Unit, Branch and Programme Histories
Histories of programmes, branches, formations and units, including regimental histories and those of ship and air squadrons, can provide useful detailed information on a particular campaign or battle. They are of particular use to family historians, as they tend to mention the names of individual unit members who distinguished themselves in some way. Many also contain as appendices, lists of members who were decorated, honour rolls of casualties or even nominal rolls of all members of the unit. Written primarily for an audience of unit members and former members, such histories are not always entirely forthcoming about all aspects of the unit's performance in or out of combat, but the best of them can be very good history.
The Canadian Militia, which after 1940 was the Canadian Army, had a tradition of good regimental histories long before the Second World War. In 1945, while the troops were still in garrison in Europe, a general order enjoined the units to write their histories before the memory of the conflict faded and the lessons of combat were lost. Some produced finished histories, many published by the Dutch publishing and printing industry that was devastated after five years of Nazi occupation. Others produced only typescript accounts. Some of the specialized units disbanded overseas and these works are the only published record of their existence. Many of these works are rare today, but, as they are valuable to the student of Second World War land operations, a number of them are listed here.
Infantry battalions and armoured regiments, drawn from the order of battle of the Canadian Militia at the outbreak of the war, returned home and became a part of the post war Militia and Regular Force. Their stories are most often told within the overall regimental histories of those units, so only a selection appears in this pathfinder.
The Royal Canadian Navy and Royal Canadian Air Force, organized on a service-wide rather than a regimental basis, produced fewer unit histories. Nevertheless, modern historians and veterans have produced a number of valuable ship and unit histories of the Royal Canadian Navy. Some are listed here. By contrast, air force squadrons have produced the "high school yearbook" type of history, in which numerous photographs of pilots standing in front of their aircraft are interspersed with a limited text, much of which is reproduced from the work of Wing Commander Fred Hitchins and his Air Historical Section overseas during the war, with little modern analysis. A few works have broken from this mould and are listed here.
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