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Wilfrid Laurier University Leaf
August 31, 2016
Canadian Excellence


1996: George G. Blackburn

The information below is adapted from the news release issued in 1996

The Guns of Normandy: A Soldier's Eye View, France 1944 by George Blackburn (McClelland & Stewart) is the winner of the 1996 Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction. Blackburn's gripping first-hand account of Canadians at war was considered by the panel of judges to be an outstanding example of the genre.

The Guns of Normandy won the Ottawa Citizen Book of the Year Award and was shortlisted for the Trillium Award. The Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction is the first national award for the book.

George Blackburn was a young journalist when he joined the Canadian army. After the war he began compiling a history based on his own experiences, the notes and diaries of others, official war diaries, and dozens of interviews. The Guns of Normandy (and its sequel, The Guns of Victory) are the result. In The Guns of Normandy George Blackburn puts the reader in the frontlines of this horrific battle.

In the most graphic and authentic detail, he brings to life every aspect of a soldier's existence, from the mortal terror of impending destruction, to the unending fatigue, to the giddy exhilaration at finding oneself still, inexplicably, alive.

What follows is the most harrowing and realistic account of what it is like to be in action, as the very lead man in the attack: an artillery observer calling in fire on the enemy positions. The story unfolds in the present tense, giving the uncomfortably real sense that "you are here".

On its publication last year The Guns of Normandy garnered some outstanding reviews: Toronto Sun columnist Peter Worthington said " is the best book I've ever read about the war in Europe from the Canadian soldier's viewpoint..." Legion Magazine's Douglas Fisher wrote "More vividly, and as accurately, and more thoroughly than Farley Mowat and his And No Birds Sang, George Blackburn has given us the soldiers' war." And H Clifford Chadderton, Chairman of the National Council of Veteran Associations, described The Guns of Normandy as "A reads like a fine novel gripping, tense but its strength is in the stark realism. He was there."

George Blackburn was born in 1917. During the war he spent four and a half years in the Canadian Artillery, earning the rank of captain, a Military Cross, and the reputation of being the oldest surviving forward observation officer in the First Canadian Army. He was Director of Information for the Federal Labour Department where he worked for 22 years. He is a human rights advocate, who organized and directed the administration of an Act prohibiting discrimination in employment based on race, colour, religion or national origin. He has been a radio producer, scriptwriter and interviewer for a weekly show, Canada at Work, which was aired across 80 stations and which he produced for 10 years. His work as a film scriptwriter and a playwright has won several awards and he was also a lyricist and composer of a fullscale musical that was staged at Upper Canada Village in Ontario. Mr Blackburn was featured in the television documentary on Canada's role in the D-Day invasion, D-Day: The Final Reunion which aired nationally in June 1994. He passed away on November 15, 2006 in Ottawa.

Other Publications by George Blackburn:

  • Where the Hell Are the Guns?: A Soldier's View of the Anxious Years, 1939-44 (1997)
  • The Guns of Victory: A Soldier's Eye View, Belguim, Holland, and Germany, 1944-1945 (1996)

The shortlist for the 1996 Edna Staebler Award also included:

  • Artists, Craftsmen and Technocrats by Patricia Pitcher (Stoddart);
  • Stompin' Tom: Before the Fame by Stompin' Tom Connors (Viking);
  • Women of the Klondike by Frances Backhouse (Whitecap).