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Lawrence, Hal.

Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, c1985, 256pp, cloth $24.95, ISBN 0-7710-4730-4. CIP

Grades 10 and up
Reviewed by Neil Payne

Volume 14 Number 3
1986 May

Tales of the North Atlantic is the story of life in the Royal Canadian Navy (RON). It is not a history of an organization, nor of great events, nor of a particular war; rather it is a collection of anecdotes that reveal the souls of the people who experienced the events in the growth of the RCN. In his preface, the author slates more clearly than any reviewer could what his book is about:

Do we exaggerate when we spin salty dips? No! We heighten for artistic effect. Did it really happen just that way? Of course it did! And if it didn't, it should have. Do our memories perhaps become faulty as we all approach seventy or eighty or ninety? About what we did last week or last year, maybe, but not about our youth, our glorious youth.

For old salts, and those who know them, this is their collective story; their common experiences, their feelings, thoughts, fears, and joys, belonging as much to the stoker, the cook, and the gunner as to the admirals and the ship's captains.

The author, Hal Lawrence, was a navy man for twenty-eight years. He previously wrote the award-winning, A Bloody War (Macmillan, 1977), about the Canadian role in the Battle of the Atlantic. Now he has chosen the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Canadian Navy to produce a book that clearly characterizes the people involved in those seventy-five years, in a way no history could.

The real meaning and significance of those seventy-five years lies in the living body of shared experiences, memories, stories often repeated, and myths; that is, the naval ethic as it is communally held by those who have gone before and as it is passed on to those who will follow. It is a living part of every Canadian sailor today. It defines who and what a Canadian sailor is and where duty lies. Though it may only be partly understood by the outsider, who lacks the personal experience of the North Atlantic, of the navy training system, and the fusion of a ship's company, still it is a powerful image.

Tales of the North Atlantic is a warm, human book full of humour. It is a book that is fun to read. It is a valuable book for the smiles and memories it will provide old salts. But more importantly, it will define in human terms what really happened in the seventy-five years of development of the Canadian Navy and especially in its glory years during World War II. It will allow young Canadians studying in schools to experience, in human terms, something that is also an important part of the Canadian consciousness and of our collective coming of age as a nation.

This book is fast paced and very readable. The author has been able to provide sufficient linkages to tie the anecdotes together and avoid the choppiness common in this type of writing. There is a good index to lead readers quickly to references to specific ships, people, and events. There is a section of thirty-one photographs that are interesting and well chosen, giving a visual image of people and ships that are prominently featured. The one detraction in the layout of the book is that the photos are all crowded together, instead of being located adjacent to related text.

There have been many excellent books published to commemorate the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Royal Canadian Navy, and it is hoped that Canadian libraries have taken advantage of this opportunity to greatly enrich their Canadian history collections. But, if a person were forced to purchase just one of these books, this book should be the one. Tales of the North Atlantic is a must buy for every high school, college, university, and public library in Canada.

Neil Payne, Kingston C.V.I., Kingston, Ont.
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