Ben Moogk

Sound and Images On the Day of Private Lewis L. Currie’s Death

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This is a follow up article to a previous post written by Ben Moogk here;

click on image to go to article

In this new post, Ben Moogk provides compelling new evidence in movies and stills, to recount that tragic day in France, July 4th, 1944…

The battle for Carpiquet was both a victory and a tragedy. It pitted too few of Canada’s citizen soldiers in an attack against the fanatical Hitler Youth Division who had the best possible defences in a final attempt to take the city of Caen. The battle was conducted in a way that would have been familiar to the previous generation of Canadians who fought in the First World War, with machine guns firing over their heads, tanks clearing belts of barbed wire, and the men charging concrete bunkers and trenches over open ground. Among all that death during that battle, there was one death that should have been the best recorded. On 4 July 1944 Private Lewis Luke “Lew” Currie was with a cine cameraman, Sergeant Alan W. Grayston; and a photographer, Lieutenant Donald I. Grant of the Canadian Film & Photo Unit. The death of Lew Currie, who was their driver and assistant at the time, has been recalled in many interviews with members of the Canadian Film and Photo Unit. But for his children he left behind, Arthur and Margaret Currie, there is still the yearning to know more. By luck a collection of production notes for a British newsreel company has given us the evidence to tie together other records of the battle for Carpiquet into a story of their father’s last day.

The dope sheet for the two rolls of film shot by Sergeant Alan W. Grayston and Private Lewis Luke Currie at Marcelet on 4 July 1944 during the opening of Operation Windsor, the attack on Carpiquet Airfield. The white areas are words that have been cut out of the original document by the censors to keep information that would be of useful to the Germans secret.” Image courtesy Ben Moogk.

This new piece of evidence not only confirms much of what has been said about Currie’s death, but provided a key clue that reveals what he saw and heard on that day. The evidence is a type-written dope sheet describing the rolls of film taken by Sergeant Alan W. Grayston while Currie was with him on 4 July. The document includes a chilling footnote about Currie’s death, “This 200 ft of film cost the life of one man Pte.L.L.Currie, Sgt. Grayston’s driver. His blood is on the cans.

While the original footage is lost, this dope sheet describes many scenes we can see today in the remains of interpositive duplicates and screen films of the battle. Canadian Army Newsreel 35.6 “Objective – Carpiquet” is one such example of the surviving footage. We also have a series of photographs taken by Lieutenant Donald Grant that matches the footage described in the dope sheet. More than that, the location of Currie’s death is linked to two sound recordings made that day by the CBC. The chatter of the machine guns can be still heard when we see the machine gunners of The Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa. We can hear the explosions for ourselves when we see the smoke rising from the airfield.

Left: Machine-gunners of The Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa (M.G.) firing through a gap in the hedge, Carpiquet, France, 4 July 1944. Crop of photograph by Lieutenant Donald I. Grant. Library and Archives Canada PA-138359. Right: Frame capture from a positive print struck from the original negative. Image matches dope sheet description of close-up in Grayston’s roll 32. Note even the folds in the clothes match Donald Grant’s photograph.” Image courtesy Ben Moogk.

The dope sheet, footage and photographs tell us that on 4 July 1944,  photographer Donald Grant, cameraman Alan Grayston, and Lew Currie were the Canadian Film and Photo section who travelled together to chase down and record the story of the day.

Habitations are in blue. Hangers are in red. Base and control buildings are in green. The objective for the Royal Winnipeg Rifles were the south hangers. The group of hangers adjoining the hamlet of Marcelet are still there today, so they are unlikely to have been fought over. The “O-Pip”, or observation post, used by Grayston and Currie would have been between Marcelet and the airstrip. Aerial photograph thanks to the Imperial War Museum.” Image courtesy Ben Moogk.

The hamlet of Marcelet would be a natural place to record the battle. It was as close as one could get to the hangers on the south side of the airfield, the objective of the Winnipeg Rifles that day, while still having some cover. Both The Cameron Highlanders and The Royal Winnipeg Rifles had positions in the hamlet. Between the hamlet and the airfield is flat open ground which gave a clear view of the German defences for Grayston and Currie. It also gave the German defenders a clear view of the Canadians crossing this no man’s land. The Canadians were pathetically exposed, while the Germans were secure in their concrete bunkers.

The record of the field service for Currie’s remains has him buried “In a field along rd N of Marcelot (sic)”. The road north of Marcelet is the Route du Caumont (D9) that leads to the airstrip and then bends slightly north to the village of Carpiquet. Such temporary field burials were never far from where the deceased fell.

According to the dope sheet, Grayston and Currie ventured out to a forward “O-Pip” to get a better view of the battle. The “O-Pip”, or observation post, was hidden in a haystack in a field. After Grayston finished his second roll, the Germans must have become suspicious of the haystack and targeted it with mortar bombs. Currie was killed outright and Grayston escaped with the cans of footage spattered in Curries blood. According to Dan Conlin, Nadine Manning still remembers the cans of exposed film when they arrived at Merton Park Studios in South London for processing. Not included in the dope sheet is the bitter hand-written note by Grayston that asked, “Was it worth it?”

Left behind in the hay field was the body of Lew Currie. Donald Grant’s commendation for the Military Cross tells us that he was wounded during his attempts to recover Currie’s body. The Winnipeg Rifles who went forward that morning would have to fall back to their start line near Marcelet at the end of the day. Their numbers were so badly depleted that they withdrew from the battle altogether and were replaced by The Queen’s Own Rifles.

Frame capture from Canadian Army Newsreel 35.6 “Objective – Carpiquet” that matches the description of the final long shots from Grayston’s roll 33. The buildings in the distance have the peaked roofs of original base and control buildings at the far east end of Carpiquet airfield. View shows a recently mown field and a fence in the foreground. This is likely the boundary between the hay field and the airfield.” Image courtesy Ben Moogk.

Our ability to go back to that day goes further than seeing what Currie saw.  We can also hear what Currie must have heard that day as Alec McDonald of the CBC had recorded the sound of the battle for two radio broadcasts; one by Matthew Halton, and one by Marcel Ouimet. Halton reveals few details in his broadcast, due to operational censorship, but his description of the scene tells us that they must have been in Marcelet as well. Where else could he see, as he describes, the village of Carpiquet, the hangers, and the start line for the attack from the doorway of a farm? Halton’s comment about the “fog of war” matches the final scenes in Grayston’s footage of smoke billowing in the distance. Ouimet’s radio broadcast contains even more of the sounds of that day along with his impressions of what he saw;

https://www.cbc.ca/player/play/1403701811/

My father remembers his father, Willis Moogk, re-visiting Carpiquet airfield in 1953. My grandfather Willis stood there for half an hour, staring at miles of open field, and said nothing: not a word. Few of the original buildings at Carpiquet airfield survived the battle as most were torn to shreds by allied artillery, bombs, and rockets; but their concrete floors and the taxi ways are still there today. The hamlet of Marcelet has changed little. The hay is now rolled by machine, rather than piled into high stacks. There is one farm with a good view of the airfield, at the furthest eastern reaches of the hamlet, that still bears the scars of the shrapnel and bullets on its stone walls.

Currie’s grave is now at Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery. The Lemessier family, with whom Currie and Greyson lived with during the first weeks of the Normandy invasion, visited his grave for years after. His time with the Lemessier family would have reminded him of his life in New Brunswick: rural and Roman Catholic, even if the French would have sounded different. His headstone is inscribed with a line from the “Ode to Remembrance” by Laurence Binyon:
They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old; age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.

Found footage: Lew Currie, Canadian Army Film Unit, Driver – update

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This post comes to you courtesy of Ben Moogk, who has been a driving force in locating and uncovering lost photographs, and film footage shot by the Canadian Army Film & Photo Unit. Ben’s research has led him to uncover a film clip, and two photographs that depict Sgt. Al Grayston, and his driver, Lew Currie posing for the camera in a horse stable. Many of the drivers in the Film Unit risked their lives driving the cameramen under fire in order to get their stories. This post by Ben Moogk, is a follow up to an article shared by Vera Carver, grand-daughter of Lew Currie, April 17, 2017. LEWIS LUKE CURRIE was killed in action, July 4, 1944. (https://canadianfilmandphotounit.ca/2017/04/17/private-lewis-luke-currie-was-my-grandfather/). Thank you Ben for sharing!

Film has the unique magic of giving the dead a semblance of life that is not found in the still photograph. This semblance of life can now be given to one of the men who gave us our inheritance of moving images: Private Lewis Luke “Lew” Currie who was Sergeant Alan Grayston’s driver and assistant. Currie was killed in action while filming near Carpiquet Airfield with Grayston. The circumstances of his death were painful to all who knew him, are are too common in war. This short clip made at the end of one of Grayston’s rolls shot in Normandy caught my attention a year ago. I told Dale of my suspicions, but I thought little of it since I had not yet put it together with the other pieces of this puzzle. There were hours upon hours of other footage to be identified that took up the following months.

Then, while reviewing photos from PhotoNormandie, I saw two scans of unattributed photographs that brought that few seconds of fuzzy moving image to mind again. The D-Day anniversary is always a good time to put out material on social media to see what might come back. Soon after posting the clip, I was very pleased to hear from two very knowledgeable people in France: Frederick Jeanne and Michel Le Querrec who helped me assemble the clues into a identification of the man in the footage. By simply looking at the photos, and the clip, it should be evident to you, who that is mugging for Al Grayston’s camera. Below: two photos from PhotosNormandie – likely prints taken from negatives by Ken Bell;

p010893.jpg

These two photos have been identified by Michel Le Querrec as the smithy of M. Le Le Jolivet on rue de Bayeux in Creully. It is M. Le Le Jolivet himself shoeing the horse. Frederick Jeanne, author of “Hold the Oak Line” (2014) concurs. 

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Above: the man in the US M1 helmet is obviously Al Grayston. The other Canadian looks like Lew Currie. Note the posters on the door and compare to the film footage. The smithy is the same building seen in the clip https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vnbf-y-X_qI&feature=youtu.be&t=88. I’m certain that the source footage is from the US National Archives and that this is taken from a VHS. Look to the company “HD Archives” to do a new scan.

In the near future we look forward to a 4K scan of this film that should make the identification a certainty, but this is as good as it gets with the material available today. It is our sincere hope that by giving these flickering images of those who died their names back we can better remember them.

The discovery of this short clip comes from the voluntary work dome by many people around the world.

Firstly we should thank the D-Day Overlord non-profit organization who made digital copies of this film held in the US National Archive available on line. This and other digital copies of these films are mostly from VHS copies made some time ago, and lack the definition of newer 4K scans, but many of these are the only publicly available versions of these films. This small clip of Currie comes to us through this organization.

Most importantly are Michel Le Querrec and Patrick Peccatte of PhotosNormandie who make their discoveries available on Flickr. Many of these images are taken from prints made during the war by military public relations for the use of the world’s press. These photos have often lost the information about what is represented in them and M. Le Querrec in particular has done an exceptional job in identifying the date, location, and the people represented in these photos.

We should also recognize author Frederick Jeanne, who’s extensive knowledge of the Canadian battlefields in Normandy and his willingness to discuss the images has helped us put the clues together.

As Film and Photo Units filmed the events of the war, they also made photographs of the same events. These photos then become the key source of clues to identifying the fragments of footage shot by the Canadian Army Film Unit. It is extremely rare to find any true information about the film footage in records today, while information about the photographs has often survived in one or another collection. Even then, careful cross-referencing of sources is needed to confirm the information. Researching photographs has become the primary means of correctly identifying the orphaned footage of and by Canadians.

-Ben Moogk, June, 2018

Lew Currie

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Film has the unique magic of giving the dead a semblance of life that is not captured in the still photograph. This semblance of life can now be given to one of the men who gave us our inheritance of moving images: Private Lewis Luke “Lew” Currie who was Sergeant Alan Grayston’s driver and assistant. Currie was killed in action while filming near Carpiquet Airfield with Grayston. The circumstances of his death were painful to all who knew him, are are too common in war.

This short clip made at the end of on of Grayston’s rolls shot in Normandy caught my attention a year ago. I told Dale of my suspicions, but I thought little of it since I had not yet put it together with the other pieces of this puzzle. There were hours upon hours of other footage to be identified that took up the following months.  Then, while reviewing photos from PhotoNormandie, I saw two scans of unattributed photographs that brought that few seconds of fuzzy moving image to mind again. The D-Day anniversary is always a good time to put out material on social media to see what might come back. Soon after posting the clip, I was very pleased to hear from two very knowledgeable people in France: Frederick Jeanne and Michel Le Querrec who helped me assemble the clues into a identification of the man in the footage. By simply looking at the photos and the clip it should be evident to you too whois that is mugging for Al Grayston’s camera.

In the near future we look forward to a 4K scan of this film that should make the identification a certainty, but this is as good as it gets with the material available today. It is our sincere hope that by giving these flickering images of those who died their names back we can better remember them.

The discovery of this short clip comes from the voluntary work dome by many people around the world.

Firstly we should thank the D-Day Overlord non-profit organization who made digital copies of this film held in the US National Archive available on line. This and other digital copies of these films are mostly from VHS copies made some time ago, and lack the definition of newer 4K scans, but many of these are the only publicly available versions of these films. This small clip of Currie comes to us through this organization.

Most importantly are Michel Le Querrec and Patrick Peccatte of PhotosNormandie who make their discoveries available on Flickr. Many of these images are taken from prints made during the war by military public relations for the use of the world’s press. These photos have often lost the information about what is represented in them and M. Le Querrec in particular has done an exceptional job in identifying the date, location, and the people represented in these photos.

We should also recognize author Frederick Jeanne, who’s extensive knowledge of the Canadian battlefields in Normandy and his willingness to discuss the images has helped us put the clues together.

As Film and Photo Units filmed the events of the war, they also made photographs of the same events. These photos then become the key source of clues to identifying the fragments of footage shot by the Canadian Army Film Unit. It is extremely rare to find any true information about the film footage in records today, while information about the photographs has often survived in one or another collection. Even then, careful cross-referencing of sources is needed to confirm the information. Researching photographs has become the primary means of correctly identifying the orphaned footage of and by Canadians.