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The Cinderella Campaign tells old battle stories for new readers

Author and war historian, Mark Zuehlke, has written about Canada at war for close to twenty years. He says his audience has changed as veterans who participated in the First and Second World Wars pass away and new readers engage with his work.

'It's a more diversified audience than it used to be,' says war historian

War historian, Mark Zuehlke, reads from his latest book about Canadian soldiers in the Second World War. Zuehlke has written on Canada's involvement in war for nearly 20 years. (Deborah Wilson/CBC)

There are many stories still untold from the First and Second World Wars, and one historian is bringing them to light, even if those who can recall them are no longer alive to read them.

Over the past two decades, Mark Zuehlke has written over a dozen books about Canada's war history. His latest, The Cinderella Campaign: First Canadian Army and the Battles for the Channel Ports, tells the story of Canadian soldiers' efforts to reclaim port cities from the Germans on the north coast of France during the Second World War.

Veteran voices scarce

As time marches on, it has become harder for Zuehlke​ to find research subjects and readers who can remember marching across Europe.

'When I wrote my first book, I interviewed 150 [veterans] and corresponded with 200 across the country," Zuehlke​ told On The Island host Gregor Craigie

For The Cinderella Campaign, Zuehlke​ was only able to connect with two veterans who were still alive and have competent memories to recount their involvement in the battles the book describes.

He noted that much research now depends on the work of previous historians and academics who compiled firsthand accounts from veterans in the 1970s, as well as on records kept during the war.

"When armies march, they generate a mass of paper, and there were divisional historians whose job it was to go and interview people in the wake of battles," said Zuehlke. "That's where I get a lot of my material."

It's not just where Zuehelke gets his information that's changed — it's also who he is sharing it with.

Diverse audiences

"It's a more diversified audience than it used to be," said Zuehlke​.

According to Zuehlke​, when he first started writing about war almost 20 years ago, there were still many surviving veterans reading his books, and not many women engaged with his work.

"Now through social media, I am able to look at the data and 40 per cent of my readers are female," said Zuehlke.

The Cinderella Campaign tells the often overlooked story of the Canadian troops that marched up the north coast of France and liberated port towns.

Not a glamorous gig

Zuehlke said the Canadians gave themselves the Cinderella title because while they were doing the grunt work on the French coast, the Americans got the glory of liberating Paris and the British got the glory of liberating Brussels.

"They were at the bottom end of the supply chain because the other operations are seen as more important by the allied high command," said Zuehlke. "It was a grubby job with none of the glory."

The Cinderella Campaign is available in both a hardcover and digital format.

With files from On The Island.

To hear the complete interview click on the link below: