Alex Souchen


Allied victory during the Battle of Normandy is often attributed to operational and strategic factors, but the high-level focus on command and combat effectiveness obscures the infantry’s lived experiences. Although combat was their primary purpose, soldiers killed time as often as they killed Germans. This article examines the significance of the reserve position and the “down time” that soldiers spent within its confines. It argues that the reserve position was critical to combat effectiveness and high morale because it provided defensive and offensive flexibility and surplus labour for work parties and logistical tasks, while officers used it to integrate reinforcements and manage the strain of battle through frequent rotations to the rear. For the troops, being stationed in reserve opened up a variety of experiences and activities that defined daily life, but as the Allied armies moved inland the meaning and significance of “rest” changed when the space for more elaborate rear area services was secured. Yet these new amenities were also accompanied by some unintended consequences as they helped spread an epidemic of dysentery and food poisoning that ravaged Canadian soldiers in July and August 1944.