History - Page 2

A father and son remember the Canadians in the Pas-de-Calais in September 1944


I was recently contacted by a visitor to the website seeking information on the Canadian involvement during WWII around the Boulogne and Calais area of France. Specifically, Steve Ann, from Suffolk, England, was seeking the whereabouts of the Canadian Army Film & Photo Unit (CAFPU) for his research during the Fall of 1944. In exchange for information, Steve agreed to share some images of he and his son posing as U.S. Signal Corps cameramen. Looking at the images, I could not help but note that in many of the images Steve and his son Jordan posed in, were eerily similar to poses taken in many of the images of the CAFPU. So, in collaboration, Steve and I agreed to juxtapose his images with those of the CAFPU. Thanks to Steve and Jordan. Enjoy!


My name is Steve Ann and together with my son Jordan, We have been visiting the battlefields of the Pas-de-Calais, France for the past 17 years. We live in Suffolk, England and are approximately three hours from the battlefields of France. For us our trips combine several hobbies, world war two history, photography, re-enacting and collecting ww2 artefacts including cameras.

I am putting together a collection of my own black and white photographs of the remaining elements of the Atlantic Wall and the V Weapons sites. Many of which have been destroyed or lost to the sands of time over the years. As you know the Canadian 1st Army swept up the channel coast after D-Day, and the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division liberated the Boulogne and Calais area. In September 1944 it was one of the most heavily fortified parts of the Atlantic Wall, being nearest to England.

Where the infantry and armour went, so did the Canadian Film and Photo Unit (abbreviated to CFPU). 35mm movie footage was shot of the battles for Boulogne, Cap Gris-Nez and Calais. Cameras such as the Bell and Howell 35mm Eyemo were the main weapon of choice for the CFPU cameramen. Not only were they used hand-held or on a tripod, but some were attached to tanks in combat to capture the up close action.

When my son and I display at re-enactment shows in England, we remind the public that all the photographs and movie footage they see was actually taken by the brave men such as the CFPU; who risked life and limb to get “the shot”. Combat units featured in the headlines at the time, but the camera units were there at the front too! Brave men such as Lt. Grant and Lt. Bell

Jordan and I have often walked the Pas-de-Calais battlefields in the footsteps of the CFPU; sometimes standing on the spot where original photographs were taken. Some of the most famous photographs taken by the cameramen are the cross channel guns, of which some still remain to this day, including the Todt Battery of four casemates. One of which is now an excellent museum. I am at present researching the 25th of September 1944, and the battles of Cap Blanc-Nez, Noire Mottes and Belle Vue. All won by the Canadian units and accompanied by the CFPU.

I hope you have found this article interesting. Kind Regards, Steve and Jordan.

Engelen Research: Tracking the Canadian Army Film & Photo Unit


Dear reader,

My name is Wilton Desmense and I live in The Netherlands. In this article I would like to show how researchers, even from abroad, can benefit from the work of the Canadian Film and Photo Unit. I never had a special interest in World War Two. However it was aroused by the discovery of a document with mysterious abbreviations in the archives of Angrisa, the name of a local historical society in Engelen, a township near ‘s-Hertogenbosch in the south part of the Netherlands. One thing led to another, and so my simple research into the meaning of the document has grown into an extensive study of the Engelen liberation months. As a retired teacher (I am 69 years old) of the ancient Greek and Latin languages, I had plenty of time for it. Finding images also proved challenging. In addition, I came across a computer program, which was very easy to use for coloring black and white photos. Sometimes the results add to the contemporary experience. So do not wonder about the origin of some of the color photos that come with this article.

Every 5th of May, the Netherlands commemorates its liberation from the Germans. This year the 75th Liberation Day could not have the attention it deserves (due to the pandemic). The south part of the country however has already been celebrating its liberation in September, October or November last year. In those post D-Day months, English, Polish and Canadian soldiers drove off the Huns from the land south of the Maas river.

I am living in Engelen, a small village near ‘s-Hertogenbosch and the Maas. Here the Germans had left in the still of the night, and the following day, November 5th, soldiers of the English Highland Division arrived. But the Maas prevented further advancement to the north and remained the front line until the end of the war. This situation was full of danger for the civilian population, so it was decided to evacuate the area along the south bank of the river, leaving just the military to hold the Germans back. From then on several regiments were stationed in these parts, among them from Canada, the Lincoln and Welland, the Lake Superior (Motor), and the 19th Field and the Army Service Corps. Each day and every night patrols would guard the riverbank; from time to time they even crossed the water on reconnaissance missions or to catch a prisoner of war. The Germans did the same and hardly a day passed without shooting and mortar fire back and forth.

Until now little was known about the things going on in Engelen during these months. Recently however a curious document popped up from the local church archives. It most definitely was a military boat timetable between Engelen and the nearby Fort Crèvecoeur situated on the south bank of the Maas, but it contained no further useful information. My curiosity was aroused right away and turned into an extensive investigation into the subject, “The Municipality of Engelen from Liberation to Liberation Day”. Information came forth from various types of sources.

Engelen along with the neighbouring village of Bokhoven was mentioned in books such as the memoirs of Charles D. Kipp (“Because we are Canadians”, ISBN 978-1553651123), military reports and war diaries. One day I was looking through G.F.G. Stanley’s book “In the Face of Danger” (published by The Lake Superior Scottish Regiment in 1960, ISBN B0007JIHZY), when an image caught my attention. In it a sign was visible showing the names of Engelen and Bokhoven. It was a painting  by the war artist Bruno Bobak. I wondered if there was more imagery to be found for my purpose. Et voilà, the Bobak war paintings collection was found at the Canadian War Museum (www.warmuseum.ca), and comprised more of Engelen and its surroundings. Following this surprising result I also searched for photos and films. And so I came upon the website of the Canadian Film and Photo Unit  and read several news bulletins published by Dale Gervais with interesting information about its activities, cameramen and photographers during World War II. In particular the mention of the online availability on YouTube of the Canadian Army Newsreels and British Pathé footage put me on the track of beautiful material, so far unknown to me and other locals or, as I suspect, experts of that period. Thanks to a happy coincidence – on one particular day, the CFPU website seemed to be not functioning anymore – I made contact with Dale. As a free-lance researcher, and volunteer at Library and Archives Canada, he had recently been scanning some ww2 photo albums of Canadian regiments (Army Numerical). He gave me very useful tips in which albums I might find pictures that could be of interest for me. This way I discovered a great number of photo’s of the former concentration camp Vught transformed in  ‘First Canadian Field Punishment Camp and Detention Centre’ (LAC Army Numerical Album No. 94).

There also was the photograph (see below) of a bridge named Sue. Amicably her Canadian creators had called her Sagging Susie. She and the text from the War Diary of the Royal Canadian Engineers (6 Field Park Squadron, 15 November 1944) are a nice couple to use in ending my story, that shows how the help of Dale, and that of Library and Archives Canada in general, benefits investigators researchers like myself:

“Field Stores have one TD 18 and one D4 (Tractor/Bulldozer types) working near SAGGING SUE MR E288443 (Military Region coordinates). The job is the repair of the canal banks where FBE BR (Folding/Floating Bridge Equipment) used to be. This FBE was replaced by SAGGING SUE, a Cl (Class) 9 Bailey. The banks were cut very deeply for this FBE Br. Our Mech Eqpt (Mechanical Equipment) is repairing bank.”

The photo was taken by Lt. Aikman of the CFPU on 17 December 1944. (Army Numerical Album no. 085, LIBRARY & ARCHIVES CANADA) This was the canal the Highland Division crossed 4th November ,1944 in the evening, the day before they reached Engelen, a film of which can be viewed online at film.iwmcollections.org.uk/record/34151.

Cameraman Mike Angelo in action, 1 February 1945. He visited Engelen to film soldiers of The Lake Superior Regiment bringing supplies to the Fort Crèvecoeur. (Army Numerical Album no. 086, LIBRARY & ARCHIVES CANADA) Soldiers of The Lake Superior Regiment transporting supplies to the Fort Crèvecoeur, 11 December 1944. Still from Sgt. Angelo’s film (Canadian Newsreel no. 52).

4 February 1944 war artist Bruno Bobak made a little drawing of the demolished church in Nieuwkuijk near Engelen and worked it out a day later. The picture however was taken in Calcar Germany, as became apparent from one of the albums scanned by Dale. Photographer (Lt. B.J. Gloster) and artist staged a play, according to the album on March the 8th. But the final stage of this enquiry was produced by Bobak himself stating in his day by day report, 3 March 1944: “I was visited by Lt B.J. Gloster, the Film & Photo Officer.”

Aerial picture, taken in 1975, showing the part of Engelen, where an Observation Post of the allies was located. From the attic of the high building next to the church they kept an eye on the Jerry activity. Canadian veteran Len van Roon (born 1921) from Charleswood Winnipeg shared this and more experiences of the time spent in Engelen with the local historical society Angrisa.

Two pictures taken near the Observation Post of the 19th Field Regiment in Engelen. On account of the continuous threat of gun fire by the Germans the men went there by tank (this one was baptized Calamity Jane). Sitting on top of the tank is Len van Roon.

Aerial picture of Engelen, 2010. Above the river Maas meanders, bottom left side on the bank of the canal is Engelen, many times the size it was in 1945.

Tour of OPTIC (Operational and Technical Imagery Centre)

I recently had the opportunity to visit the Canadian Forces Operational and Technical Imagery Centre (OPTIC) located at building M-23 on the NRC Campus off Montreal Rd. in Ottawa. I had previously been out to M-23 back in 2006 when, as an acting Archivist at Library & Archives Canada (LAC), I happened across an article in The Citizen entitled, “It’s a Race Against Time: The Fight to Save Canada’s Military Treasures” written by Lee Berthiaume (ironically, during the tour I would spot that same Citizen article on a noticeboard).

At the time, one of my duties as an Archivist, was to work on collections within LAC and, to address requests from the general public on donations of potential value to our nation’s history. However, in this case, with my background as a Film Conservator, I became instantly concerned when the author of the article, Lee Berthiaume wrote, Inside the nondescript National Research Council building M-23, a chunk of Canada’s proud military history is in danger of being lost.”

Curious to see the conditions of the film vaults firsthand, I contacted the Citizen and was put  in touch with the author of the article, Mr. Berthiaume, who provided me with contact info for Sgt. Serge Tremblay, Officer Commanding A Squadron, Canadian Forces Joint Imagery Centre (CFJIC), National Research Council, building M-23. With this, I was able to book an appointment through Sgt. Serge Tremblay to visit the facility on the afternoon of June7th, 2006.

At the time, CFJIC was home to the Department of National Defence’s (DND) complete collection of photographic still images, dating back to the early 1920’s. Along with the scores of negatives, were the tens of thousands of caption cards, which contained a short descriptive text of the matching photographic negatives.

Of real concern was a fridge in the vault area that held still images exhibiting vinegar syndrome (For more information on this topic, click HERE) At the time, these images were being restored according to their importance. Stored in the basement were the audio-visual vaults containing an extensive collection of motion picture films, video and audio material. The Citizen article cited 45,000 film ‘reels’.

In need of immediate attention were the 3/4” videotapes. I was told that a ‘substantial amount’ is deteriorating, and in need of being transferred to new more accessible and stable video formats. But, that was then, and much has happened since I last visited building M-23 in 2006.

Today, fourteen years later, the many thousands of negatives and films are mostly gone, having been transferred to Library & Archives Canada for long term preservation. Eager to reconnect and see what has changed since my last visit, I reached out to an old contact at DND, who connected me with Chief Petty Officer 1st Class (CPO 1) Shawn M. Kent. CPO 1 Shawn M. Kent is currently the Senior Image Tech in the Canadian Armed Forces and works as the Public Affairs Branch CWO. Chief PO Shawn Kent also sits on the MILFOTO board for retired and serving Military Photographers and Videographers. Also joining us during my walking tour of the facility was, Warrant Officer Jean-François Lauzé.

Standing in the lobby, one can’t help but notice the portraits of many of the Combat Photographers lined up the staircase to the second floor. There is also a fascinating display case of all of the different types of cameras that have been used by the Canadian Forces over the years. Proudly displayed in the foyer along the staircase is an award/memorial dedicated to Master Corporal Darrell Priede;

“Master Corporal Darrell Jason Priede, a military image technician serving with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Regional Command (South) headquartered at Kandahar Airfield, was killed when the Chinook helicopter he was a passenger in crashed in Kajaki, Helmand Province, Afghanistan, on May 30, 2007…In honour of Master Corporal Priede, the Canadian Armed Forces have instituted the Master Corporal Darrell J. Priede Top Candidate Award for the seven-week Army News Course which began in the fall of 2007.” Credit: Veteran Affairs Canada. For more details click HERE

Moving through the building, I couldn’t happen but notice how much history there is behind the Unit’s beginnings. As I took a picture of both CPO 1 Shawn M. Kent and Warrant Officer Jean-François Lauzé, I noticed they were posed on each side of a historical diorama, entitled “75 Years Proud”. Here is what it read;

“75 Years Proud

The Unit’s beginnings originated in 1921 with the establishment of a photo section under the Air Board. This first photo section worked out of the Elgin Cottage on Albert Street. It provided camera operators and processing facilities in support of the federal mapping and survey program.

In 1927, with an increase commitment to air surveys resulting in an need to expand processing facilities, the section moved to the 8th floor of the Jackson building, on Bank Street.

In 1936, under the relief programs of the thirties, the government built a new facility in Rockcliffe to permanently house the photo section. Officially known as Building # 2 , this new structure was affectionately dubbed “The White House.” Throughout the years the unit was known as No.1 Photographic Establishment, RCAF Photographic Establishment and the Canadian Forces Photographic Unit.

In 1995, the unit moved to its present location at the National Research Council Campus. Today, the Unit carries out conventional photographic work and digital imagery in support of operations. The CF Photographic Unit is strongly committed to digital technology. It remains in the forefront of the latest technological advances and has already proved its expertise in various operational situations.”

Given the nondescript facade of building M-23 from the outside, I was taken with the many components that make up the OPTIC imagery centre. Of special note was the Supply Section. Protected behind a caged wall, were some of the modern equipment utilized by Imagery Technicians in the field. I was also pleased to see that OPTIC also stays on top of the latest gear and photographic equipment, devoting personnel whose job it is to review and test many of the new technologies, in order to keep our Canadian Image Techs equipped with the latest hardware and software in order to perform their duties at optimum proficiency.

Another section of note at OPTIC is the National Defence Imagery Library. Archivists are on hand to help clients in locating imagery and historical video products held in their library. Even though many, if not all, of the imagery has been transferred to Library & Archives Canada, OPTIC continues the tradition of serving the Forces and general public in locating relevant imagery as needed.

At one point in the tour I had to stop when I noticed a portrait hanging along the hallway; I saw a large mounted print of Private Mathew Heath shot by the late combat cameraman, Captain Paul J. Tomelin. Hanging in the halls of OPTIC was one of Capt. Tomelin’s most famous shots, titled The Face of War, depicting the young and bloodied face of Private Heath Mathews, C. Company, of the Royal Canadian Regiment. Shot during the summer of 1952, during the Korean War, I was able to discuss this photo with Mr. Tomelin in 2014, and wrote a post about it HERE;

On our way to tour the vaults, we came across an odd wall display and I had to stop and ask about it. Displayed behind a glass enclosed frame on the wall, was a couple of old rolls of Kodak branded photographic film. A small card within captioned the contents. It was yet another example of the long and fascinating history of the Canadian Forces Photographic Unit;

“Film & Data sheets found 25 July 55 among the rafters near the roof of #12 Hanger. Evidently this films was left by the R.F.C. or R.A.F. on departure from Camp Borden in 1918.”

Moving our way down into the basement, we came across some of the climate controlled film and video vaults. Surprising me was a shelf of historical motion picture film cans dating back to WWII. Taped to the lid of one of them were the dates, and sortie numbers for what must be the related images inside the can. It was all I could do to not ask to open the can to see what lay within!

As the tour wrapped up, I was extremely warmed and pleased to see that all of the walls within OPTIC were adorned with countless examples of the work of the many imagery technicians deployed around the world and across Canada.

As the tour comes to its end, I am struck by the words displayed on one of the many displays featured along the hallways;

“2005-Present – As A Sqn moves into the future, the unit is required to continually embrace new technology and determine how to best utilize it to meet the needs of the CF. The images in this montage represent the diversity of the Image Tech today be it operations overseas or domestic. This poses enormous challenges in terms of cost and training. The Image Tech of today must be computer savvy and adaptable, with an emphasis on self development. He or she must be highly skilled, able to easily adapt to adverse conditions and work on their own. Today A Sqn is operationally ready and yearly deploys Image techs in support of Intelligence operations in Afghanistan. The Image Techs of A Sqn have fully embraced digital technology in all facets of their work and continue to prepare for the future. The three sections of A Sqn, the Libraries, Ops Support/ Training and Test and Evaluation, and finally Production/Customer Service all work in unison to meet the mandate of the unit and enhance their proud heritage of the past.”