Sunday, August 21, 2005

"Through the Hitler Line: Memoirs of an Infantry Chaplain,"
Laurence F. Wilmot, MC, Wilfrid Laurier University Press.

Reviewed by Sidney Allinson.

This is a rather good military memoir. The late Canon Laurence Wilmot's book provides rare insights into front-line combat conditions through the eyes of a Second World War army chaplain. His memory remained remarkably keen even when recalled 50 years later, considering the author was aged 91 years old when he wrote his book. In 1942, he was already past the usual age of army service, an Anglican priest far from harms way. He had to first insist that his church allow him to enlist, and then pester the Canadian army until they accepted him as a chaplain.
He was also equally determined to serve where he was most needed – in combat. Soon, he was attached to the West Nova Scotia Regiment and served with it throughout its bloody campaign in Italy. His compassionate depiction of courage and self-sacrifice by so-called ordinary Canadians – while neither glorifying war nor belittling warriors – documents the price of the freedom we enjoy to this day.
Wilmott's description of infantry fighting in Italy is as good as it gets. He is particularly vivid when describing a little-known battle at the Arielli. He served in the thick of things there, working as a frontline stretcher-bearer, helping to bring in scores of wounded men while under heavy enemy fire himself. He conveys his compassion and devotion to the soldiers, without a flicker of self-aggrandizement. The book jacket blurb is the only way you would know he was awarded the Military Cross for bravery in 1944. During his long career later, Canon Laurence Wilmott became Warden Emeritus of St. John's College, Winnipeg, then passed away recently, at the venerable age of 96.

-- Sidney Allinson.

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