History - Page 3

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


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

D-Day Discoveries: 75 Years After


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.

Sound and Images On the Day of Private Lewis L. Currie’s Death


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;


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.

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