Wind, Gravel and Ice
Reviewed by Amy Lignor for Reader Views (10/2021)
I must say, before setting my eyes on this amazing story, I actually thought I knew as much about WWII as anyone could possibly know—from the locations to the battles to the “famous and infamous” that have had books written about them for decades. But, with “Wind, Gravel and Ice: Memoir of my Opa as a Canadian Soldier in Iceland during the Second World War,” author Christina Chowaniec brought me a brand new tale that focuses on a little-known Canadian garrison that was set in Iceland during what many call, “The War to End All Wars.”
It took some major research on this author’s part to put together this astounding story that’s not only historical fact but also becomes a riveting tale that holds your attention until the very end. In fact, the tagline states Christina discovered her grandpa’s diary years after his death and was actually surprised to learn of his time as a Canadian soldier stationed in Iceland. So surprised and intrigued, she made it her goal to explore the amazing locale and get to know the very real characters, from Iceland natives to other incredible soldiers who were part of her grandfather’s troop. What she ended up with was a journey of beauty that reads like a beautiful, evocative and unforgettable novel. Even better, what readers end up with is an inside look at a place and time that remained basically unknown.
Spanning ten months (July 1940 to April 1941), readers get to know the man, Private Claude Arthur Hill, and the hard work he and his fellow soldiers did with the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa. This was serious work, seeing as that they built an airfield and installed machine guns to protect the island from a German invasion. The scenes illuminate the difficulties of daily life in Iceland—from the hardships of the camp to the struggles the platoon had when they were asked to carry out orders in a land that actually resented the Occupation. The journey shows how the soldiers had to work to become the friends of the locals and how they tried each day to earn their trust so the Icelanders could understand that their platoon was trying only to help and protect them from the evil that was slowly taking over the world.
When a lone German bomber takes on the odd task of setting course for the Iceland outpost in order to attack, readers will find themselves amazed that this one act that occurred on February 9th, 1941, actually changed the entire course of WWII.
Whether you are a fan of military history, war tales, or one that loves to delve into a story of pure beauty set during an era of darkness that opens the door to a moment in time that has, for the most part, remained untold, this engaging book is definitely the one for you.