Book review: Two Generals by Scott Chantler

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      Published by McClelland & Stewart, 152 pp, $27.99, hardcover

      The title is ironic. The subjects of Scott Chantler’s graphic novel Two Generals—soldiers Reginald Law Chantler and Jack Chrysler—were in fact both lieutenants, not generals, and you probably won’t find their names in any history books. Law (the author’s grandfather) and Jack were officers in the Highland Light Infantry of Canada. They trained for battle together in England, and on June 6, 1944, they both landed at Juno Beach in Normandy as part of the largest military operation in history.

      In other words, they were just two among many, a pair of unexceptional soldiers whose individual contributions to the war could easily be forgotten in a blur of fading photographs and crumbling journals. Scott Chantler writes that his grandfather “would have been mortified to have a book written about him. But as these stories are handed down to us, so must we hand them down lest such delicate personal lines be lost among the broader strokes of history.”

      Moreover, as the Waterloo, Ontario–based cartoonist notes, very little has been written about the Highland Light Infantry or the Battle of Buron. Two Generals climaxes with the HLI capturing that French town from the 12th SS Panzer Division in a grim battle in which nearly 300 of the Canadians were killed or wounded. Chantler depicts the fighting in an unflinching manner, switching to deep red ink for the bloodiest scenes. His attention to detail is admirable, and he clearly did his research to get the weapons and uniforms right.

      This is no action comic, though, nor is it a battlefield play-by-play. Two Generals adds further weight to Palestine author Joe Sacco’s oft-stated contention that the graphic-novel form is just as valid a medium for nonfiction as straight prose, but there’s also something very personal at the book’s core. To tell this story, Chantler drew heavily upon his grandfather’s diary and Chrysler’s letters to his wife, and the result is a profoundly moving account of ordinary men caught up in extraordinary, and often horrifying, circumstances.