Library & Archives Canada: “Army Numerical” Series (110 Albums) Now Available Online

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For the first time, all 110 photographic albums, known as the “Army numerical” series at Library & Archives Canada, are now available online to the general public for the first time.

The series of albums consist of contact sheets printed from the original b&w negatives, of Canadian Army photographs shot during World War II, 1941-1946.

For many years I had been aware of these albums while working as a Film Conservator at Library & Archives Canada (LAC). At the time, these albums were some of the most in demand finding aids for WWII images stored at LAC.

Known to staff as the ‘pizza boxes’, the Army numerical albums were stored in acid free custom made containers. Even though stored in ideal conditions, the albums were beginning to show their age; brittle and dry, the contact sheets were warping, and some of the adhesive keeping them glued to the pages was drying out.

One day while doing research for a client in Italy, I came across one of the albums online, and that is when I learned that there were only 7 of the complete 110 albums available online. What I also found buried in the albums images, were photographs of members of the Canadian Army Film & Photo Unit. Some of which I had never seen before. I wondered, “What other photographic ‘gems’ must be hidden away in the other 103 albums?”

During a series of discussions with LAC staff, a proposal was submitted to access all remaining 103 albums, and have them scanned using LAC’s Book2Net self-service book scanner located in their ‘DigiLab’. The Digilab is specifically equipped with Epson flatbed Photo Scanners used to scan photographic prints and negatives.

One of the challenges we encountered was how to adapt a piece of equipment created specifically for scanning bound books with lots of text, to scanning old photographic albums with very little text. A process was eventually devised by removing the metal screws that bound the albums, and then systematically scanning each of the albums pages using the handy foot-switch to initiate a scan leaving the hands free to prepare for the next scan. Performing several test runs, we were able to fine-tune the process resulting in successfully scanning one album in approximately 15 minutes.

Not without its share of error messages, and false starts, the whole project was eventually completed over a period of several months. All this was being done while staff continued to serve other clients. It wasn’t until the beginning of February 2020 that all remaining 103 albums were finally completed.

In total, “110 albums (8441 photographs) on 8327 album pages : b&w. ca. 62,000 photographs : b&w negatives” were scanned and converted into 103 separate .PDF files, along with OCR (optical character recognition), to allow each of the .pdf albums to be text searchable.

Even though the Covid-19 virus had begun to cripple the LAC’s ability to service the general public, staff were still able to prepare every one of the albums for eventual upload to the LAC database.

Today, the albums now serve a global audience via an easily accessible digital resource in the form of Library & Archives online database. To access all 110 albums, click HERE. Alternately, visit the Archives Search  and type “Army Numerical” in the field “Any Keywords”  you should get them showing first in your search results.

“Scope and content

The sub-series, consisting of photographs identified as “Army numerical”, which unlike the majority of other Army, RCN or RCAF imagery, was not assigned an alphabetic prefix. Printed copies of the negatives exist within 110 albums (printed as contact sheets with caption information), originally part of DND FA19. This is basically an inventory of Army photographs from mainly, but not exclusively, the Second World War (see below for details). The photographs are arranged numerically, chronologically and by region. Volumes 1-58 depict operations in the United Kingdom; volumes 59-73 are designated generally as DND; volumes 74-107 show North West Europe; the last three albums of the 110-volume series are titled: Secret 1; Secret 2; and Secret 3. United Kingdom albums include such subjects as: Army training; troop arrivals and departures; invasion exercises; hospitals; Royal visits; Dieppe survivors; Investitures at Buckingham Palace; mail ships; War Brides; funerals; mining in Wales; Canadian Forestry Corp in Scotland; sports meets; etc. DND albums consist of mainly Canadian troops in North Africa, Canada and Australia, Sicily and Italy. North West Europe albums are comprised of mainly Canadian troops in Belgium, France, Holland, and Germany. The many subjects depicted in this sub-series include: Canadians in action; Invasion Operations; refugee evacuations; CWACs; Victory Loans; tanks; mine-clearing school; POWs; Landing Beaches; German prisoners; Royals inspecting troops; Canadian General Hospitals; Nursing Sisters; cemeteries; mines; snipers; Amphibious Operations; Dieppe Raid; Red Cross; sweeping the shipping channel; Russian Generals; evacuation of Belgium children to Switzerland; D-Day Landings; Churchill visit; pipeline construction; liberation of concentration camp; surrender of Nazis to Foulkes; official delivery of surrender terms; liberations of Utrecht and The Hague; Montgomery meets Rokossovsky; peace celebrations; disarming program; bomb damage seen from air; Food and Surrender Conference; Victory Parades; Germans removing minefields; Canadian repatriation; Canadian War Art exhibition; etc.”

I want to thank the following people for allowing me the opportunity to serve alongside staff at Library & Archives to provide such a valuable Canadian resource;

Karine Gélinas (Project Manager, Public Services Branch); Satya Miller (Metadata Control Officer, Public Services Branch); Jean Matheson (Consultation and Reference Officer, Public Services Branch); Lynn Lafontaine (Consultation and Reference Officer, Public Services Branch); Alexander Comber (Military Archivist for Library and Archives).

Please contact Library & Archives Canada regarding any of the content within the WWII albums. As well, feel free in contacting me should you have questions or wish to retain my services in acquiring access to any of the b&w negatives that make up the many thousands of images within the WWII albums.

© 2020 Dale Gervais

Andrew Graham “Cam” Campbell : Combat Cameraman : 1917-2019

It is with great sadness that I learned of the passing of Andrew Graham ‘Cam” Campbell, on December 17th, 2019, at the amazing age of 102 years old. I last spoke with ‘Cam’ when I attended his 101st birthday last year at his retirement home in Burlington, Ontario.

Graham Campbell was a kind and creative friend, and I enjoyed the times we spent together talking about his times during the war as a member of the Canadian Army Film & Photo Unit, and about some of the people he worked alongside at Rapid Grip and Batten.

Graham was born in Montreal in 1917 and moved with family to Toronto in 1931. After finishing schooling, he began working in 1936 as an apprentice in the Art Department of Rapid Grip and Batten, a large engraving house in Toronto.

Graham joined the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals (RCCS, RC Sigs) in 1942, completed basic training in Brantford, following up with Signals camp at Vimy Barracks in Kingston. While there, he was taken on staff doing illustration for various training exercises, and cartoons for their Signalman paper.

Graham shipped overseas to the Signals camp at Guildford in the south of England for advanced training and where he did some poster illustrations.

By chance Graham was sent to deliver these posters to the London office of Public Relations on Pall Mall. There he was interviewed by an officer of the Film and Photo Unit and was given the chance to join the Unit.

Graham trained at Pinewood Studios along with AL Calder and Doug Skene. Successful graduates from the course at Pinewood received the rank of Sgt., and were assigned to London to film investitures, parades, army training exercises, and army related events in England and Scotland.

After the Normandy invasion, additional cameramen were requested and Sgt. Campbell was sent by ferry to Ostend, Belgium. Assigned to the 4th Armoured Division, he travelled through Brussels and on toward Holland, following the main advance of the Canadians and Allies in Northwest Europe.

The war was on its last legs and Graham and his Unit celebrated the end of the war in a small town (Varel) outside of Wilhelmshaven, Germany. He later covered the Victory Parade in Berlin in July 1945.

Graham returned to Canada on the Queen Elizabeth in November of 1945. He continued as an illustrator at RGB, and later worked at Art Associates before going solo as a freelance illustrator.

Graham retired in 1991, and I first came in contact with him in May 2008, where I first interviewed him at his home in Richmond Hill, Ontario. Graham, along with the remaining surviving members of the CFPU at the time, was awarded the CSC COMBAT CAMERA AWARD, a special achievement award to the Canadian Army Film and Photo Unit (CFPU) in 2010. The CSC award recognizes “the outstanding achievements of the CFPU during the war, in honour and remembrance of the courageous cameramen of the Second World War.”

As a member of the Unit, Graham’s job was to take motion picture footage of the men and women of the Canadian Forces overseas during WWII. Some of his footage appears 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 theatre to headquarters in Canada, to keep you posted on the deeds of Canada’s fighting Army.” SOURCE: Canadian Army Newsreel Issue No. 49, War Amps of Canada.

I want to thank the entire Campbell family for their hospitality.

Graham will be sorely missed.

D-Day Discoveries: 75 Years After

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75 years ago, in the early morning of June 6th, 1944, Sgt. Bill Grant, Canadian combat cameraman of the Canadian Army Film & Photo Unit, emerged from the fog to land at Bernières-sur-Mer, to record some of histories most memorable scenes of the Allied invasion of France, known as D-Day.

Packed away in storage since the end of the war, history is revisited, as Tom and Karen Grant flip through their father’s scrapbooks, and binders of photographs, to showcase the life of their father, Bill Grant.

As well, new discoveries are uncovered and shared with the family that chronicle Sgt. Grant’s movements off the beaches of Juno, and into the homes of the liberated French.