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Captain King Whyte: Liberation of Belsen


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

Found footage: Lew Currie, Canadian Army Film Unit, Driver – update


This post comes to you courtesy of Ben Moogk, who has been a driving force in locating and uncovering lost photographs, and film footage shot by the Canadian Army Film & Photo Unit. Ben’s research has led him to uncover a film clip, and two photographs that depict Sgt. Al Grayston, and his driver, Lew Currie posing for the camera in a horse stable. Many of the drivers in the Film Unit risked their lives driving the cameramen under fire in order to get their stories. This post by Ben Moogk, is a follow up to an article shared by Vera Carver, grand-daughter of Lew Currie, April 17, 2017. LEWIS LUKE CURRIE was killed in action, July 4, 1944. ( Thank you Ben for sharing!

Film has the unique magic of giving the dead a semblance of life that is not found in the still photograph. This semblance of life can now be given to one of the men who gave us our inheritance of moving images: Private Lewis Luke “Lew” Currie who was Sergeant Alan Grayston’s driver and assistant. Currie was killed in action while filming near Carpiquet Airfield with Grayston. The circumstances of his death were painful to all who knew him, are are too common in war. This short clip made at the end of one of Grayston’s rolls shot in Normandy caught my attention a year ago. I told Dale of my suspicions, but I thought little of it since I had not yet put it together with the other pieces of this puzzle. There were hours upon hours of other footage to be identified that took up the following months.

Then, while reviewing photos from PhotoNormandie, I saw two scans of unattributed photographs that brought that few seconds of fuzzy moving image to mind again. The D-Day anniversary is always a good time to put out material on social media to see what might come back. Soon after posting the clip, I was very pleased to hear from two very knowledgeable people in France: Frederick Jeanne and Michel Le Querrec who helped me assemble the clues into a identification of the man in the footage. By simply looking at the photos, and the clip, it should be evident to you, who that is mugging for Al Grayston’s camera. Below: two photos from PhotosNormandie – likely prints taken from negatives by Ken Bell;


These two photos have been identified by Michel Le Querrec as the smithy of M. Le Le Jolivet on rue de Bayeux in Creully. It is M. Le Le Jolivet himself shoeing the horse. Frederick Jeanne, author of “Hold the Oak Line” (2014) concurs. 


Above: the man in the US M1 helmet is obviously Al Grayston. The other Canadian looks like Lew Currie. Note the posters on the door and compare to the film footage. The smithy is the same building seen in the clip I’m certain that the source footage is from the US National Archives and that this is taken from a VHS. Look to the company “HD Archives” to do a new scan.

In the near future we look forward to a 4K scan of this film that should make the identification a certainty, but this is as good as it gets with the material available today. It is our sincere hope that by giving these flickering images of those who died their names back we can better remember them.

The discovery of this short clip comes from the voluntary work dome by many people around the world.

Firstly we should thank the D-Day Overlord non-profit organization who made digital copies of this film held in the US National Archive available on line. This and other digital copies of these films are mostly from VHS copies made some time ago, and lack the definition of newer 4K scans, but many of these are the only publicly available versions of these films. This small clip of Currie comes to us through this organization.

Most importantly are Michel Le Querrec and Patrick Peccatte of PhotosNormandie who make their discoveries available on Flickr. Many of these images are taken from prints made during the war by military public relations for the use of the world’s press. These photos have often lost the information about what is represented in them and M. Le Querrec in particular has done an exceptional job in identifying the date, location, and the people represented in these photos.

We should also recognize author Frederick Jeanne, who’s extensive knowledge of the Canadian battlefields in Normandy and his willingness to discuss the images has helped us put the clues together.

As Film and Photo Units filmed the events of the war, they also made photographs of the same events. These photos then become the key source of clues to identifying the fragments of footage shot by the Canadian Army Film Unit. It is extremely rare to find any true information about the film footage in records today, while information about the photographs has often survived in one or another collection. Even then, careful cross-referencing of sources is needed to confirm the information. Researching photographs has become the primary means of correctly identifying the orphaned footage of and by Canadians.

-Ben Moogk, June, 2018

Sgt. Bert Williamson: CFPU Combat Cameraman


Sgt. Bertram (Bert) Wellesley Williamson was born in Montreal, Quebec in 1912, to Arthur Harold Williamson Sr. and Ethel Irene May Hunter.  Both his mother and father were primarily of Scottish pioneer stock. The Williamson’s arrived from Scotland via County Monaghan Ireland in the early 1840s. The Hunters arrived from Scotland (Clackmannanshire,) sometime in the 1830s. Ethel’s Great grandfather John Hunter (b.1836-1897) was born in Huntingdon, CE (Canada East) and her father, David John Hunter (1878-1951) was born in St. Albans, Vt., USA.  Ethel was born in Montreal.

Bert had a sister, Thelma, two years his junior and a younger brother, Arthur Harold Williamson Jr., 25 years his junior. Bert’s mother died in the Spanish Influenza epidemic in 1919 at the age of 28. The extended family pitched in to help raise the two young children, Bert grew up partly in Montreal and partly in the town of Point Fortune, 84 km west of Montreal. The Quebec – Ontario border runs through the village.

As was the local practice, Bert and his sister went to high school in Montreal. They both attended Outremont High as there wasn’t high school in the village of Point Fortune.  Bert lived with his Hunter grandparents while in Montreal and Thelma lived with her Williamson grandparents while in school. They would travel home to Point Fortune for the holidays and on weekends to be with their father and step mother.

Young Bert was fond of dogs, children, the Montreal Canadiens and his extended family.  One of his cousins was the famed “Diamond King”, John Thorburn Williamson. He boxed as a young man and he seems to have dabbled in photography. Before the war Bert worked in Montreal for the Associated Screen News which apparently was why he was seconded from the infantry unit he had enlisted in. His civilian boss was instrumental in having Bert transferred to the CFPU where he was stationed.

He joined the Canadian armed forces at the beginning of World War II and served in the Canadian Film Unit in Sicily, Italy, Holland and Germany.  He returned home in early 1946 and married Elizabeth (Betty) Catherine Francis of Fortune Bridge, Prince Edward Island.  They had met early in the war years in Ottawa.  He was in the army at that time and she worked in Munitions and Supply for the war effort as an office worker.  During the War they corresponded while he was overseas.

A year later they had one son, John (Jack) Harold Francis Williamson. Bert and Betty bought a new house in Ville St. Laurent, a suburb of Montreal in 1950.  Bert returned to work for the Associated Screen News as a purchasing agent.  Many of their neighbours and friends were veterans.

Bert was described as a “gentleman”, kind, pleasant, and gentle and had a fine singing voice. His main hobby was photography and he had his own darkroom.  He was a devoted and excellent dad and husband. Bert seldom spoke of the war.  When he was asked by his seven year old son about his rose tattoo on his arm, he laughed and asked his son to promise never to get a tattoo.

Life was ideal and happy until June 1956 when Bert suddenly fell ill and was rushed to hospital. Within three weeks he passed away and now rests in St Andrew’s East Cemetery, Quebec, across the Ottawa River from his childhood home of Point Fortune. He was forty three year old. Many of his family believed that he was a delayed casualty of the War.

ABOUT JACK WILLIAMSON; (Jack) John Harold Francis Williamson was born in Montreal, in 1947. He is a retired history teacher and  Bert Williamson’s son and only child.  Jack had a very short stint in the Canadian Grenadier Guards and has a very deep appreciation for our Vets and their service to Canada. During his teaching career he often wondered if the films about World War II that he showed his students included footage shot by his father.  They did.

ABOUT HAROLD WILLIAMSON; Harold Williamson-Brother of Sgt. Bert W. Williamson, of the Canadian Army Film & Photo Unit.

Born in 1937, I was 25 years younger than Bert, he being old enough to be my father. Bert was born in 1912 and our sister in 1914.  In 1919 their mother and an infant brother would die in the influenza epidemic.  Later in life my father would remarry and I would be their only child.

The first few years of my life were spent solely with adults of my family and I only saw my grown brother and sister when  holidays occurred or a weekend visit could be squeezed in, they both were working away from our home.  In 1942 Bert shipped out, but I didn’t really grasp the meaning, maybe it was just to an army camp!  Being so young, my concept of war was much like that of an animated board game.  The only time I saw Bert in uniform was in photos we got before he left.  We lived beside the #17 highway, where there were frequent passing convoys heading east, and I would often stand by the gate and wave to the troops, probably thinking that Bert might be aboard one of the trucks.

On the home front, the women in our household as in many others, spent their free time knitting as they sat visiting among themselves or if alone, perhaps tuned in to the radio and The Happy Gang!  They turned out month after month, year after year until the conflict was over; scarves, mittens, gloves, sweaters, socks, balaclavas and dickies.  Then there were the ration books with their stamps that you surrendered when a quantity of a limited item was purchased.  And the tissue-thin ‘flimsies’ specifically designed to be used for air mail and to frustrate the user!  Frequently my parents would set about purchasing items to be put into a ‘care’ parcel  to be sent to Bert. An item of clothing-likely of the knitted variety, gum, cigarettes, candy bars, shaving items and whatever else might be of use.  This was when I could scribble a note to my brother to say ‘Hello’ and ‘We miss you’.  I remember the photos in newspapers and magazines of planes, ships or tanks with numbers or unit letters blanked out.

When the war ended, Bert returned home to a rejoicing, relieved, happy family.  He married his fiancé and by the time I was 10, I was an uncle.  Too soon, 9 years later, Bert fell ill and passed away in hospital before the cause could be found.  Some believed that stresses of the war may have been the initial culprit.

A few years later when I was teaching history in secondary school I began to search for some thread to the past-some information about my brother.  There was a void-I really knew very little about Bert, so I thought that perhaps I could at least learn something about him from his wartime records.  There must be a file somewhere.

Finally, I was successful and with the help of a gentleman, Dale Gervais who is working to preserve the products and memories of the men who were in the CFPU during the war, a file was discovered with documents, photos and also a piece of film produced by Bert and his team taken in Italy during that campaign.  I now have some answers as does his son and his grandsons.  This all to help them know Bert better as a father and a grandfather.

A special thank you to Harold, Jack and Gail for reaching out and sharing memories of Sgt. Bert Williamson so that visitors to the Canadian Army Film & Photo Unit website may learn more about the men and women who recorded Canada’s actions on film during WWII – Dale Gervais, JUNE 2018