It’s a familiar scene in old newsreel footage and modern recreations of the Second World War like ‘Band of Brothers’: Allied troops in Europe advance through a town that just moments before was occupied and abandoned by fleeing German troops. The English-speaking soldiers are met by throngs of civilians waving flags and celebrating their newly won freedom. They shower their liberators with kisses, embraces, flowers, and alcohol freshly retrieved from hiding spots around town. In each town, these interactions between combat troops and civilians are short-lived. The clanking columns, held up by the celebration, move on to the next town and the next trying to keep pace with the German retreat. Meanwhile, different soldiers from the military’s Civil Affairs branch arrive to help the liberated population get back on their feet.
Today’s guest, David Borys, shares the story of First Canadian Army Civil Affairs. These Civil Affairs officers and their detachments played an unsung but very important role in the liberation of Nazi-occupied Europe. These Canadian soldiers were too old to fight in combat but had important skills for civilian-military relations. In 1944 and 1945, the Canadian Army was responsible for liberating large parts of Northern France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. The Canadians also had to occupy part of northwest Germany. Civil Affairs effectively facilitated military operations by controlling refugee flows and providing food, medicine, and shelter to civilians caught up in the fighting. These officers supported the reestablishment of democratic governments and even worked as de facto government administrators until a local authority could take over.
All proceeds support the Juno Beach Centre, Canada’s Second World War Museum in Normandy, France and allow us to continue to offer this content to listeners across Canada!
15:38 Caen and the Channel Ports
19:32 Belgium and Antwerp
23:11 The Netherlands
26:23 Occupying Germany
30:40 Returning Control to Civilian Governments
David A. Borys is the host of the popular Canadian history podcast Cool Canadian History. He is a professor in History at both the University of British Columbia and Langara College in Vancouver. David’s first book is Civilians at the Sharp End: First Canadian Army Civil Affairs in Northwest Europe, published by McGill-Queen’s University Press.
The following links offer more information on the topics discussed in this episode:
Juno Beach & Beyond is hosted and edited by Alex Fitzgerald-Black, the centre’s Digital Projects Coordinator.
Mackenzie King’s speech to British Parliament from the British Pathé YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6SlEvclY5LE&t=48s
Artillery firing sounds from the CBC News: The National YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RsCSQ4uWR1Y
Female veteran’s voice (Eileen Green, née Short) Courtesy of The Memory Project, Historica Canada: http://www.thememoryproject.com/stories/383:eileen-green-nee-short/
Winston Churchill’s “Finest Hour” speech from Jonathan Thomas’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jB5wZtV1MWM
Spitfire sound effect from Jason Kirby’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xgZI4tAoMN0
Dramatic Interlude by Alexander Nakarada | https://www.serpentsoundstudios.com
Music promoted by https://www.free-stock-music.com
Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Dispatches from Juno shares all the news, events, and stories from the Juno Beach Centre in France and Canada. Interested in contributing a story to the blog? Email the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.