In Search of D-Day: Charles E. Beddoe

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Click on the image to view the video

In celebration of the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, I am reposting this video I did about Charles E. Beddoe, a Royal Canadian Navy Cameraman, who witnessed D-Day aboard LCG939…

When my father first sent me the article on Charles Beddoe, I was surprised to see that there had been a RCN Combat Cameraman living right here in Ottawa since 1958, the same year that I was born! I immediately contacted the Ottawa Citizen, who graciously provided me with his contact information; residing at the Perley & Rideau Veteran’s Health Centre, at 1750 Russell Road.

What happened next became an interesting mix of straightforward interviews, discoveries, and…even more discoveries. Charlie had only recently moved into the Perley & Rideau, when the family had come across a cache of films in their old residence on Browning Avenue, only a few blocks away. This treasure trove launched a series of searches into the vaults at Library & Archives Canada, where I was fortunate to come across footage shot by Charlie.

Was it his D-Day footage that he describes shooting aboard LCG939? This video documents that journey with interviews of Charlie Beddoe, and a step by step account by myself as I mine the vaults at Library & Archives, in search of Charlie’s D-Day footage.

I want to thank the following people in helping me along in the making of this video; Douglas Gervais, Lionel Goddard, Greg Boa, Stéphane Larivière, Tina Harvey, and Greg Eamon. Of course none of this is possible without the participation of the Beddoe family, especially Charlie’s daughter, Margaret Lawrence, and son, William Beddoe.

This film is dedicated to Charlie Beddoe, and all the men and women who served, and continue to serve Canada as military photographers.

Charles Beddoe passed away April 1, 2018 – his films remain a permanent record of Canada’s involvement during WWII, and a testament to Charlie’s will and bravery during a tumultuous moment in world history.

*To view the video copy and paste the following url: //www.youtube.com/watch?v=MnF1JoJfTqc&feature=youtu.be

(Originally Published: May 13, 2018)

Captain King Whyte: Liberation of Belsen

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My father enlisted in the Canadian Army during World War Two believing it was his duty. His father served in the RAF during WWI and his grandfather served in the British military. My father wasn’t a combat soldier. He stationed in London and was on loan to the British. His background in radio broadcasting and journalism uniquely qualified him for various positions – narrating newsreels, writing reports for Radio Luxembourg, and reporting on the London blitz and the allied troops in Europe.

In April 1945 my father was present during the liberation of Belsen. In a letter to my mother he wrote, “Tonight I am a different man. I have spent the last two days in Belsen concentration camp, the most horrible festering scab there has ever been on the face of humanity… I still cannot bring myself to write my reports to Radio Luxembourg… You have seen pictures in the paper but they cannot tell the story… My God, that there should be such suffering on the face of this earth. I have seen hundreds of people dying before my eyes. I have seen filthy green corpses used as pillows for the living. I have seen forty thousand people living and dying amongst their own fetid offal…”

While in Belsen my father was approached by two sisters who asked that he contact their father who lived in New York. With the help of the Red Cross their father was located and in June 1945 he wrote this: “Dear Captain Whyte, May G-d bless you for sending such wonderful news to gladden the heart of a father. I had almost lost faith and was in despair when I received your joyful tidings that my daughters were alive and well in Belsen. You will always be in my prayers. I cannot find the words to express my gratitude. Thank you so much. The letter you enclosed from my daughters Lutzi and Rosie brought new hope to my heart. Should this letter find you still in Belsen, please tell my children that I am bending every effort in their behalf and am looking forward to the day when we will be reunited. I wish you all the best from my heart. – Rabbi Solomon Fruchter.” They corresponded for a time and my father’s letters were eventually donated to the Holocaust Museum by the family. When my father returned to Canada in 1946 he took a train to New York to meet with Rabbi Fruchter while his daughters were in Europe being processed by immigration.

Over the years, mostly by chance, I have met people who knew my father or my mother. My sister Kathi and I had the privilege of meeting hockey legend Jean Béliveau, who was with my father the night he died on June 26, 1962. I met a documentary filmmaker whose mother was my father’s secretary at an advertising agency in Montreal before the war. Quite by chance I’ve met people who worked with my father at the Toronto Star or the CBC. There is a strange interconnectedness with the past. Nothing however could prepare me for a phone call I received on the morning of November 10, 2012. The caller said his name was David and he was calling from New York. He told me our parents met in Belsen in 1945. I immediately knew who his mother was from my father’s letters. The son of a Belsen survivor and the daughter of a witness to the horror speaking 67 years later, across the miles, against all odds. I was so profoundly touched I wept – this thread of remembering of honouring our parents. It is striking David and I have so many similarities – our political views, love of music, art and literature. I treasure our friendship and I know somehow it was meant to be. Our parents are gone now but their legacy is alive in us – two friends in different countries connected by a brave young girl and a Canadian soldier.

In a climate where anti-Semitic sentiment is on the rise on both sides of the border it is imperative that we remember the past. David and I are a reminder that the past lives through us, and we honour our parents who endured and witnessed one of the darkest times in human history.

Let everyone, inside and outside Germany, look upon the work of the Beast. Let there be no more talk about “just propaganda” and “these things can’t be true.” It is not “propaganda” and these things are true, overwhelming in their proportions, ghastly in conception, execution and results. – Halifax Herald

Maureen Whyte

Niagara Falls, Ontario

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.