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History Canada

Strangers in Arms

Combat Motivation in the Canadian Army, 1943-1945

by (author) Robert C. Engen

McGill-Queen's University Press
Initial publish date
Apr 2016
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Apr 2016
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Apr 2016
    List Price

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Why do soldiers fight? What keeps them going? What compels them to face death when their long-time comrades have fallen around them? Strangers in Arms addresses these questions in a groundbreaking study of the behaviour, morale, and motivations of Canadian infantrymen on the front lines of the Second World War. Canada’s army has long faced intense criticism for its combat performance during the war, and Canada’s official history has presented Canadian soldiers as deficient, inexperienced, and unprepared in comparison with their enemies. Questioning entrenched views, Robert Engen explores a trove of contemporaneous documents to create a remarkable new portrait of Canadians at war. Rather than the popular "band of brothers" image of soldier cohesion in battle, he finds staggering casualty rates and personnel turmoil that left Canadian infantrymen often working with and fighting beside men they hardly knew. Yet these strangers in arms continued to fight - effectively and in good spirits - against a tenacious and deadly enemy, triumphing in the face of heartrending loss and sacrifice. Challenging old narratives about the Canadian soldier and supported by cutting-edge empirical and qualitative research, Strangers in Arms crafts a new understanding of what happens at the sharp end of battle.

About the author

Robert C. Engen is assistant professor in the Department of Defence Studies at the Canadian Forces College and the author of Strangers in Arms: Combat Motivation in the Canadian Army, 1943-1945.

Robert C. Engen's profile page

Editorial Reviews

"This study is relevant for anyone in a leadership role looking to promote high morale and motivation to any job or task. For that general audience, Engen's first two chapters offer important background and context on the Canadian Army, its organizational structures, and training system. These chapters are accessible and readable even for a non-expert, and they also address some of the myths and assumptions about Canada's military experience in WWII." Canadian Journal of History

"It is hard to overstate the impact this book will have on the field. In addition to being a solid, reflective, and profound piece of history, Engen’s work adds significantly to the general literature on combat motivation. This is an important contribution to scholarship, one that will shake up several fields and have important consequence internationally." J. Marc Milner, University of New Brunswick