Friday, January 6, 2012

Sympathizing with Enemy "Hares": Chris Vokes at Agira, 1943

Chris Vokes DND. LAC #
ZK-845
Chris Vokes' memoirs entitled simply "My Story", are an anecdotal history of one of the most colourful Canadian generals of the Second World War.  Vokes was the forthright and blustery type, with little time for polished buttons and pressed uniforms and a love of booze, brothels, and vulgarity.  The combination makes for an entertaining read.

Vokes' military career has yet to be the subject of a full length academic study.  While he is known as possessing a certain rough charm, his memoirs reveal a more sensitive self-image.  In addresses to the men in the ranks, Vokes would write of killing "Jerries" in a matter of fact manner, yet he did possess a more humane side. An incident in Sicily, as Vokes' 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade pushed towards the town of Agira, shows that his sympathy for the plight of the enemy could emerge.  As Vokes writes:


"Two of our tanks on the hill were firing at a stalled enemy tank on flat ground about 500 yards ahead.  Two machine guns of the Saskatoon Light Infantry from the Brigade Support Company were also ready to open fire.
     On the hill were a number of war correspondents and other swanners crowding around to watch us as though looking on at Aldershot tattoo.
        Of course the enemy tank was soon hit.  Two Krauts suddenly bailed out and ran like hares for the cover of a small knoll, pursued by the fire of the machine guns.
        They made it ---to loud cheers from me and the rest of the spectators.  Cheering them seemed the sporting thing to do at the time.  Why I don't know to this day.  Inexplicable.  They were the enemy." (Vokes, 115-116)

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