Read A Richer Dust: Family, Memory and the Second World War by Robert Calder Online

Title : A Richer Dust: Family, Memory and the Second World War
Author :
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ISBN : 9780670043132
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 271 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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A Richer Dust: Family, Memory and the Second World War Reviews

  • Michael Dorosh
    2019-01-23 10:19

    I literally couldn't put this book down, blasting through 230 pages of it in one evening. It is hard to know how to judge the book based on one reading, but my superficial view is that Calder has one or two axes to grind.First off, though, despite a couple of minor hiccups in the historical background, the book is a solidly researched recreation of the life of Captain Ken Calder, an officer of the Royal Canadian Artillery in the Second World War. His nephew has done a solid job of studying the experience of Canadian soldiers in Italy and makes excellent use of source material, sadly to this historian, but not surprisingly, not footnoted. Given that this is not a history but a personal account, the work does not suffer from the lack of citations - and in fact, the younger Calder is obviously well-read on the subject, providing in-line cites of such luminaries as Dancocks, Bercuson, Mowat, Blackburn and McAndrew. Calder displays a depth of knowledge on the subject of Canadians in battle and then expertly applies it to the remaining documentary evidence his uncle left behind, including letters and a diary.However, one does not always believe the speculations that Calder is forced to make when the documentary record is lean at times and some conclusions seem to be drawn out of the blue when other conclusions - perhaps not known to Calder - present themselves to other readers also possessing of a knowledge of the period.The book is well organized, and after a very engaging and personal introduction to the story, revolving around how a 4 year old Calder viewed the world, a straight-forward account of the life of his uncle is presented.Calder strays, though, in weaving the story of his father - Captain Ken Calder's brother - into the mix. While interesting, I had a hard time not feeling that Calder had an ulterior motive in presenting the material about his father that seemed at times irrelevant - if it is presented as an explanation of why Calder's view of his uncle may be biased, it's not explicitly stated. Also slightly shameful is Calder's use of a page to exonerate his brother's conduct during the Somalia Inquiry. Family loyalty is nice, but it wasn't appropriate in this book. And there are a few times that Calder strays off the path in this manner.They are minor irritations. The prose is lucid and engaging throughout and presented by a polished author. The focus of the story is the life of Captain Ken Calder - it gives away nothing to say that he served overseas for 6 years during the Second World War, having married in 1939 and spent just 5 days alone with his bride, did not as much as hear her voice for those 6 years, and returned home to have her confess to major infidelities, prompting his suicide less than a month after his return.What is of concern is that his wife, Margaret, is presented by sins of omission as the villain of the piece. It is interesting to note that Ken Calder is listed as a Canadian war casualty; as a Saskatchewan war fatality he has a lake named in his honour, and he is listed in the Book of Remembrance. This is fitting, as most certainly the war killed him.Calder does a masterful job of recreating the emotions of the time, of the sexually repressed society of the 1930s, and paints a vivid picture of how Canadians - particularly servicemen - thought and lived during the turbulent years of the war. What he does not do is present Margaret's side of the story - perhaps no fault of his own (Captain Calder kept a detailed diary, his service file is an excellent primary resource, and many of his letters survived whereas it is doubtful any documentary evidence regarding her is extant), yet wittingly or unwittingly she is presented as the villain. Calder does not seem willing to explore the idea that his uncle was simply sexually immature himself; that he made a poor decision (and a common one, as supporting quotes from Blackburn and even Captain Calder's friends and family point out) and then failed to deal well with the consequences.Make no mistake, Calder does an excellent job of explaining the lack of support that veterans received (and gives a 2 page overview contrasting 1945-era support to veterans with that received in 2002 by Patricias returning from Afghanistan). He also talks to those who knew Captain Calder during the war, and there is no shortage of direct evidence of what he thought or felt. His there separate suicide notes are all reproduced in the text. They are chilling for how lucid they are.Calder understandably presents the idea from the point of view that a man serving his country for 6 years, including almost 2 of them in a combat zone, being cheated on by his wife is a tragedy. The opposing point of view - that a 20-something boy rushed into a loveless marriage far too eagerly, had six years of his life taken away from him during which he had no contact with women and no hope of learning how to relate to them and simply paid the price as an innocent victim - seems overshadowed in comparison. Captain Calder, in self-pity blamed his wife for killing him. His nephew would have done well to explore the alternate view - that he killed himself - not just by the act of sticking his head in a gas oven, but quite figuratively through his own immaturity and heightened sense of expectation of the postwar world. No doubt he had a right to expect some payback after 6 years of sacrifice, but to hold him completely blameless as Calder seems to seems rather biased.One can understand the desire to hero worship one of that greatest generation, especially now that more stories like Flags of our Fathers are coming to light. Calder seems predisposed to grant amnesty to his direct relations and in that way the book seems self serving.Overall, though, an effective study of a Canadian casualty of the Second World War no matter what perspective one chooses to view the events from. The book provides a well-researched look at a Canadian serviceman's experiences both at war and on his unhappy return. Certainly this type of story is just as relevant today as it was in 1945; indeed, as Calder points out, the lessons of that era have shaped the way we do things today. I may disagree with the lens has used to view this story, but the reporting seems quite factual and there is enough well-written material to allow the reader to draw his own conclusions.