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