Mike Bechthold: Military Historian


  • Feature   Thu, Dec 9th, 2021   Nancy Silcox
Baden resident Mike Bechtold said one of his proudest moments over his 25-year career was co-hosting a CTV National News broadcast with Lisa LaFlamme and General Roméo Dallaire, pictured here The segment, “D-Day Remembered: The 75th Anniversary” won the 2


Baden resident Mike Bechtold said one of his proudest moments over his 25-year career was co-hosting a CTV National News broadcast with Lisa LaFlamme and General Roméo Dallaire, pictured here The segment, “D-Day Remembered: The 75th Anniversary” won the 2


By Nancy Silcox
Baden born-and-raised Mike Bechthold learned as a boy to love military airplanes. His grandfather gladly provided him the opportunity. A Second World War veteran himself, Grandpa kept a bookshelf in his home, which held all sorts of fascinating stuff about The Great War and World War II.
“So when I went to visit my grandparents, I usually holed up with his books, and read and read and read,” Mike recalls fondly.
Summer airshows and building airplane models brought realism to his leisure reading.
Mike’s fascination with war machines—particularly airplanes such as Spitfires, Sopwiths and Lancasters—and with them the brave men who flew them—only deepened when he entered Grade 12 at Waterloo Oxford District Secondary School. He’d signed up for History teacher Phil Werstine’s popular World History course.
“I loved the course, and Mr. Werstine was the best. I know a number of classmates who went on to study history at university because of that class.”
Heading on to Wilfrid Laurier’s History program, Mike found the perfect Werstine doppleganger in Professor Terry Copp. Copp was widely-regarded as Canada’s leading academic specialist of World War II.
During his MA studies in History, Mike began working as Copp’s teaching assistant. It was a role that involved much more than marking student essays and leading tutorials.
Professor Copp had founded the Laurier Centre for Military Strategic and Disarmament Studies (LCMSDS) in the late 1980’s.
The organization’s mandate was to “foster research, education, and discussion of historical and contemporary conflict.”
Graduate student Mike Bechthold was keen to jump on board. His first assignment was to work with the Copp-founded The Canadian Military History Journal. Beginning his association doing research and contributing articles, Mike eventually served as Managing Editor of the journal.
And rewarded for his abilities, scholarship and enthusiasm, he was offered the honour of teaching undergraduate Military History courses on campus.
One of the Laurier Centre for Military Strategic and Disarmament Studies most popular and visible initiatives was developing and leading tours for students, teachers and other interested parties to the European battle sites where Canadians had served during both world wars. Among them were Normandy and Dieppe in France, and sites in Holland.
Mike Bechthold was soon conscripted to come on board as an assistant on those tours. While his memories of these tributes to Canadians who gave their lives to war are many, one stands out.
“On one tour, we had a veteran with us who had served with the South Saskatchewan Regiment, and he’d participated in Dieppe Raid of 1942. We stood with him at the small bridge in Puys, France, while he told us all about his experiences on that same bridge 60 years earlier.”
“Those memories had included watching his commanding officer repeatedly crossing that bridge leading his soldiers who were under heavy enemy fire.” Mike notes that for that act of bravery, the officer had been awarded the Victoria Cross.
While working full-time at the Military Centre, Bechthold began his Ph.D. studies through the University of New South Wales in Canberra, Australia. He earned his doctorate in 2014.
Toiling over the Canadian Military History journal, Mike had become aware of the scarcity of good, detailed maps in military books and journals. “So I set about to teach myself cartography,” he volunteers.
And while he admits that his first efforts at precise, accurate map-making needed improvement, since then, studied work and inborn spatial talents have earned him praise from other military authors who have hired him to produce maps for their own books and articles.
Marc Milner, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of New Brunswick Centre calls Mike Bechthold “the best in the business when it comes to military maps and graphics--clear, accurate, and easy-to-understand.”
Another fan calls him “one of Canada’s finest historians, and unquestionably the finest military cartographer working in Canada today.”
But accurate and polished map-making in scholarly journals was scarce substitute for writing his own books. In his book Flying to Victory, based on his doctoral dissertation, Mike highlights the career of Raymond Collishaw, one of Canada’s greatest Great War aces.
He has also co-authored a number of edited collections, along with a series of visitor guides to the Canadian battlefields of the Second World War. These include Canadian Battlefields in Normandy, and Canadian Battlefields in Belgium, Netherlands and Germany.
Looking back over a 25-year career, entrenched in Canadian military history, Mike Bechthold names his proudest moment as co-hosting the June 6, 2019 CTV National News broadcast with Lisa LaFlamme and General (retired) Roméo Dallaire. The “D-Day Remembered: The 75th Anniversary,” broadcast, live from Juno Beach, was awarded the 2020 Canadian Screen Award for Best Live News Special.
“It was amazing to meet all the Canadian veterans who travelled to Normandy for that anniversary,” Mike recalls. “I can only hope that I’m as mobile and quick-witted as they are when I reach 95!”
No doubt Mike Bechthold’s early influencers would be proud too!