Although Canadian women played an important role during WWII, most of them served in a supportive role to their male counterparts such as secretaries, clerks, mechanics, or worked in canteens. But, in one area, that was unique to both men and women of the Canadian Forces was in the Canadian Film and Photo Unit.
Nadine was born in London, England, in April of 1923, the result of a union between her father Harold, a WWI veteran, and his British war bride, Florence Hanna. The family, living in Sarnia, Ontario at the time, took a trip to England in the summer of 1939 when suddenly Germany invaded Poland. Britain declared war against the Nazis and the Manning’s found themselves confined to the island where they re-settled in their native London.
Still a teenager, Ms. Manning vividly recalls the German air raids from the Battle of Britain where her family narrowly escaped death when their house was destroyed by a downed German bomber. Wanting to join the Allied cause, Ms Manning joined the Canadian Women’s Army Corps at age 19 in 1943. She worked as a clerk in personnel records prior to her assignment to the Canadian Army Film and Photo Unit as a Motion Picture Librarian.
For a time, she worked alongside Capt. Michael Spencer in the Merton Parks Studio in Wimbledon where their pace of work was regularly halted by enemy air raids and German Buzz-bombs. Promoted to the rank of Sergeant, Ms. Manning returned to Canada in 1946 and released from military service in Oakville, Ont., later that year.
Ms. Manning moved to Montreal and worked for Associated Screen News for 11 years. She joined the National Film Board of Canada in 1957 where she became Head of the Stock-Shot Library working once again with the Canadian Army Newsreel series she had become so familiar with at Merton Park Studios. She retired in 1986.
Requiring unique skills, members of the CFPU were made up of personnel familiar with the art of photography and film-making.
In order to manage and catalogue the thousands of still images and feet of motion picture film that was generated by the front line combat cameramen, it required a small team of photo and film librarians.
Margery Cox; “I was shocked. We had some film back where one of the cameramen was killed (Sgt. Barney Barnett), but his camera and film were still rolling. It was all crazy-like, you could actually see where he had been killed. It had a lasting effect. It had to affect everyone. That’s why we’re all here. It’s because of the closeness, the comradeship we had. We were just like brother and sister. I believe even closer.” Taken from a reunion in Ottawa, Margery Cox NOTE: Sgt. Barnett, H.A.A. was shot down while doing cine coverage of Canadians crossing the Rhine in Germany in an Auster aircraft – March 11, 1945.)
List of CWAC and Civilian members of the Canadian Film & Photo Unit as compiled from the 1985 reunion list (Credit Brian O’Regan September, 1986).
- Brown, Edna T. – Cpl – W-10212 – Receptionist
- Cox, Marjorie M. (Mrs. Gilbert Cooke) – Cpl – W-15164 – Film & Music Librarian
- Fraser, Peggy – Pte. – W15199 – Secretary
- Hermeston, Karen M. Sgt. – W-2115 – Photographer Group “A”
- Hicks, Laura E. – Sgt – W-15095 – Photo Librarian
- Hodgson, E. Fern – L/Cpl – W-3201 – Film Clerk
- Jones, Jennifer – Cpl – Film Clerk
- Keagan, Marie C. – Pte – W-6956 – Librarian
- King, Margaret O. – Sgt – W-2042 – Film Librarian
- Manning, Nadine A. – Sgt – W-15019 – Film Librarian
- Mills, Alice C. – Pte – W-13029 – Library Assistant
- Sansom, Charmian O. – Lt. – Publicity Officer
- Sim, C. M. – Pte – W-21165 – Film Splicer
- Sim, Kay – Pte – Film Librarian
- Weir, Georgie (Mrs. F. Keith Watson) – Cpl – Switchboard
- Wells, L. Sherry – L/Cpl – W-60600 – Secretary
- Wiley, Shirley C. (nee Weir) – Capt – Photo Director
- Checkley, Lillian – Photo Librarian
- Hester – Darkroom Technician
- MacNeil, Irma – Continuity Girl
- Maffit, Mrs. – switchboard at Merton Park Studios
- Parton, Eileen
- Savage, E. T. – Darkroom Technician
- Wild, J. Mrs.
The following was taken from The Viewfinder, 30 Sep 1945, Prod 3
MERTON PARK STUDIOS
“It has been suggested that we take you on a tour of this little cross-section of Cdn men and women in the armed forces…(note: we are in the process of being disarmed) who are as usual up in arms and about the work of making an epic of a few hundred feet of edge-fogged historical record of a passable story out of a few thousand feet in the pursuit of higher learning. Each type is approached with a finess and agility that would do credit to a diplomat of the old school. Peace has a softening effect and the cry of ‘Why don’t they fire that guy!’ is now rarely heard above a shout…But…on with the tour.
First the Newsreel cutting room with its crew of (ladies first) Cpl. Marjorie Cox, Staff Sgt. Ken Ewart and your conducting Sgt. Lew Weekes…Ken’s guiding genius in the art of whipping up stories, fitting music as only Beethoven and Mozart might have dreamed of, and solving the mysteries of what sailors knots a four-way can get film into, keeps the reel on even keel and wraps it up tenderly every Tuesday.
Marjorie keeps track of the endless melee of booms, rat tat tats, waltzes and space gallops, not to mention industrials that provide a background for the commentator…So adept has she become at this that rarely does a piece of background music come to her ears in the Local Cinema but she leaps to her feet, shouting, ‘Bees in the Breeze’ Reel 67 or some other enlightening title in her music file…Whereupon the people in her row clap their hands merrily saying ‘Bravo Bravo!’ sotto voice.
I’ll leave Ken and Marjorie hard at work (I seem to be doing this all the time) and take you for ???ance into the Library next door. (Pause while I dust myself off after being thrown but…How was I to know Silk stockings couldn’t be worn leaving the CWAC barracks and that the transition occured at work?) Here we go again and this time we are greeted with the usual amiable smile and the gently voices of the Library staff in their usual salutation “What, that Lug again?” We’re in! Cpl. Deannie Manning at one end is busily writing orders for the Labs, checking Lavenders, rewinding film and trying to find under what Prod. number she filed that tomato she bought last Tuesday. This apparent handful does not prevent her from carrying on scintillating conversations with one, Cpl. Jones, at 28 who apparently does somewhat similar duties there…Actually they are swapping trade secrets as to who threw away what and where!…I may be slightly misled on this point…Deannie’s ‘OH DEAR’ would do Zazu Pitts credit but actually covers a very sunny nature.
Next to Deannie is Pte. Marie Keagen who wrassles a mill with no mean talent and makes prod cards by the dozen not to mention pretty coloured lables with LAV, POS. and like strange legends on them. Marie is a hardy soul and kindred spirit…Who else but a B.C.ite and a Nova Scotia special would order FISH when there is Lamb for dinner. Her sparkling and catching laugh drifts thru to us in the cutting room and provides a nucleus for further laughter there…Not that we need excuse…Haven’t I told you? Oh, well, where some folks think of a joke and then laugh, we work the other way…you know…laugh and laugh until we think of a joke! You want to try it sometime…and beside which looking happy takes less muscles!
In the far corner we come upon a little Miss who is sitting in front of a mill, hand on head gazing soulfully through a frame of film stapled to a card…As we approach we hear her mutter, “I know – a crocodile, No a Sherman? mmppp mm, perhaps a Buffalo…”
Is she clairvoyant? Can she read tea-leaves? Why this strange sort of trance…Well, let me introduce you to Pte. Kay Sims who logs the various cameramen’s work scene by scene with the description of equipment or action in each shot…(By request of her hometown Chamber of Commerce we are permitted to reprint her answer to the usual question of, ‘Where do you live in Canada?’ Quote: Toronto…what of it! Unquote…
I would like to take you higher to the office of Capt. (Queen City) McClain who snatches commentaries from the reluctant keys of his portable every Monday explaining how the shot before the one before the one you just saw makes the one coming two down all clear and definitely a good thing…
Need we say that the office is very still at those times, only broken by the sharp tap of the typewriter key striking the paper and the rustle of pencil being picked up to cross the equivalent letter off on the rough notes he has made…I would like to explain how by mathematical science one can arrive at the number of words needed per foot of film but that way madness lies…You can go see the NEWSREEL next Friday at 28 Pall Mall anyway…
Now if I can only run through the Library safely I”ll get back to cutting dolls out of the latest film effort sent from Canada…So Long!”
This article is dedicated to the people who catalogued, spliced, and edited, the many photos and feet of film that has become a permanent historical record of Canada’s Armed Forces during WWII.
© Dale Gervais, November 2012
NOTE: To see Sgt. Nadine Manning and her CFPU colleagues at work, be sure to view Canadian Army Newsreel Issue No. 49; “Army’s Newsreel Goes Weekly”.