Fran Drummon, left, Okanagan College library assistant, and Michelle Ward, Kelowna campus librarian, look over a map in a display of military maps at the college's KLO Road campus library.
Offering an intriguing insight into little-known aspects of major world conflicts, the maps are something like a blueprint to an alternative version of the past.
Displayed as part of Remembrance Day commemorations at the college's KLO Road campus in Kelowna, the historical maps help viewers understand the way things actually happened, but they also raise some imponderables.
What if the Nazis had invaded England? Where would they have landed first, and what targets would have been given priority?
What if the poor advance intelligence gained by the Americans on Japanese forces had resulted in disaster during their invasion of Okinawa?
What if Canadian soldiers had been able to identify all the potential landmine locations in Afghanistan, not only the ones shown on maps given to patrolling troops? How many of the 158 Canadians killed in that country between 2002 and 2011 might still be alive?
"Maps not only inform; they inspire," said Terence Day, a professor in the college's department of geography who has organized the display.
"They enable people to plan, to remember, or just visit a place in their mind," he said.
Day's grandfather fought with the British army in France during the First World War. He never spoke much of his wartime experiences, but he was in the French town of Bailleul when it was flattened during a German offensive in the spring of 1918.
By looking at maps used at the time, maps that would have been carried and relied upon every day by soldiers, Day says he can better imagine how his grandfather navigated his way through the war.
"Maps speak to us," Day said.
Here are some details of the maps, on display at college's library until Nov. 18.
- One shows the area around Barrow in Furness, a town in northern England. It is based on the Ordnance Survey maps widely available in the United Kingdom, but this particular map was used by German military leaders planning Operation Sea Lion. That was the code name given to the invasion of England, which was called off by the Germans because they failed to establish air superiority. The map includes intelligence information gained by the Germans from a variety of sources, including an overflight of the area in 1936 by a Zeppelin (airship).
- Another is a map used by American troops as they invaded the Japanese island of Okinawa near the end of the Second World War.
"There was relatively little intelligence information about Okinawa, and the U.S. seriously underestimated the number of Japanese soldiers on the island," Day said.
- One map shows all the known locations of mines and likely locations for roadside bombs in a region of Kandahar, where Canadian troops were stationed during their nine-year mission in Afghanistan.
Woven through the hazardous sites are black lines representing the patrol routes commonly taken by Canadian troops. In perhaps a bit of black military humour, the lines are named after popular Canadian beers.
However, the names were changed in 2009. At the beginning of that year, the number of Canadians killed in Afghanistan had just passed the attention-grabbing 100 mark.
It's pure speculation, but maybe the change away from the irreverent patrol route names had something to do with the marking of that grim milestone.