Sgt. Leonard E. Thompson: Combat Cameraman

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Photo: Leonard E. Thompson, “Devotedly Yours” Christmas , 1938.
(photo courtesy, Angela Wentz Faulconer/Deleyne Wentz)

I want to thank, Angela Faulconer, and Deleyne Wentz both, for making this post possible. Oftentimes I am forced to rely heavily on family members who come forward with additional documentation, and images not readily available at Library & Archives Canada. Such is the case here, in telling the story about their grandfather/father, Canadian Army Film Unit combat cameraman, L.E. (Leonard Emmerson) Thompson.

“Dale, my grandfather Len Thompson was a photographer for Canada during World War II. A cousin suggested I look at the National War Museum, but I am an American and live far from Ottawa. However, the National war museum website led me to the library and archives Canada website which led me to you and back to library and archives Canada!  Thanks to this page I believe I just found a picture of Len hanging his laundry on the Siegfried line! I am so amazed. It looks like there are likely other pictures of him in these albums as well. While I was hoping to find photographs he took, finding photographs of him himself is incredibly exciting. Also, these albums are helpful to me in better understanding the context and importance and reasons behind his long separation from my grandmother. Thank you so very, very much.”

Angela Faulconer (A new comment on the post “Library & Archives Canada: “Army Numerical” Series 110 Albums)


Cameraman Sgt. L.E. Thompson, Canadian Film and Photo Unit, hangs up his washing on the Seigfried Line; 31 Mar. 1945 / Cleve (vicinity), Germany (Army Numerical Neg no. 48992 / PA-152106, Credit: Lt. Jack H. Smith, Library & Archives Canada)

Sgt. L.E. Thompson was only married about a week when he enlisted with the Canadian Engineers in Toronto, September 5th, 1939.1Regina men helped film war picture – The Leader-Post, Regina, Saskatchewan, Saturday, November 10th, 1945 Prior to that, Len Thompson had worked for the Liquid Air company in Regina before eventually heading overseas with the Ottawa field survey company in January 1940.

In 1941 he had been assigned to the Printing & Supplies branch at CMHQ in London as a section foreman. Documents indicate Cpl. Thompson was transferred to the Film and Photo Unit In 1944, and although he had no commercial experience in “still” photography, he had been recommended to take the Pinewood Studios ‘cinematograph’ camera course based on his past hobby with cameras and developing films back in Regina.

Letter from Major J.E.R. McDougall, Officer commanding
No. 2 Film & Photo Unit, No. 3 Public Relations Group

Sent to Capt. Gordon Sparling, Film & Photo Unit, CMHQ,
Dated 18th April 194

TRAINING OF SERGEANT CAMERAMAN

This confirms our telephone conversation of 17 April 1944 regarding training arrangements to fill immediate needs.
The under mentioned NCO's will be attached for training to No. 3 Canadian Public Relations Group. They will be given a short intensive course in cinematography under our own instructors.

Sgt. Millon
Sgt. Thompson
Sgt. Cox
L/Sgt. Angelo

The under mentioned OR's will proceed on course to Pinewood Studios on 24th of April 1944.

Taken at Kew, July 24/43 “Army, Navy and the Air Force, with Ailsa (relative of Len’s mother-in-law) and Hugh (a cousin).
(photo courtesy, Deleyne Wentz)

THE VIEWFINDER - NEWS AND VIEWS WHERE WE FIND IT - MAY 1944

It's school days again for a new class of movie cameramen at Pinewood Studios.
The members of the new class, now two weeks underway, are Sgts L.F. Millon, L.E. Thompson, W.R. Cox, W.R. Sherwood, Sgmn K.B. Dougan and Tpr. H.A. Barnett. We haven't had the privilege of meeting the new cameraman as yet, but we are watching their progress and wish them good luck and good shooting.

Lieut. W.J. Hynes, former 'still' cameraman, is in charge of the class and will cover off the vacancy as movie camera officer when the course is completed. We trust they will pass out with, gown and diploma or should we say with beret, changing bag and tripod, under their arms.

Towards the end of the course at Pinewood on a dull afternoon a brindle cow was the subject for exposure tests and 'GOUGIE' DOUGAN'S screening, showing LEN THOMPSON'S milking the ‘bossey', proved that Len should never try to qualify for trades pay as a farm-hand. Sgt. LEN THOMPSON was very much out of form that day as he had phoned CQMS SMITH about not receiving any pay and was told that it was he who owed the Cdn. Govt. a few bucks. A slight error somewhere.

Army Film Unit, Pinewood Studios, Iver Heath, Bucks
Cinemagraphic Courses
The following is a list of certified true copies of qualifications obtained by personnel at Pinewood Sudios:-
Course 9
B.26016 Sgt. THOMPSON, L.E. - attended a course on cinematograph between 26-4-44 and 31-5-44 and has attained a standard of proficiency equivalent to that required to pass Army Trades Test Photographer (Cine) Group "B".
Signed Major MacDonald, OC AFPS, Pinewood Studios.

Hi Dale…I loved reading the story of my dad, Sgt. Len Thompson and his fellow soldiers and the time they ran into those Germans and took them prisoner…Thanks for your work in telling these soldiers’ stories.

Deleyne Wentz (A new comment on the post Chuck Ross: Combat Cameraman)

To read more on, “…how two Canadian Army Film Unit cameramen and their driver captured eight of Hitler’s vaunted Wehrmacht,” click on the link below, when Charles Ross, the driver in this story, recalls what happened that day…

PICTURES + PRISONERS Regina photographer has odd adventure
(The Leader-Post, Regina, Saskatchewan, Tuesday, July 25th, 1944, courtesy, Deleyne Wentz)

On the following day, July 20th, 1944, at practically the same spot, while on cine operations at Fleury Sur Orne, France, cine cameraman, Sgt. Jimmy Campbell came under enemy mortar fire and was killed instantly while filming a Canadian armoured personnel carrier set aflame.

"The loss of Jimmy Campbell was a real blow. He was about the most popular man in the unit and a good soldier and friend. As Al Fraser will tell you, he probably made more friends for the Film Unit wherever he went than anyone else. He was killed instantly by mortar fire while he was shooting pictures of burning carriers which had just been hit." Major JER McDougall, OC No. 2 CFPU

“July, 1944

I am 4th from left-Jimmy Campbell was killed near Caen, France, having replaced me the day after I had my camera, tripod and jeep destroyed by shelling about a mile from this spot.

Love, Dad”

(Handwritten note from Len Thompson courtesy, Deleyne Wentz)

Image left: Sgts Alan Grayston, Bud Sherwood, Jack Sollery, Len Thompson, Gordon Petty, Lew Weekes, page 253, The Way We Were by Ken Bell, © University of Toronto Press 1988, ISBN 0-8020-3990-1 (PA-140852, Library & Archives Canada)

Almost 42 years later, the CFPU team of driver Charles Ross, Lieut. George Cooper, and Sgt. Len Thompson would reunite in Victoria, B.C. to remember the fallen and share memories of the war. (CFPU Reunion held at the Harbour Towers Hotel, British Columbia, September 19th-21st, 1986.)

Charles Ross, George Cooper, Len Thompson, Canadian Army Film & Photo Unit Reunion, 1986
HARBOUR TOWERS HOTEL VICTORIA, B.C. SEPTEMBER 19TH, 20TH, 21ST.
(Photo courtesy, Deleyne Wentz)
Camera slate for Sgt. Len E. Thompson, Bastille Day in Rots, France, 14 JULY, 1944. (Click HERE to view YouTube Video)
"Len covered a lot of territory during his overseas service--some of his friends jocularly refer to it as a "Cook's Tour".2With the "Boys in Blue" (News of the wounded veterans convalescing in military hospitals in the Province - Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, Saturday, August 4th, 1945

Sgt. Len Thompson’s “Cook’s Tour” would involve being on the front lines to record some of Canada’s most memorable battles; Canadian-British breakthrough at Orne River; Canadians Take Boulogne in up Channel Coast Sweep; Enemy Buzz Bomb Sites on French Channel; General Vanier Visits Dieppe OCT 6, 1944; Canada’s Minister of National Defence on Tour of War Fronts in Italy and Belgium, and Bastille Day in France (see video). Many of these films can be found in the Canadian Army Newsreels; “Produced by, of, and for the Canadian Army, the Canadian Army weekly newsreel is your newsreel. Its job is to portray faithfully the life of Canadian soldiers wherever they may be. They are shown from front line theatres to headquarters in Canada to keep you posted on the deeds of Canada’s fighting army.”

Having served throughout Europe, Sgt. Thompson’s career would result in his being assigned with each of the five Canadian Army Divisions. 3Regina men helped film war picture, The Leader-Post, Regina Saskatchewan, Saturday, November 10th, 1945. In recognition of this long service, Sgt. L.E. Thompson would be awarded the Canadian Efficiency Medal. 4Honours and Awards, No. 3 Canadian Public Relations Group, dated 20th September, 1945.

"The Canadian Efficiency Medal, is a military long service medal. Awarded for 12 years of service (war years count double) after 31 December 1931, for members joining on or before 1 September 1939, it was issued to Non-Permanent Active Militia and RCAF Auxiliary and Reserve (until 17 August 1942). The ranks eligible included Warrant Officers, Non-commissioned Officers (NCOs) and non-commissioned members." 5http://www.rcsigs.ca/index.php/Canadian_Efficiency_Medal

Movie poster from the film, “The True Glory”, (courtesy IMDB)

Having escaped any serious injuries up to this point, Sgt. Len Thompson would be filming German prisoners, April 12th, 1945, when an M3 armoured personnel carrier ran him down along a highway near Oldenburg.6Hospital ship returns with many west vets – Two Reginans aboard Lady Nelson – The Leader Post, Friday, June 29th, 1945.

Sporting a broken leg, Sgt. Len Thompson would be sent home aboard the hospital ship, Lady Nelson, to be greeted by his bride of a week, the former Arleyne MacCoy of Saskatoon.

Admitted to the Regina General Hospital sometime in July, 1945, Len would be discharged four months later, in time to join his father, Walter Thompson, to attend a preview of the feature-film documentary, “The True Glory” in November. Although credited as a co-production of the US Office of War Information and the British Ministry of Information, “The True Glory” also included footage contributed by other Allied film units, such as the Canadian Army Film Unit.

"The True Glory" A documentary account of the allied invasion of Europe during World War II compiled from the footage shot by nearly one thousand four hundred cameramen. It opens as the assembled Allied forces plan and train for the D-Day invasion at bases in Great Britain, and covers all of the major events of the war in Europe, from the Normandy landings, to the fall of Berlin.—Phil Landon 7https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0038192/

After the show, Len Thompson would comment to a news reporter covering the screening, that he recognized his movie footage of V-bomb sites in Germany, and go on to say, “Newsreel work with the infantry had its dull and bright spots, but for the most part it was exciting…” 8Regina men helped film war picture, excerpt from, The Leader-Post, Regina Saskatchewan, Saturday, November 10th, 1945.

(Regina men helped film war picture, The Leader-Post, Regina Saskatchewan, Saturday, November 10th, 1945.)

“Len in bunker with his wife’s photo, reading a letter from home. He was deployed for 5 ½ years after only being married a few weeks. They wrote each other every other day for the whole time! On the back in Len’s writing: “Normandy, France, June, 1944, All my love, Dad” Also on the back on a post-it in Len’s writing: “‘Drapes” from mail bags and a tin floor from ammunition box lids” Stamped on back: “Please credit Canadian Army Photo (Printed in Canada)”

Deleyne Wentz
Cameraman Sgt. L.E. Thompson of Regina, Saskatchewan, is pictured here in his ‘underground’ home.
It is a rule that soldiers in certain areas in the front lines live below ground.
(Army Numerical Neg no. 37586, Louvigny ,France, credit: Frank L. Dubervill, Library & Archives Canada)
Although Thompson is hoping for his 30-day leave soon, he still doesn't feel very badly done by as his young bride is staying only a short distance from the hospital and is able to visit him at least twice a day." 9With the "Boys in Blue" (News of the wounded veterans convalescing in military hospitals in the Province - Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, Saturday, August 4th, 1945

Published in 1988 by Ken Bell, a former CFPU photographer during WWII, The Way We Were, juxtaposes b&w photographs Bell had taken during the war with colour shots of the same scenes as they appeared back in 1988. Located at the back of the volume, the last six pages is devoted to the War Photographers themselves, as they appeared during the war and after.

Split over pages 250 and 251 are pictures of Sgt. Len Thompson, posing with his main weapon during the war; a Bell & Howell 35mm motion picture camera, and next to this, a tanned and relaxed version of Len Thompson, having then retired from Canadian Superior Oil, and settling in Victoria B.C.

Should you have more information in regards to the life of former Sgt. Leonard Emmerson Thompson, please contact this website.
Sgt. Leonard E. Thompson, pages 250/251, The Way We Were by Ken Bell,
© University of Toronto Press 1988, ISBN 0-8020-3990-1

© Dale Gervais 2022

2 Comments

  1. Thanks, Dale. Wow, what an admirable job you have done to make a story for us out of my dad’s military career. Thank you so much! If you ever have a chance to pass through Logan, UT, come say hi!

    • You are very welcome, Deleyne! Thanks to you and Angela for the images and additional information – I think Len would approve.I have never been out your way, but you never know!
      Dale 🙂

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