June 9th, 1944. Dear Mother…the most spectacular story… by Sgt. Bruce McCaughey

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Every now and then I am surprised by emails I receive from visitors to the Film & Photo website.

The most welcome are those from family members of the men and women who made up the ranks of the Canadian Army Film & Photo Unit.

In this case I was contacted by Bruce McCaughey, the son of Sgt. Hugh McCaughey, a combat cameraman with the Canadian Film & Photo Unit, during WWII. Making contact with the families of former members of the Unit is a thrill in itself for me, but keeping the memory alive without their help can be a solitary chore at times. But what really thrilled me this time was that Bruce had come across nearly a hundred letters that his father had written home during his time overseas. And his father just happened to be a cine cameraman with the CFPU.

After a few email exchanges, and sharing of the letters, the McCaughey family agreed that the letters were important enough to be shared with the public. For the first time here, we are posting one of Hugh’s letters home, dated June 9th, 1944.

With the 70th Anniversary of D Day and the Normandy Invasion coming this week, Bruce agreed, “I don’t think there could be a better time to post it.”

Below is the transcript from the letter written by Sgt. Hugh McCaughey, dated June 9th, 1944;

June 9, 1944

D day_1-1Dear Mother,

I am of the opinion that my letter writing from now on will bail down to a few hasty lines to you alone.
This one comes from a tent and is now my new residence. The location is nice and don’t mind the outdoor life at all, except that English weather seems to be more unsettled than at Vancouver and there seems to be more rain and sunshine at present. But it is at least mild and bearable.
I haven’t had a letter for 10 days or so from you, but imagine they are on the way and will eventually catch up to me. Today I received a very nice letter from Mr. Rundle and he hints at new and greater opportunities after the war. I think perhaps he is afraid Don and I have left the store for good and perhaps he has something there. But now about the invasion. You are probably following it with your ear to the radio as millions of others are and wondering about their sons.

D day_2I am still in England and for how long I can only speculate.

The Day the invasion was launched I, like the other cameramen, was rushed to the dockside to photograph the casualties returning or any other developments that might occur. The first day there was nothing of note but casualties were expected that night and to be on hand I, with Lieut. Mickey Dean from Vancouver, Sgt. Floyd Millon and our driver, elected to spend the night in the dock master’s shack on the wharf. We tried to sleep on hard benches and I only had about two or three hours sleep. The first LST barge pulled in about 11 AM with casualties returning from France. We photographed them and tonight climaxed for me four days on that same dock and have shot 1000 feet of film.

Yesterday and today we made movies of German prisoners who laugh into your camera and almost all of them carry a valise or bundle with their possessions. They seem happy to be out of it. Some are returning on stretchers also.

Would like to go into more details but security regulations do not permit it. Suffice to say that I have seen some gruesome sights.

D day_3-1Have talk to hundreds. Returning soldiers, broken in body and spirit, minus legs and arms and as usual the majority of them just kids. But there is one difference I photographed the English casualties and they gave me the impression of being completely broken in spirit, but not the Canadians. They laugh and smile and as orderlies would help a Canadian from the boat, he continued to crack jokes and was eager to answer my questions. Englishmen I talked to are big in their praise for the Canadians and eager to sing their praises.

Now about our cameramen. Bill Grant, from home, scooped the field and sent back the first and best new newsreel material. Bud Roos was one of three survivors on his craft. His camera was ducked in salt water, but he was unharmed and is continuing with his job.

But the most spectacular story is that of Dave Reynolds who was in the paratroops.

D day_4He dropped behind the German lines, fought his way out and arrived in our camp last night here in England. We bedded him down in our tent and he took off his clothes for the first time in four nights and passed out with exhaustion.
He had a couple of bullet nicks, but apart from that was unharmed.
He lost his 35mm camera when it crashed in a glider, but took coloured pictures with a 16mm one and a couple of rolls of 120 stills.
He brought the film back with him and we are anxious to know how it turned out. There is still one of our men to be accounted for.
This is not not much of a letter, but I’m going to close as I am very tired and must get some sleep. I hope you and Dad are both well and not worrying about me. Will be home for Christmas
so Monty says.
Give my best to Meta and Bart. Just had a cup of oxo that you sent me and it went down good. Love, your son, 
Hugh.”

NOTE: Sgt. Bill Grant of Vancouver came ashore with the Queen’s Own Rifles. On D-Day he “scooped the field”. Sgt. Bill Grant’s movie film of the actual landings were first back in London by several hours–first in New York by a full day. Later wounded, he returned to Canada to recuperate. (Grant’s footage was picked up off the beach by CFPU Despatch driver, Brian O’Regan.)

Sgt. Dave Reynolds of Toronto, was the first Allied photographer to land on French soil. During the jump he lost his cine camera when the glider it was in crashed. Fortunately, he had a still camera on hand. His invasion stills were the first published by the Press in England and North America.

The McCaughey family have decided to donate the series of letters to the Canadian War Museum. I am planning to visit Bruce tthis summer to secure the letters and bring them back to Ottawa. A big thank you to Bruce and the family for sharing these precious memories of their father.

Dale Gervais has been actively researching and documenting the history of the Canadian Army Film & Photo Unit since 2006. Dale is currently employed as a Film Conservator at Library & Archives Canada.

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