on television where marketers use advertising techniques like bandwagoning, young boys were anxious to be in the army and more importantly, not to be left out.
These events demonstrate the first theme present in the first half of the book- patriotism.
Or in this case, false patriotism, because these boys, now soldiers, were very mislead. They thought of war as heroic cavalry charges and sieges that would go down in history, but once they arrived in France they quickly realized otherwise. Patriotism is evident throughout this book, but mostly during the chapters concerning the Canadians. Pierre Berton makes it clear that the Canadians were the most patriotic and in some passages describes them almost as crazy. That is also the way British officers viewed the young immature Canadian recruits.
Many Canadian soldiers were young entering the war and immaturity is closely linked to young age in most cases, not just in this book. This is where the second theme evident in this book appears, Immaturity and inexperience of young men. The lack of maturity is a bad thing for a soldier and often has to do with the lack of intelligence. These immature boys, enlisted to fight in a war where they had close to no clue what the war was about. The first section of analysis of ‘Vimy’ is a crescendo following young Canadian soldiers up until they get their first taste of battle. It ends just before a heroic charge.
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