Naval Warfare Books

Book reviews

Running the Gauntlet

An Oral History of Canadian Merchant Seamen in World War II

Parker, Mike

1994, Nimbus, Halifax
ISBN 1551090686
344 pages, hundreds of photos

Type. Oral History
Pros. A valuable insight into merchant seamen's lives. Well edited.
Cons. After 40-45 years, subject to some errors of memory and even the odd fact that turned out not to be so.

This is a transcribed series of several hundred oral histories of Canadian merchant seamen in World War II, in Canadian and foreign ships, including officers, seamen, stokers, radiomen, and schooner fishermen. While there are a few spelling and factual errors, memory being what it is, this is a valuable record of events as recalled by those who were there, and in a few cases, those responsible for sending them out. There are hundreds of unique photos, some of ships in the process of sinking, lifeboats, and a few of relevant U-boats and crews. It is a valuable reference volume when used in conjunction with the preparation or reading of other histories of the battles at sea, both in the Atlantic and far more wide-ranging.

Some tales are straight-forward: "I was there, this was how it was for me and my crew." Other tales are harrowing in the extreme, sole survivors' tales, watching a mate's ship disappear in an explosion. While one can take some descriptions with at least a grain of salt, every one has a sense of immediacy, a realism that is often missing from second hand histories taken from archives. In this case, every person's story was recorded in his own words. All are merchant seamen's stories, although some individuals, after their ship was sunk, opted for the Navy.

Parker has added a useful introduction to the world of the wartime Merchant Navy, and connecting links to the stories indicating where they fitted in to the timeline of the war. He explains how these men, and women, were taken into the Merchant Navy and how their lives were regulated, ships assigned, and so forth. An assessment of the successes and failures of these voyages and of the Merchant Navy as far as Canada was concerned is properly left to other books.

Review written by CDR Fraser M. McKee, Ontario, Canada.

Published on 20 Jan 2002.

This title is highly recommended.

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