Unlikely Soldiers: How Two Canadians Fought The Secret War Against Nazi Occupation sounded like a heroic story of two Canadians doing their part to save Europe and the Western world from the evils of Adolf Hitler. While the heroism is certainly not in doubt, the entire story of the organization in which they became involved was nothing but a comedy of errors that resulted in tragic consequences.
Frank Pickersgill and Ken Macalister were two intelligent young men from different parts of Canada (Pickersgill from Winnipeg and Macalister from Guelph) who, after studying at the University of Toronto, headed to further their educations in Europe in the late 1930s. Though Macalister initially went to England as a Rhodes scholar, he was permitted to complete his studies in France where he fell in love both with the country and with a young woman; Pickersgill was also in France, improving his language skills. Both men became comfortable in France and loved the country and its people.
When World War II began and France was occupied by the Nazis, both men were both encouraged to return to Canada and to safety, however they felt such a loyalty to their adopted country that they chose to stay and fight for France’s liberation. They went to England and enlisted in the Canadian army, but because of their language skills and familiarity with France, they were transferred to a special division of the British military that was devoted to creating resistance networks in France.
After extensive training, Pickersgill and Macalister were flown into France, but because of the blunders of the intelligence network in place they were compromised almost from the beginning. At this point – if this book were a novel – I would have given up, but as these were two real people who were only attempting to do their part to save France, I felt I needed to see their story to its conclusion.
After describing the men’s early years in Canada and then in France, the book becomes more about the complicated (and incompetent) network of resistance cells that is rather fascinating for those of us who are interested in World War II. Alas, it wasn’t the personal and human story I was hoping it to be.
This is my first book completed for The Canadian Book Challenge 4.