Newsreels - Page 3

Framing the Past through the lens of the Present By Gillian Evans


The War Amps Society’s Migration of the Canadian Army Newsreels.

 By Gillian Evans

May16, 2011

The Canadian Army Newsreels, produced by the War Amps Society in 2010 with assistance from original members of the Canadian Army Film & Photo Unit and Library and Archives Canada, are a series of 106 separate original newsreels capturing Canada’s involvement in World War Two. The newsreels have been transferred to a series of six DVD’s, featuring approximately 18 newsreels per DVD with a total of 1200 minutes of footage. The newsreels, originally created and produced by the Canadian Army Film and Photo Unit throughout the course of the War, feature captivating footage shot by soldiers who also served as members of this specialized unit with post production taking place in Merton Park Studios in London.[1]

Established in 1941 and disbanding in 1945, the Canadian Army Film and Photo Unit was a sub-division of the Canadian Army Public Relations Branch. The Unit began small and at its height it contained 50 cine cameramen and 25 still photographers.[2] The Unit was developed in response to the Government’s desire to capture a record of Canada’s involvement in the War which could be used to promote Canada both domestically and abroad. However, the production of these newsreels also served to train and inform troops, with the additional benefit of boosting morale and providing an insight into the experiences of other Canadian soldiers. The newsreels were intended for viewing by army personell and were not released publicly. However, certain stills and segments had been adapted to publicly released newsreels produced by the National Film Board.[3]

The viewer is treated to the newsreels as they would have appeared to the personell viewing them originally. Each edition is presented in the orginal order that it would have been released and begins with the iconic opening introduction of a maple leaf, the official symbol of the Canadian Army Film and Photo Unit. Many of the editions feature training demonstrations, troops practicing operations, troop inspections, official visits from senior military officials and awards and recognition ceremonies. There is little deliberate attempt on the part of the producers to adapt or try to improve the quality of the original imagery or sound. Rather, the War Amps Society allows the newsreels to speak for themselves, demonstrating as little intervention over the archival integrity of the material as possible.

Although the content of the newsreels remains largely untouched, this DVD production is not simply a reproduction of archival footage to a new format. Rather, The Canadian Army Newsreels has been framed through the lens of the present with a different producer and a different intended audience. As Janna Jones has identified; contemporary representations of archival footage do more than open a window into the past, they also serve as a record in themselves documenting how we perceive the past and the value we attribute to it.[4] In this case, the DVD production forms part of The War Amps Society’s Military Heritage series and the broader campaign titled Never Again! which aims to inform younger generations of the consequences of war. This objective is clearly evident from the one contemporary feature that marks the newsreels; the War Amps’ trademarked symbol of a gun resting diagonally with a soldier’s helmet placed on top. The symbol, which was used during World War Two to temporarily mark the graves of fallen soldiers, is the visual representation used for the ‘Never Again’ campaign.[5] The Canadian Army Newsreels also serve a unique role as a bastian of Canadian history, subsequently conjouring notions of national pride, remembrance and respect. This is particularly evident in the introductory sequence featuring archival photographs and ceremonial music on each individual DVD.

As a result of allowing the newsreels to speak for themselves, the War Amps Society does not reflect on the new meaning it is attributing to this archival footage and as such it provides little background information behind the newsreels’ original context of creation. The lack of contextual information and critical reflection accompanying the DVD set could lead researchers to become confused as to the purpose and intent behind each edition that was released. One such example comes from an edition titled Casualty Clearing Station, which is described in the booklet as a depiction of the operations of a CCS. However, the edition is not an objective capture of reality but rather a purposefully constructed positive representation of the operations of a CCS.[6]

On the other hand, this production has managed to celebrate Canada’s wartime accomplishments and pay homage to those who had been involved. The Canadian Army Newsreels is successful in increasing and expanding on the accessibility of this valued resource. This is not only possible through the commercial release of the the DVD, enabling it to have a presence on the coffee tables of all Canadian households, but also through the sophisticated DVD menu layout and accompanying descriptions booklet which facilitates enhanced searching, ultimately aiding researchers in finding specific editions and topics within the totality of the 6 DVD set. Additionally, the migration of the material to a contemporary format ensures its ongoing preservation for some time into the future. Essentially, The Canadian Army Newsreels succeeds in bringing history to life and contributes towards ensuring the ongoing access to and preservation of what is no doubt a vital piece of Canadian history.

[1] “Army Newsreel Goes Weekly” (Newsreel No. 49.1). War Amps Society. 2010. The War Amps Presents the Canadian Army Newsreels (Filmed and Produced by the Canadian Army Film and Photo Unit).

[2] Dudley Peter. 2010. ‘War Amps Releases Newsreels‘ Published on the Canadian Film and Photo Unit website (November 2010): (Last accessed February 5th 2011).

[3] Bergeron, Rosemary. 2008. ‘A History of the Newsreel in Canada: A Struggle for Screen Time’ in The Moving Image (April 2008) Vol. 7 No. 2 pp. 25 -54.

[4] Jones, Janna. 2004. ‘Confronting the Past in the Archival Film and the Contemporary Documentary’ in The Moving Image. Vol. 4, No. 2 Fall 2004 pp. 1-21.

[5] War Amps Society. Canada’s Military Heritage Series. (Last accessed February 9th 2011.)

[6] Casualty Clearing Station. (Newsreel No. 4.3). War Amps Society. 2010. The War Amps Presents the Canadian Army Newsreels (Filmed and Produced by the Canadian Army Film and Photo Unit).

War Amps releases Newsreels By Peter Dudley


Sgt. Chuck Ross, and Sgt. Norman Quick, C.S.C., reunite to celebrate the release of the Canadian Army Newsreels. The six-disc DVD set was produced by the War Amps of Canada, and is released for the first time ever to the general public.

Thanks to the War Amps, all 106 Canadian Army newsreels from the Second World War are now available to the public for the first time ever as a complete set.
The special six disc DVD collection contains more than 20 hours of footage and comes with a booklet that describes the content of each newsreel.
The collection (which can be purchased directly from the War Amps website) is a significant addition to the War Amps Military Heritage Series and will further help Canadians understand our military’s contribution during the Second World War.
“Cliff Chadderton (War Amps chief executive officer) realized about 20 years ago that Canadians don’t really understand what happened in war, ” said Karen Valley, president of War Amps Operation Legacy.
“They understand about the Hollywood version or the video game version but not the real human reality side of war. So he started Operation Legacy and the Military Heritage Series to illustrate the lesser known stories, the more human side of what Canada’s involvement was in the war,” said Ms. Valley.
“I am very happy they are being released,” said Michael Spencer, 90, one of the original members of the Canadian Film and Photo Unit (CFPU), in a telephone interview from his home in Montreal. “I hope very much that when they are released, they reach a big audience.”
Canada was the last of the Allied countries to start a film and photo unit. Documents show that the unit was formed in October 1941, primarily to record the activities of Canadian troops training for the eventual invasion of Europe and to create a lasting record of Canadian involvement in the Second World War.
The CFPU started out with four members: Lt. J.E.R. ‘Jack’ McDougall, Lt. George Nobel, S/Sgt. Michael Spencer, and Cpl. Alan Grayston. The unit grew to include more than 50 cine cameramen, and 25 still photographers.
Only six members are still alive today.
Military cine cameramen attached to the CFPU filmed the 10-minute newsreels.
The cameramen used hand-cranked Bell & Howell Eyemo cameras, which shot 100-foot rolls of 35mm nitrate motion picture film. A roll of film only lasted for approximately two and a half minutes before the camera needed to be reloaded.
Sergeant Norm Quick, one of the unit’s most experienced cameramen got so good at changing rolls that it only took him 20 seconds to reload and be ready to shoot again.

Mr. Quick is very excited in the level of interest that Canadians are showing in the newsreels. He is particularly happy that the CFPU is finally getting credit for the stories, as many people previously thought the film footage came from the National Film Board.
The first issue of the Canadian Army Newsreels was released in November 1942. They were originally released monthly, then biweekly, and finally weekly.
All of the raw footage was sent to London for processing and editing. Military censors decided what could be released and what could not. Any shot that identified a soldier’s regiment or the regiment’s location ended up on the cutting room floor.
Once the newsreels were completed, they were immediately sent out for viewing. In newsreel #49 the narrator explains the unit’s mandate: “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 theatres to headquarters in Canada to keep you posted on the deeds of Canada’s fighting army.”
Mr. Quick recalls seeing some of the completed newsreels while he was overseas and says the soldiers in the field enjoyed them.
Despite having fewer personnel and less sophisticated cameras than other film units in the war, the CFPU did manage to scoop the world on several occasions. Perhaps the most famous example of this is the iconic D-Day footage shot by Sergeant Bill Grant showing Canadian troops landing on Juno Beach.
That film was the first footage of the invasion to make it back to the war office in London and be cleared for release to the media. It was shown around the world.
After the war ended, the CFPU disbanded and its members either returned to their old jobs or found new ones.
Mr. Spencer went back to the National Film Board (NFB) and later became the first executive director of the Canadian Film Development Corporation.
Mr. Quick also worked for the NFB, before returning to the armed forces to finish off his career.
And what happened to all the film and photographs the CFPU shot during the war?
“The NFB inherited the complete archive of the Canadian Army Film Unit,” said Dale Gervais, a film conservator at Library and Archives Canada.
The collection was housed at a number of temporary sites until a permanent home was found in Beaconsfield, Quebec. Unfortunately a fire destroyed the collection on July 23, 1967,” said Mr. Gervais.
Fortunately, a complete set of 16 mm prints of all 106 newsreels that were stored offsite survived the fire.

Mayfair Theatre Newsreel programme;

Library and Archives Canada is currently making new preservation elements of the prints for long-term storage.
Why should Canadians care about these 106 black and white newsreels?
“They are the only visual record of Canadians in action during the Second World War apart from footage shot by the other allied forces and other independent newsreel companies,” said Mr. Gervais. “Without this record we would not be aware of the sacrifices that had to be made by the young men and women of our armed forces. The newsreels will forever remain as a living tribute to the men and women of the Canadian forces.”
As a special Remembrance Day tribute, the Mayfair theatre in Ottawa will be showing several CFPU newsreels on November 10 at 7 p.m.
Lest We Forget.

War Amps Canada
Library-Archives of Canada
Mayfair Theatre
Canadian Newsblog