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