Sunday, June 23, 2024

Film Reviews: The Liberation Men (2024) and Thousand Yard Stare (2017)

I hadn't intended to do serious film critique in this space, but two films have come to my attention in recent years because I happened to know some of the actors involved in the projects. Members of the local war reenactment community in Alberta had been minor character actors and background extras on the set of Thousand Yard Stare in 2017. I joined the community just after their participation in this filming in southern Alberta, and in 2019 we all participated in another film shoot in central Alberta for an as yet un-titled film about Sergeant Léo Major. It was with some interest we heard about The Liberation Men, whose protagonist also bears a striking resemblance to Léo Major and filmed independently in Ontario. Léo Major was a Canadian soldier who was decorated for the major part he played in the liberation of the Dutch city of Zwolle from the Nazis in 1945, and whose passing in 2008 sparked a renewal of interest in his life and military career.

On 22 June 2024 some of us local reenactors in Alberta assembled for a viewing party of The Liberation Men. Naturally, we local reenactors were eager to see how "their" Léo Major film stacked up to what we saw of "our" production. We watched The Liberation Men and Thousand Yard Stare as a double feature, and I found some interesting parallels between the two.

Both films are set in the Second World War, The Liberation Men depicts soldiers of Le Régiment de la Chaudière of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division in the Netherlands in 1945, with brief flashbacks to Normandy and the Rhineland campaigns, while Thousand Yard Stare follows an American soldier of the US Army's 1st Infantry Division ("Big Red One") through his experiences in the Battle of Kasserine Pass in 1943, with brief flashbacks to civilian life before the war, and heavy emphasis on his post-war battle with combat stress.

Both films were set in the Second World War and shot in Canada using relatively unknown actors, on modest budgets augmented by local reenactment groups who provided extras, uniforms and military equipment.

The similarities probably end there. The Liberation Men is a straight-forward (and poorly disguised) telling of the real-life actions of Léo Major, a junior infantry NCO in a Canadian infantry battalion, who single-handedly convinced the German forces holding Zwolle to leave the city, sparing it from an Allied bombardment that would have certainly harmed Dutch civilians and infrastructure. There are a couple of side-plots involving local Dutch resistance figures, and aside from a couple of flashbacks, the events of the film are sequential. Thousand Yard Stare, on the other hand, follows only the fictional main character, but with the sequences arranged non-sequentially so that his pre-war life, post-war struggles, experiences in the fighting at Kasserine, and his brief time spent in German captivity afterward, are all presented in bits and pieces and presented out of chronological order.

What is Worth Watching?

I'm not comfortable trying to answer the question "is it worth watching" since individual tastes will vary to the point that very often a technically well made film won't be of interest to any one person, or a low-budget film will still find an appreciative audience on the strength of the story's appeal to a niche audience. That said, there is definitely a sliding scale of what would be of value to someone with a deep interest in the historical era of the Second World War and the war-film genre. There are some productions that are "must-see" such as the Band of Brothers mini-series, which capture so well the essence of the subject material through high production values, detailed historical research, and first-rate acting that it is not possible to conceive of another production doing it better. There are some films that are "so bad, they are good" such as Battle of the Bulge, which despite its completely ahistorical plot devices, anachronistic equipment, and woefully contrived military situations, still manage to deliver a satisfying viewing experience, usually by the inclusion of big-name actors and eminently quotable dialogue. And there are some films which are so irretrievably bad they just simply can't be watched because of the cringe-inducing dialogue, lack of coherent story, and embarrassingly terrible wardrobe, equipment and effects. Company of Heroes tends to be an example of this, with plot holes and production values so terrible not even big names like Tom Sizemore, Neal McDonough and Jurgen Prochnow could save it.

And then there are all the other films that lie somewhere in between. The Liberation Men (LM hereafter) and Thousand Yard Stare (TYS) do not fit any of the categories just described, which makes it even harder to either recommend or pan. They are technically sound films using very different techniques to tell their stories. The hero of LM is surrounded by a cast of likeable fellow soldiers who support him on (or alternately, try to dissuade him from) a daring plan to convince a Nazi garrison to leave a helpless Dutch city in peace. Roland Rothach, the protagonist of TYS, goes it alone on the other hand, because of course the theme of the film is isolation and so much is told in flashback from his solo point of view we can assume the bulk of the film is actually taking place inside his head.

I should probably further point out that there is a difference between films honestly trying to portray experiences of the Second World War, and films that just happen to take place there. Inglourious Basterds is probably the best known of the latter, though there are many more examples with fantasy, romance, science-fiction or horror elements which make the war a backdrop rather than the subject of the film. LM and TYS are both firmly "war films" intended to give an honest portrayal of events and experiences in the specific context of the Second World War. 

The Liberation Men: Strengths

The strength of the film is the acting ability of the leads and the mostly realistic dialogue they've been given to perform. Many small-budget and short films set in the war tend to wallow in atmosphere, scared to make it look like the individuals are doing anything but suffering, because - you know, war is bad and stuff. We get a much different vibe in this one early on, including the first scene of a padre removing war dead from the battlefield, and giving the hero a broad smile and words of encouragement. Incidentally, for some reason the protagonist is called Roy both in dialogue and in the credits, but the character is an obvious depiction of the real life Léo Major. There is also some utterly charming dialogue between "Roy" and his friend Jack (likewise, one suspects this is a fictionalized stand-in for the real life Corporal Welly Paul Arseneault).(1) Their interplay throughout the scenes they share in the film shows a genuine affection between them that is belied by the terrible things they say to each other - as real friends do, and their bickering and teasing injects the characters with a comforting relatability.

Michael Ruhs is particularly good in the lead role of Roy, and aside from looking very much like the historical Léo Major, he is able to pull off some of the funnier dialogue he is given, including a pantomime of Hitler in order to communicate with a non-English speaking Dutch family. The two sequences in which he is wounded (once in Normandy when a mine leaves him with an injured back, and a later grenade attack which claims his eye) are probably the only controversial aspects of his performance. Some will love that the actor wasn't afraid to go all out, others may well find his pained screams over the top. I think a more honest assessment may be that the editor let the actor down and let the screams go on too long, but I'll have more to say about pacing later on.

Michael Ruhs as "Roy" (Léo Major)

The real life Welly Arseneault and Léo Major.
Jacob Perkins as "Jack", in a publicity still, a fill-in for the real world Welly Arseneault.

The stand out scenes for me, from the perspective of accurate military history, were the sequences with the commanding officer of the Chaudière regiment (unnamed in the credits but resembling the real life Lieutenant-Colonel Mathieu who led the 1st Battalion of the Chauds in Normandy).(2) In the interests of full disclosure I should point out the CO in LM is portrayed by Kurtis Sanheim, who is well known to me; he served in The Calgary Highlanders for many of the years I have. Our duties didn't often require us to interact, and he left us as a qualified sergeant infantryman who had served operationally as a peacekeeper in the former Yugoslavia.(3)  I see him often in my Facebook feed.

In the film, Sanheim portrays the CO of the "Chauds" as confident and even fatherly, and despite being confined to his command post, plays an important part in the story. I suspect Sanheim may have helped with writing his dialogue but even if not, the jargon is accurate and well delivered and Sanheim has an obvious easiness with this role that must be informed by his own military experiences. I was very impressed when he made reference to the impending artillery attack on Zwolle and he mentions the "BK" of an artillery unit. This is a very obscure (but correct) reference to the fact that every artillery battery had both the very specific appointments of 'battery commander' and 'battery captain.' Since the former is abbreviated as "BC" the latter was designated "BK." This was just one of the many little accurate details that made the dialogue a treat to listen to.(4) 

In fact, despite the fact the cast was so small, the constant references to (unseen) characters reinforce the idea these guys are part of something much bigger, and the references are accurate as to what the roles of those other people being referred to would actually have done. The "A" Company commander and sergeant major would have indeed been interested in Roy's comings and goings, and the RSM was indeed responsible for prisoners and discipline in the battalion. The net result of all this is not just to satisfy the rivet counters (like me) in the audience, but reinforce the notion you're watching a faithful recreation of how military units actually operated, and that the film-makers know about such things. It all goes to the verisimilitude of the entire story.

Sanheim has a number of acting credits to his name, and even when serving in the military 20 or so years ago, he was already pursuing modelling and acting as a paid career. He was the face of Mr. Goodwrench in the local newspapers and already appearing in various productions. More recently, he has appeared in episodes of big budget television shows like Fargo and Heartland among a longer list of respectable credits. So it is no surprise he is able to have such presence on the screen, from both a military and a technical acting perspective, projecting competence and humour with an impeccable sense of timing.

At left, Lieutenant Colonel Mathieu of Le Régiment de la Chaudière was photographed in the UK prior to D-Day. This rare colour photo shows ribbons for the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal, Coronation Medal and the Efficiency Decoration. At right, Kurtis Sanheim as the CO of the Chauds in the Netherlands

I'll reserve some praise also for the German commander played by Gregory Cutten. His LinkedIn profile reveals he was at one time a professional German language translator, as well as a current serving Canadian Armed Forces officer with The North Nova Scotia Highlanders, with a tasking in public affairs. Our viewing party included a native German speaker who confirmed that Cutten was indeed speaking fluent German (compare to the Germans in TYS, discussed further on) and of course looked very confident with the dialogue, again, adding to the realism and making full use of the actor's background as both a soldier and a German-speaker. 

Gregory Cutten, a Canadian Armed Forces officer in real life, used his impressive command of the German language to portray the German commander as a competent professional officer.

The camera work is quite good and in particular some of the establishing shots of the Dutch countryside are breathtaking.

The story itself can be accurately described as a wartime thriller, and the writers appropriately raise the stakes for the main characters as the film progresses, with clear dialogue and mounting drama. It's a fairly basic dilemma: the war is ending, the Germans are refusing to give up, and the Allies are forced to fight over friendly Dutch territory to bring the war to its final conclusion. The only variable seems to be the number of friendly soldiers and innocent civilians who will have be die in the process. The viewer is left with no doubts about what the stakes are, or what needs to happen for the protagonists to accomplish their objectives. There is a brief side plot introduced about a local Dutch policeman who knows liberation is coming but also aware the Germans are still in control of his city. His daughter is eager to join the fighting with the local resistance. The closest the film gets to having a true villain is the telephone operator who sympathizes with the Nazis, played by native German speaker Theresa Stork, a professionally trained actress who came to Canada from Europe.

The Liberation Men: Misfires

The scenes with the local Dutch are among the weakest. The conflict between the policeman and the daughter over her wanting to join the resistance was a bit predictable and there was little opportunity for the script to develop any on-screen motivation for her to be so adamant about wanting to fight, other than we know the country has been occupied for four years. But perhaps that is a personal reaction rather than a constructive criticism. I also thought the other female characters, a collaborator and a resistance leader, were similarly under-developed and consequently not very interesting. The collaborator only mentions that the local resistance "think they are better than us," which apparently upsets her so much she is willing to betray her countrymen to an occupying force that is in its final days.

The film is unfortunately loaded with anachronisms which pull knowledgeable viewers out of the story, beginning with the very modern hospital location with drop ceilings and track-mounted room dividers, in which we hear Jack's first words, including the very modern "What's up, man?" There are lots of moments like this, from the cheap plastic light switch plates on the walls of the sets, to the modern concrete curbs and road markings which betray the Ontario film locations. Most of these could have been fixed easily. Roy wears a postwar flannel shirt which has been made to resemble the wartime collarless shirt by removing the collar. But the costumer left the buttons on the chest to which the collar points could be secured, and the ragged band collar still has threads sticking out of it. Small snafus like that are harder to forgive, as are lapses in the dialogue, like when Roy mentions a location being "barely 200 metres away" even though the Canadian Army in 1945 measured distance in yards and miles, not metres and kilometres. And did the Dutch really say "okay" in 1945?

A very modern looking hospital location
Some of the verisimilitude created by the realistic dialogue and talented line readings by the actors portraying Canadians is unfortunately washed away by awkward and inaccurate title cards such as this. I believe this is supposed to be the Tactical Headquarters (Tac HQ) of the Chaudière Regiment. The presence of the anti-aircraft gun is a bit of a mystery as these were a divisional-level asset and usually deployed to guard higher priority targets (like divisional headquarters or important assets like bridges and depots). Having a period-correct working "ack ack" gun would naturally be appealing to any low budget short film maker so one sort of understands. But this is certainly not an "infantry forward location", whatever that is supposed to mean.

During our viewing party, my friend Peter mentioned the single word "pacing." And I instantly knew what he meant, and I feel many of the key sequences in the film could have been vastly improved with some judicious tightening in the editing room. As an example, about 25 minutes into the film, Roy and Jack get into a night-time firefight with German soldiers, presumably in the middle of Zwolle. Knowing they are behind enemy lines, what do our heroes do? Roy checks the pulse of one of the Germans (ummm...why? Is he planning on staying to give first aid or evacuate him to hospital? One doubts it.), slowly turns to Jack, they (slowly) exchange a bit of "you ok" banter, admit that two of the Germans are still alive, and then conclude "stealth's out, they know we're here." Then they stand around a bit more in a brightly lit area while Roy hatches his plan to convince the Germans the Canadians have infiltrated the town in force. And then they slowly saunter off, down a well-lit street, to carry out the plan. There is no sense of urgency or danger at all, which detracts from the stakes. 

Had the editor thought to drop in the sound of at the least a dog barking, or a vehicle starting in the distance, or someone yelling to ask just what the hell was going on, and if the director had thought to maybe move the conversation to underneath one of the big trees in the background, or someplace dark - the scene would have had a lot more impact. You'd have thought they had something to be scared of. Instead, it comes off as just an exposition scene to get us to the next amazing exploit among an enemy horde predisposed to just let them go and do whatever they want. There are a few scenes like that. A couple of minutes later we see the heroes welcomed into the home of the Dutch policeman, and despite the secrecy of the proceedings, no one thinks to turn the lights down or even close the drapes. Were they really that unafraid of being seen by the Germans? The director let the writer down in this case, though having said that, the Germans in this one weren't that scary to begin with. 

The Germans, no doubt played by volunteer war re-enactors, were all either too heavy or too visibly old to be convincing. (As noted, the German commander is an exception, and looked and acted the part well.) Yes, the Germans were drafting men in their late 40s and even their 50s by 1945. Yes, the troops being depicted are likely garrison soldiers who had been living the good life on occupation duty. No one behind German lines was eating well in what the Dutch called the Hunger Winter of 1944-45. The stilted German spoken by some of the re-enactors makes it clear they are not native speakers. And sadly, some of the combat scenes come off as comical, such as the ambush in which Roy loses his eye to a very fake looking ambush. The Germans move in slow motion, as if posing for a painting rather than fighting for their lives. Judicious editing may have helped in this regard too, though likely the editor went with the best footage they were able to film. 

As a final thought on the Germans, I won't offer judgement on the historicity of a female signals auxiliary being employed in an Army garrison command post and will give the producers the benefit of the doubt that this was actually done.

The Liberation Men: Conclusion

My friend Evan used the phrase "noble effort" to describe LM. I agree, and I think the positives outweigh the negatives. There was a coherent story, with the added bonus of being inspired by real life events, at least as far as the Canadian scenes. The characters are likeable and while there are men and women in opposition to each other, no real scenery-chewing "bad guys." The motivations of the characters, while sometimes hokey, are grounded in reality and they mostly do things (sometimes seemingly irrational things like getting a German prisoner to drive the hero through occupied Zwolle at gunpoint) for contextually good reasons, which in the case of the car-jacking were also apparently historically accurate. 

Most of the uniforms and equipment will appeal to those who have an eye for those kind of details. Yes, there is some post-war battledress sprinkled in here and there, but for the most part they wear decent enough Canadian kit with blancoed web gear and the appropriate weapons and equipment (ignore the slung Thompson on Sergeant Scott). 

The music mostly helps the action on screen, though at one or two times the selections were a little inappropriate and an assault on German headquarters brought to mind Quentin Tarantino (or, more accurately, a Quentin Tarantino spoof on a sketch comedy show) when it was accompanied by an upbeat percussive number.

Perhaps the biggest question to be asked is why no one in this famous francophone Canadian regiment has even a whiff of a French accent, but that's a convention I can also personally live with (particularly if the only alternative was to have non-native speakers spitting out slow-motion streams of google-translated French, as seems to be the case with some of the actors playing Dutch and German characters.)

If you have the patience to sit through a film cut by an old-school editor, you'll at the least like the humanity of the characters and forgive the brief bursts of over-acting by the lesser experienced members of the cast, while being sucked into a pretty decent story by the acting chops of Michael Ruhs, Jacob Perkins, Theresa Stork and Kurtis Sanheim

Thousand Yard Stare: Strengths

 As noted above, there is only one main character in Thousand Yard Stare, Sergeant Roland Rothach of the US 1st Infantry Division, played by Adam Munro. Balding and seemingly perpetually unshaven, Rothach is an everyman with wife, child, and white collar civilian job thrown into military service and then the losing end of a major battle. Kasserine Pass was the first significant action between a US division and the Germans in World War II, and one of the largest battlefield defeats that American forces would suffer in the war. The battle has been portrayed in larger scale Hollywood films like Patton and The Big Red One, using Spain and Israel for location shooting. This one was shot in the Badlands of southern Alberta near Drumheller, which makes a convincing stand-in for Tunisia.

Given his central role in the story (we never see anything from anyone else's point of view) the movie was doomed to succeed or fail on the back of its star. In this regard, the movie succeeds. Munro does a very good job of dealing with a range of emotions, and his expressive face often tells a story with a single move of his brow or mouth. It probably helps that there is not a lot of dialogue given the nature of the character.

Adam Munro as Sergeant Roland Rothach

The film shifts back and forth between Rothach's combat experiences before, during and after the Kasserine battle, and his difficulties adjusting to life after the war.  As far as the war scenes, the film-makers did a very good job managing their limited resources to bring to life a convincing large-scale battle. Some of the miniatures effects are a little too obvious, but for the most part they are passable and sometimes exceedingly convincing, such as the scene of overhead air combat which seemed, to me, to be flawlessly inserted into the narrative. 

This film also made use of a number of local war re-enactors, many known to me personally, and the producers seem to have selected shots of the most appropriate looking ones for close and medium shots. It's possible the re-enactor pool in Alberta is made up of much healthier hobbyists than their Ontario cousins. Regardless, the war scenes are nicely shot and shift between medium establishing shots filled up with platoons of men and tanks seamlessly by movie magic, and closer, frenetic, disjointed combat up close and personal. There is chaos as the battle turns against Rothach and his men. Commanders wander in and out looking for information, for each other, or because they don't know what else to do. Men get hit, suffer, bleed and die while Rothach seems helpless to do much other than bear witness, and eventually, save his own skin. The editing in particular seems very good and the camera doesn't seem to ever linger longer than it needs to.

I can only believe the reviewers online who have praised the depiction of postwar survivors guilt, post-traumatic stress, marital dissolve and alcoholism as I've not experienced any of that myself. Nonetheless those comments seem to ring true, and the editors, director, writers and actor all chose to let Rothach underplay the experience. There are no long soliloquys about the terribleness of it all, just some effective, and uncomfortable, scenes that highlight what he is going through. A dinner party reminiscent of something out of The Best Years of Our Lives ends in a surprising act of violence, and Rothach's marriage is tested by an equally surprising act of sexual violence which is realistically and tastefully done. For the most part the post-war scenes are done with an understatement in stark contrast to the kinetic energy of the frantic battle scenes, to the benefit of both.

Thousand Yard Stare: Weaknesses

The strengths of The Liberation Men mentioned above were brought into sharper focus for me when we screened TYS right afterwards. The strength of the spoken German in LM made the decision made by TYS that much more baffling. The German characters often speak not in German but in German-sounding gibberish, particularly jarring if one is fluent in the language.

We are left to believe the main character has been deeply affected by his war service, and while I don't doubt the reviews on IMDB that say Rothach's descent into alcoholism and depression are accurately portrayed, I can't help but notice we never see him happy before the war, either. Yes, there are a couple of flashbacks of him dancing with his wife in a Hollywood bliss, but the only real camaraderie we see is among the bit players just before the battle scene. The lead is conspicuously silent during it all. I guess my biggest question is how do you portray loss (of anything - innocence, happiness, security) if you don't also portray the having of that thing first? We find out that Rothach wrote for the local newspaper before the war. Did it make him happy? Was he good at it? Did he want to go back to it after the war? We never really find out any of this. 

We also have no reason to believe he is a very good soldier, as he gives few orders and interacts almost not at all with any of the other GIs. The stakes might have been increased a bit if we had some greater sense he was a capable NCO and leader of men with a strong attachment to his soldiers. I got no sense of any of that and there is a sense the audience was supposed to take things like that for granted.

One of the four strands of the film involves Rothach's brief experiences as a POW following the battle, and these sequences have an unintentional unreality that no doubt padded the run time of the film to just get it over the 90 minute hump, but also detract from the quality of the film as a whole. There are technical errors, such as the air to air combat showing a two-seater German dive-bomber being shot down, which transitions to an unconvincing model of a one-seater German fighter plane on the ground, followed by Rothach being captured in the middle of nowhere by two German airmen (presumably the pilot and gunner of the two seater). 

Trapped alone in the North African wastes, what do these Germans do when they find this American soldier wandering lost? Why, they immediately take him prisoner of course! Despite being out of all contact with friendly forces themselves and possessing no survival equipment, food or water. They tie him up and treat him with such disdain we are forced to endure not one but two urination scenes. Naturally the pilot is a die-hard Hollywood Nazi type who itches to do evil but is barely restrained by the archetypal "good German" rear gunner.

Rothach's ordeal comes to an end not only when they find the German lines, but in a bizarre interplay immediately afterward where the "good German," grateful for a brief bit of first aid Rothach delivered out in the desert, decides on the spot to basically defect, provide Rothach with an illicit uniform, and then shoots the Nazi archetype in the back, killing him.


To be charitable, the theme of the movie is incredibly clear. War is hell. The narrative is entertainingly and skillfully progressed by the intercutting of the four strands of the timeline. At the one hour and 16 minute mark, within the space of a couple of minutes, you see Rothach during the Kasserine battle, desperate to escape a hail of enemy gunfire as his men go down around him, then at home reliving it on his couch and living room floor after the war, then engaged in hand to hand combat with one of his German captors after the battle. The understated music score and the tightly edited sequences dovetail together very nicely.

But you will have to watch it for yourself to decide if the film provides a satisfying payoff in the end. Put another way - it's not clear, to me at least, exactly where all these four strands were supposed to end up. For all its technical merit and the skill of the actors, I came away wanting to have learned more about the character than he was just another helpless war victim who had absolutely no agency. 

My Final Word

I'll conclude with two final points, about "the other" Léo Major film, and short films in general.

In May 2019, local re-enactors from across Alberta converged on a pair of properties between Calgary and Edmonton to work on filming some battle scenes to recreate the actions of Léo Major at Zwolle for a documentary film directed by Jeremy Pollock. We had a running Stuart tank, universal carrier, motorcycle and working automatic weapons including an MG-42 courtesy of the local prop and movie firearms company.

We re-enactors converted a barn into what we thought a battalion command post might look like, and populated it with extras while the professionally trained actors showed their chops as the CO of the Chauds and as the man himself.

The "other" Léo Major film features similar production values and mix of acting talent as The Liberation Men. The Commanding Officer, at right, was recognized by the extras on set as having starred in a popular and well-known television commercial.

On the set of the "other" Léo Major film, lean and mean Alberta-based re-enactors try to disguise their postwar MG-tripod and "look German" for the camera.

It's not clear what the status of the film is currently, though some pick-ups and reshoots have occurred on and off in the years since. The experience has given me a bit more sympathy in how I view small-budget productions, particularly those who rely on re-enactors like my friends, or myself, who are very often older and a little wider than the wartime heroes they are seeking to portray.

The author on the set of the "other" Léo Major film in 2019.

Lest anyone think the comments above about Thousand Yard Stare of The Liberation Men are cheap or unwarranted attacks, I can only say it is not my intent. I truly admire the efforts of small film-makers who are doing this for love of subject.  I can say that many military re-enactors secretly (or openly) desire to dip their own toes into film-making and our group has not been any different. In 2020, I was pleased to be able to convince my friends to appear in Attack of the Leaping Horseman, a documentary on one of my YouTube channels. And happy with that, we shot another film in 2022, this time a fictional short set in the Second World War.

All of which is to say I think I've learned a bit more patience when it comes to watching smaller-budgeted films, and certainly to identify with the problems posed to the creative talents involved in these enterprises. None of which is to say that I am somehow a master, or even proficient, at the skills involved in putting together a short film. Just that in a small way, I think I have started to relate.

After a year of inability to get our film finished, I put this teaser out. That was a year ago. I am doing a pick-up scene this week, and continuing to edit and redub things with the hope of finally releasing it for public consumption. It is a lot of work. Hats off to those who do this for real with actual skin in the game, putting up money and time to express their creativity, and especially those who seek to honour and help explain the experiences of our wartime veterans. 

I hope this critique encourages viewers who otherwise wouldn't be interested in Thousand Yard Stare or The Liberation Men to consider viewing more small-budgeted films and shorts. Whatever one may think of the end product, I can safely say neither TLM nor TYS was intended as just more Hollywood schlock on the content treadmill. I firmly believe both films were well-intentioned projects to comment with intelligence and sensitivity on the experiences of those who lived, fought and sometimes died during the Second World War. Despite all that has been said about that conflict, I also firmly believe there is a lot more we can learn about it, and be entertained by it as we do. And if we rely on mainstream Hollywood to do it, we do that at our peril. See U-571 for one of many blatant examples of why that is a bad idea.


  1. Historian T. Robert Fowler incorrectly refers to him as "Wilfred Arsenault" (note alternate spelling of last name) in a number of places.  Canadian Army Journal, Volume 11, Number 3, Fall 2008, a reprint of an article originally appearing in Canadian Military History. W.P. Arseneault is memorialized at the Canadian Virtual War Memorial (Welly Paul Arseneault - The Canadian Virtual War Memorial - Veterans Affairs Canada)
  2. Mathieu left the battalion in August 1944 and was replaced by Lieutenant-Colonel Gustave O. Taschereau who commanded the unit into 1945. He received the DSO in May 1945.
  3. The only time I ever feared for my life in my reserve army service was driving back from a weekend exercise in Wainwright, a trip of just over four hours in decent conditions and a civilian car. I was tasked to drive an Iltis (jeep-type vehicle) back at the head of a packet of vehicles. In a blizzard, over icy roads. I noticed the vehicle had an alarming tendency to lurch to the right, toward the ditch, as we travelled and was unable to account for it. The senior NCO in the passenger seat with me had me stop the vehicle. He then got out, and traded places with one of the master corporals in a vehicle behind us. The master corporal was of course Kurtis Sanheim. He took the wheel of the Iltis, immediately noticed the occasional slewing toward the ditch, and decided our best bet was to go as fast as possible and get it back to Calgary. I was genuinely terrified as we sped down the icy highway, and legitimately the only time I've been in fear for my life, but like many service experiences, I look back and laugh about it today. The next Wednesday parade night, our transport NCO told me that the Iltis we came back to Calgary in was inspected and found to have had a broken tie rod. I guess that must have been one of the things I missed in the 10 seconds we were given to conduct a first parade of the vehicle before departure. Pretty sure this was the days before cell phones so I think hats off to Kurtis for keeping it on the road and getting us back safely. The senior NCO who abandoned the vehicle and left Kurtis and I to our fate, I will not name since he has died in the interim, but safe to say it had not been my only negative interaction with him.
  4. One minor gaffe was a spoken reference to Bravo Company, which of course is a use of the NATO phonetic alphabet adopted in the 1950s. In the Second World War, this would have been known as "Baker Company" or just "B" Company. Another was the reference to "G-2" which is part of the staff designators used by the Americans in the Second World War, and adopted as NATO standard after the war. The reference probably should have been to the IO (battalion intelligence officer) or to "brigade intelligence."

Friday, June 7, 2024

D+29,220 - Normandy 80 years on

Another D-Day anniversary has come and gone, and some random thoughts in no particular order related to how those in my feed have chosen to mark the day(1):

Operation Code Names

For those interested in the actual historical usage of the operation codenames, these were;

  • Operation OVERLORD - the invasion of Northwest Europe, or more specifically, the first phase which was the clearing of Normandy and reaching the line of the Seine River. As is well known, the phase lines drafted in advance of the landings gave D+90 as a estimate of the time it would take to get there. Some histories have inaccurately reported this as being a deadline, which it wasn't. In the event, the Allies reached the Seine on 30 August 1944, or D+85, five days in advance of this estimate. As a bonus, they didn't have to launch a combat assault across the river, which they anticipated doing and in fact some formations and units actually rehearsed for in the UK. Among these was 2 Canadian Division, for example. The Calgary Highlanders reportedly remembered their storm boat training when they reached the Walcheren Causeway in October 1944, but the terrain there prohibited them from using them.
  • Operation NEPTUNE - the sea landings on the Normandy beaches
  • Operation CHICAGO - the airborne landings in the American sector, behind UTAH Beach.
  • Operation TONGA - the airborne landings in the British sector, east of the Orne River
  • Operation DEADSTICK - the coup de main landing on the bridges over the Orne River and Caen Canal, and the securing of what became Pegasus Bridge
  • Operation FORTITUDE - the deception plan, involving fake signal traffic and fictitious units including an army group under General Patton. Canadian historian Marc Milner has highlighted the involvement of Canadian signallers in this plan, and expressed his hope that future researchers would dive deeper into this involvement.(2)
These are the main ones I can think of, which is apparently enough to not be able to keep straight, without adding the many others.

Largest Amphibious Operation

OVERLORD is the largest overall invasion in history in terms of air, sea and land forces. A number of commentators keep calling it the largest amphibious operation in history, but in terms of formations involved, the naval landings on Sicily in July 1943 were larger (not included here are the airborne forces which obviously arrived by parachute and glider):

Normandy 1944 - 
  • US 4th Infantry Division
  • US 1st Infantry Division
  • US 29th Infantry Division
  • British 50th Infantry Division
  • Canadian 3rd Infantry Division
  • British 3rd Infantry Division
  • supporting units of Rangers, Commandos and armoured/tank battalions/regiments

Sicily 1943 -

  • US 3rd Infantry Division
  • US 1st Infantry Division
  • US 45th Infantry Division
  • Canadian 1st Infantry Division
  • British 51st Infantry Division
  • British 50th Infantry Division
  • British 5th Infantry Division
  • supporting units of Commandos and armoured/tank battalions/regiments

Importance of D-Day to the Second World War - Three Calamities

In a piece by Bill Kaufmann in the Calgary newspapers on June 6, Dr. John Ferris of the University of Calgary (whom I had the privilege of studying under, however briefly, as an undergrad) rightly pointed out "(Normandy) is often seen as a war-winning campaign and that wasn't the case." Kaufmann continues "D-Day's significance (Ferris) said, lay in proving the mettle of western armies and their determination to sacrifice alongside their Soviet had longer-term implications related to an impending Cold War schism between those allies...."

There is no doubt much truth to this but if the argument is that Normandy had no military significance, that is probably as much of an exaggeration as saying it was war-winning.

Three cataclysms rocked the Germans in the summer of 1944. In late May the situation in Italy, which had been stalemated for six months, changed dramatically when the Allies busted through the Gustav Line, drove down the Liri Valley, broke the siege at Anzio and captured Rome on June 4th. It should have been a more impressive victory but 5th Army commander General Mark Clark chose the prestige target instead of cutting off the Germans, which regrouped near the Apennines and held out for another winter.  The landings in Normandy began a three month campaign which saw a million German casualties, while on June 22nd the Red Army launched Operation BAGRATION on the Eastern Front, an operation which saw the destruction of Germany's Army Group Centre, and a million more German casualties. 

The areas in tan indicate German withdrawals as a result of the three cataclysms in June 1944.

These three blows, in concert with each other, meant the Germans couldn't shuffle their best divisions from front to front as they had in the past since the pressure was on in three directions. If the campaign in Northwest Europe did not win the war on its own, one has to believe it did shorten it, or put another way, prevented the Germans from prolonging it even more.

Paying Tribute

A number of of the military hobbyists and hobby groups marked the day in various ways, usually via entertainment media (wargames, video games, movies, books). For Canadians, there are slim pickings particularly as far as films.  

  • The Longest Day - still holds up despite its age and aging special effects. And while most people still know who John Wayne is, the all-star cast including Eddie Albert, Robert Wagner, Fabian, Richard Burton, Sean Connery is less likely to impress a dwindling audience that have actually heard of all these people. From the Canadian perspective, JUNO Beach is seen as the target of a German strafing run, and that's it. And the camera overruns the set so it looks like there were beach defences on just half of it.
  • Storming Juno - I'm a big enough history snob to have seen the rusted out post-war tank used for principal photography and turned my nose up at it. I've not seen the whole thing. Some of the veteran interviews I've seen in clips on YouTube look well done.
  • The Valour and the Horror - suffice to say there are still lots of people angry about this one, because of the 1960s style journalism angle on what could have been a straight-forward documentary.  And the focus isn't on D-Day but the whole Normandy campaign. Piece d'resistance is the absurd reenactment of Verrières-Ridge by the 1990s era Black Watch in a Quebec meadow which is supposed to be a hillside wheatfield in Normandy.
Wargamers don't have much for pickings either. There are plenty of strategic and operational games, but my interest has always been at the tactical level (where individual units represent single men, sections, or platoons). Rest assured Advanced Squad Leader has rules for everything from opposed parachute landings and gliders to landing craft, but even without the cumbersome procedures for all these things, the game is most often a tedious slog through the rulebook. It's possible to find custom maps representing the actual landing areas, and then deploy entire battalions in their historical landing zones, but I'm not sure I would find it at all fun.

Combat Mission automates much of this stuff, being a 3-D computer game, but the developers have been averse to introducing engineering aspects - roadblocks, clearing mines, etc. - and completely steered clear of amphibious tanks, landing craft, beach obstacles, the actual German bunker types which proved do deadly on the day, etc. Close Combat was game to try though I don't recall Canadian representation. Medal of Honor had a decent enough recreation of the OMAHA landings (or perhaps, the movie version as it seemed to ape SPR more than real life) but again, no Canadian coverage, and first person shooters aren't really meant to be taken seriously.

Canadians trying to find a medium through which the events of the day of days can be vicariously experienced will have to settle for some of the good books by Ted Barris, Mark Zuehlke and others who have written extensively and captured the words of many veterans who survived the landings.

On the Ground

I was in uniform on Juno Beach on the 75th Anniversary, as part of the national contingent sent specifically for that commemoration. There was apparently an excellent multimedia display behind us, we saw none of it as we were formed up in ranks. The PM did a cursory inspection of the guard, but did not speak to us. The CDS of the day, however, came down to the beach just before we stepped on to parade. He handed out commemorative coins and glad handed the several dozen of us, shaking hands and telling us it was good to meet us. Some might have considered it a crassly political show, but I got the sense he was feeling the same things as us in the guard - the joy and unique experience of being a Canadian soldier on foreign soil, and in a place where the Army's reputation had been enhanced by the sacrifice and accomplishments of those that trod there under fire. The Governor-General had also talked to us before an earlier parade at a military cemetery, and seemed just as sincerely interested in what was happening, and meeting fellow pilgrims on the ground it all happened. The CDS and GG came under some harsh media attention in the months following, which did not change my impression of them, or my own joy at being able to share that experience with fellow Canadians, no matter who they were.

I had been to the Juno Beach Centre on an earlier trip, and found it slightly underwhelming, so there was not much disappointment when we were told the centre was off limits to us. The PM's staff had booked the site for an interview on CBC. I still felt bad for the others for whom the trip may have been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

On a personal level it was a memorable event in many ways, drilling and practicing with soldiers (and sailors and "aviators" - the gender neutral word for "airmen" these days despite the fact none of our "aviators" were actually pilots) from across the country, and going deep into the drill manual to learn, or re-learn, such things as About Turn on the March, and the feu-de-joie which we performed well. It was slightly marred after the march off when one of our reservist master-corporals discharged their rifle which still had a blank cartridge in it. It had been a treat to be on parade with several soldiers of the Canadian Special Operations Regiment, who trace their lineage to the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion. Their special uniforms drew much positive attention from us, and the fact they were as challenged by the unique foot drill as the rest of us was interesting, but not surprising - these are the guys that 'do war' for a living and train to expert levels in weapons and fieldcraft, so no surprise they didn't spend as much time on drill as perhaps a reservist whose unit calendar involves several ceremonial parades every year. The undisguised disgust shown by the CSOR contingent at the unfortunate master corporal reservist that had lost control of their weapon seems all the more reasonable in that regard. It was a minor blemish on a job well done, and thankfully had occurred outside the public's eye.

DND had seen fit to send some of our best historians to help us interpret the wartime events, with battlefield tours and lectures, and I eagerly listened to Steven Harris and Mike Bechthold share their knowledge with us.

My favourite memory, however, will always be an off-hours adventure, when my sergeant invited me along to visit a Calvados distillery, which had a very good tour and museum set up, along with tasting bar and fully stocked gift shop. The 20 year old vintages can't be described - and were a far cry from the raw, barely fermented stuff our Canadian troops guzzled down in the summer of 1944. I had such a good time I forgot to take any photos. An excuse, perhaps, to go back some day.

My Final Word

None of this really captures the importance of the day, that has been done in all the television and social media coverage of the last 24 hours, to which I can add nothing. D-Day is one of those events that speaks for itself. I am glad, however, that we continue to honour the memory of it though just like Vimy Ridge in the First World War, there were other far more impressive Canadian victories among our battle honours. At the end of the day - in this case, June 6, 1944 - a very well rehearsed but inexperienced division cut through a pretty thin defensive screen made up of war weary conscripts bolstered by "volunteers" from Eastern Europe. No one doubts the bravery of Canadian troops that day, and I wouldn't call it "easy", but compared to some of the very tough fighting in the Scheldt and Rhineland later on, it seems like comparisons can be not unfairly made as to which was harder to do.


  1. I started this blog with the mandate of using it to comment on current news events which would benefit from some clarifying points of a historical nature. I don't know if I've crossed the line into a "personal blog" with this entry, but if so - mea culpa.
  2. Milner's book STOPPING THE PANZERS is a must-read for his research into what exactly the role of 3 Cdn Div was in the overall invasion. When he presented on his book at The Military Museums in Calgary during the book's launch several years ago, he took a few minutes to discuss FORTITUDE and his hope that the Canadian aspect would be fleshed out

Friday, May 3, 2024

Fort Calgary's New Name - Reconciliation or Just Good History?

It seems like just yesterday that the City of Calgary announced it had spent 4.8 million dollars to come up with a new brand. In actuality, it was just over two weeks ago that citizens were informed "Be Part of the Energy" was going away, and we were now the Blue Sky City. 

Calgary re-branded as the 'Blue Sky City' | CBC News

I won't record my own response here but safe to say public reaction was "mixed." Certainly the Premier of Alberta was less than enthusiastic about changing from the older motto, though her public comments stopped short of commenting directly on the relative merits of the new one.

Bell: Danielle Smith's thumbs-down to Calgary's Blue Sky City brand | Calgary Herald

Calgarians are used to expressing their anger over public works, and recent contretemps include among others the Calatrava bridge (some commentators have felt that the official name of Peace Bridge was a crass attempt to curry favour with a hostile electorate, I will make no such claim here myself.) The infamous blue ring was another, and there was the Poop Palace which displayed in LED lights the flow of wastewater through our sewage system. 

So the social media response to the latest 'blue sky' idea should be no surprise in a city where the default reaction to public works announcements is anger first, reflection later, maybe. Yesterday, 2 May 2024, the city teased a big announcement at Fort Calgary on morning radio shows, and then on cue announced that the site of Fort Calgary was now rebranded to become The Confluence: Historic Site and Parkland.

Fort Calgary rebranded to represent landmark's multiple histories | CBC News

What to make of this?

Backlash against this goes beyond mere concern for the public purse, of course. Canadians of European ancestry have begun to either feel or sense a rising discomfort with their own history, if not among themselves then certainly among a vocal minority of .... well, minorities. Wikipedia has a whole list of statues that have been removed in recent years, all of them of explorers or public figures either British or of British ancestry. It would be impossible to recount the entire history of European settlement/colonization and its attendant issues of First Nations relations, residential schools, and the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, among others. I won't pass judgement on what I think the "correct" view of all this history is, other than to generally agree with whomever said "history should make you uncomfortable." That is to say, if you're making an honest attempt to understand it rather than judge past figures by the standards of today.

I feel much more comfortable giving an opinion from a purely military history point of view, which would also be much more in line with the stated focus of this blog. And through that lens, the renaming of the Fort Calgary site makes some sense to me. One fears that the actual history of the site, which one hopes informed the site's decision to rebrand, may be forgotten as sides ramp up to fight another battle in the culture war. A review of what actually happened there might be instructive and perhaps even help avoid such a fight altogether.

Fortress on the Bow

The North-West Mounted Police stood up in 1874 and marched west from what became Manitoba in order to ensure peace, order and good government met the waves of European settlers that the new nation of Canada expected to populate what would become their western provinces. Fort Macleod was established a little too far from the trading post at Edmonton and "F" Troop set out from the once thriving town of Tail Creek (near what today are Red Deer and Stettler) to create an intermediate station. In August 1875 the troop travelled toward what became the Ghost Dam, and then along the Bow River to where it met the Elbow - or, as many histories written by authors well conversant in the English language usually say, at the "confluence" of the two waters.

Wooden palisades went up before Christmas, Inspector Brisebois tried to name the place after himself but failed, and his boss, Superintendent James Macleod named it for a castle in Scotland he had once summered at with family. 

Relations with the First Nations were good. Fort Calgary lay on the traditional lands of the Blackfoot, Nakoda, Sarcee (now Tsuut'ina) and Métis, and by 1878 treaties had paved the way for European settlement and peaceful co-existence. In 1882 the palisades came down, just seven years after they had gone up, with expanded barracks going up in their place. In 1884, the rail link to Winnipeg was complete and the small collection of civilian dwellings in and about the former site of the fort became the Town of Calgary. Ten years later, Calgary was a City.

Ever since that beginning, the only serious threat of invasion by an armed enemy that Calgary ever faced was in 1885 and the Northwest Rebellion. Unfortunately for the citizens of Calgary, not only was the fort gone, but most of the mounties had ridden off as part of the Alberta Field Force. James Walker stood up a home guard of a hundred armed cowboys and paraded daily to show the local First Nations that Calgarians would fight for their homes if need be. The First Nations for their part gave the citizens no trouble, and the fighting took place in far off places like Batoche and Duck Lake.

The war, such as it was, took up the better part of the spring but was over relatively quickly. It was enough to scare Calgarians, who clamoured for a military unit of their own. They had to wait until after the Boer War had begun to get one. A squadron of the Canadian Mounted Rifles stood up in 1901, followed by the creation of other support units and finally an infantry regiment in April 1910 called the 103rd Regiment, Calgary Rifles. The growing military clamoured for storage and drill space, and again, war intervened in their plans. Mewata Armoury was built after delays caused by the First World War. It put the original Fort Calgary to shame, built in Tudor Gothic style from brick and sandstone, with heavy steel bars on the windows, towers and ramparts reminiscent of a medieval castle. Threats of war, with either the First Nations or the United States, were largely a thing of the past. In fact, First Nations men joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force to fight for Canada in large numbers, even though things like veterans benefits and voting privileges would not be granted until years or even decades in the future.


Of all the military installations that have come and gone from Calgary, from Currie and Harvey Barracks to the now dimly remembered Northeast Armouries, few could claim a shorter active service life than the original Fort Calgary. The importance of the fort to Calgary's history cannot be determined solely from that service life, which, it may be pointed out, managed to avoid falling in the period of any major Canadian military conflicts. It's importance was as a meeting place where relationships between the old world and the new were fostered. A little too well, perhaps, for as the story goes Inspector Ephrem Brisebois, the original commander, had the only wood-burning stove in camp and kept it in his personal quarters to facilitate liaisons with local First Nations women, something which engendered very little affection from his men who subsequently developed a reputation for poor discipline. 

It would be wrong, in my opinion, to assign much importance to the wooden palisades that stood for a paltry seven years, a relative blink of the eye in our continuing civic history. It was an important first chapter, but Calgary's legacy is a largely peaceful one, where we've had the luxury of fighting our battles on foreign soil. Fort Calgary deserves to be remembered, but for what it was - a very small part of the entirely peaceful history of a city forged by people of a great diversity of backgrounds. As such, the name "Confluence" seems to nicely encapsulate that idea, a meeting not only of two rivers, essential to sustain life, but of great peoples who managed to live more or less harmoniously with each other from the very beginning. Those beginnings are worth remembering as Canada struggles with its self-assigned task of Reconciliation. 

For More

I will confess to having recently researched some aspects of the early military history of Calgary for the recently published book Calgary's Infantry Regiment: A Pictorial History of The Calgary Highlanders

Calgary's Infantry Regiment: A Pictorial History of The Calgary Highlanders

The book can be ordered from at the link above.

Final Word

My friend Patrick Yeates gave me a tour of his Winnipeg hometown a few years ago and "The Forks" stood out to me in memory just as much as both statues of Louis Riel. It was an effective branding, for that reason alone, and another reason I think "Confluence" may have some legs as far as helping with tourism. I took a neighbour's son to the Fort Calgary interpretive centre and found it enjoyable, but of course, there was so much more in the galleries than just the fort, and the same can be said of the entire area where the rivers meet. The Hunt House, Calgary's oldest building, fascinated us both and like the displays of automobiles or newspaper typesetters inside the interpretive centre, really had not a lot to do with the fort itself and everything to do with a wider civic history. The new name will reflect that, too.

Michael A. Dorosh

Monday, September 25, 2023

Controversial Tribute by Canada's Speaker of the House to Ukrainian Veteran Reveals State of Modern Journalism


Canadian news sources - as well as international ones - are now broadcasting the fact that the Speaker of the House rose in Canada's House of Commons and paid tribute to a 98-year old veteran of the 1st Ukrainian Division of the Ukrainian National Army. It's former identity as the 14th Division of the Waffen-SS is a matter of fact and has drawn condemnation for which the speaker has apologized. But some other matters of fact seem to loom large as well.

The Soviet Union starved millions of ethnic Ukrainians in the 1930s in an attempted genocide now known as the Holodomor.

When German soldiers arrived in the Ukraine, still part of the Soviet Union, in the summer of 1941, they were treated as liberators. The Germans were not so quick to adopt them as allies, but did find allies and willing participants to their own genocide, the Holocaust of the European Jews. In fact, the majority of killings in the Holocaust occurred in open-air shootings throughout eastern Europe, and not in the death camps in Poland. Anti-Semitism was rife throughout the East - for that matter, in North America as well - and locals often enthusiastically volunteered to assist the killing apparatus of the Germans who employed Einsatzgruppen (Special Detachments) for the job of mass killings.

The Soviet Union became an ally of Canada in 1941, though more by circumstance than design. As Britain's Prime Minister famously said at the time of their unlikely alliance - if Hitler had invaded Hell itself, he would at the very least rise and give favourable mention to Satan in the House of Commons. War makes strange bedfellows.

Ukraine and the Soviet Union fought a civil war for years after war with Germany ended in 1945. There was no more Waffen-SS, but there was indeed the victorious Soviet Union, on a clear trajectory to being an adversary of Canada under Stalin. While the UPA (Ukrainian Insurgent Army) was largely destroyed by 1948, active fighting continued until 1955. By this time the Cold War was in full swing.

Soviet weapons were used by North Korea in active combat against Canadians. For what it is worth, the Chinese army, fresh from its victory in its own civil war, bore much of the burden of the fighting against United Nations forces of which Canadians were a part.

All of these are facts, and some of them are being used to greater effect than others to stoke the outrage machine. In my own experience, I find those with a deep knowledge and understanding of history generally have little time for outrage at failed political stunts (something the Speaker's actions surely were). History is far too complicated and nuanced for that. It used to be that journalists would know that. If the Speaker can't be forgiven for being unaware of the complicated history of the Ukraine, halfway around the world, neither should journalists be forgiven for broadcasting only those elements of that history that make their chosen side of the debate look bad.

The controversy is a bad look for everyone involved, none of whom had the complicated choice of whom to fight for in the Second World War when caught between two genocidal regimes.

Saturday, July 2, 2022

Canada's own symbol of excellence and diversity is now a hate symbol

In reaction to the latest news that the federal government may consider the historic Red Ensign a hate symbol, perhaps it is time to examine the historical context of that flag.

There has been confusion over the years about the status of the Red Ensign and what exactly it meant to Canadians. As a Dominion of the British Empire, Canada's national flag was the Union Flag (more commonly known as the Union Jack).

Even after Canada gained autonomy over its foreign policy with the Statute of Westminster in 1931, the Union Flag continued to be the official state flag. From almost the time of Confederation in 1867, the Red Ensign was also used as an unofficial national flag. It bore the Union Flag in the upper corner, with the shields of the individual provinces in the field, all on a royal scarlet background. The shield changed over time as new provinces joined Confederation. 

In 1921, the shield was changed to the Canadian coat of arms, which represented the nations which had founded Canada - England, Scotland, Ireland, and France, with a sprig of Canadian maple leaves. 

In June 1944, red ensign flags were distributed to military forces in the United Kingdom preparing for the invasion of France. For the first time in history, an entire Canadian Army was to be activated as a field command in a theatre of war. When First Canadian Army headquarters was activated in Normandy shortly after D-Day, the red ensign was flown overhead. 

The ensign was changed to its final form in 1957 by some minor aesthetic changes. The maple leaves became red, an official colour of Canada, and the imagery of a woman with bare breasts depicted on the Irish harp was removed. 

In 1965, Canada adopted the current red and white maple leaf flag as a distinct representation of Canada's sovereignty. 

The Red Ensign comes down for the last time at Fort Henry, West Germany, by Canadian soldiers on 15 February 1965, in favour of the new red and white maple leaf flag.
The Red Ensign comes down for the last time at Fort Henry, West Germany, by Canadian soldiers on 15 February 1965, in favour of the new red and white maple leaf flag.

While the red ensign had not been an official national flag, its use, particularly in military settings, had been emblematic of Canadian patriotism. Just as Canadian soldiers in both world wars had adopted maple-leaf badges and CANADA shoulder titles to display their national pride, the red ensign too had become a symbol of Canadian unity as early as the battle of Vimy Ridge when the flag was proudly displayed after the successful capture of the feature. 

More recently the flag has become a symbol of controversy as ideologues on the far reaches of both the progressive and conservative side of Canada's political spectrum have sought to co-opt the symbol for their own purposes. The flag itself however should best be remembered as a symbol of pride by a nation growing out of its dependence on its mother country. Canadian feats of arms such as Hill 70, Amiens, Ortona and the landings on Juno Beach were propelled by brave soldiers believing that Canadians were a unique people from a special country. Thirsty for their own identity, the red ensign symbolized the hard work, dedication, and sacrifice of men and women from diverse backgrounds that went into making a country. 

 If any criticism can be applied to the Red Ensign, it is that it under-tells the true story of Canadian diversity, overlooking the part that the First Nations and immigrants from China, Europe and around the world played in forging an independent, world-class nation. Today the red and white maple leaf flag symbolizes all of that, and so much more. But it would be wrong to forget what the red ensign meant to those who looked to it as their own powerful symbol of independence and Canadian excellence.