GENERAL ARTICLES

Cros Country

April 15 1945
GENERAL ARTICLES

Cros Country

April 15 1945

Camera Commandos

Canadian Army cameramen can shoot with both lens and gun . . .They’ve scored successes with each medium

L. S. B, SHAPÍRO

Maclean’s War Correspondent

WESTERN FRONT (By Cable) — When Colonel Ernest Dupuy, U. S. Army, opened the control switch of a microphone in London

on the morning of June 6, 1944, and spoke the words, “This is D-Day,” he broke the biggest news story of the war. The Second Front—long dreamed, doubted and decried—was at last a reality.

Dupuy scooped the world by official consent. While he was uttering the fateful words, Canadian Army cameramen were scooping the world by their own resourcefulness and courage. On Thursday morning, June 8, newspapers in Britain and America printed the first still pictures of the Normandy beach assault. A few hours later movie theatres, from Edinburgh to Cornwall and from F’lin F’lon to Florida, showed the first motion pictures of the great battle. These still and motion pictures were the Canadian Army’s gift to an impatient world; they were 12 to 36 hours ahead of battle pictures from any other source, military or commercial.

Scoops on D-Day required the ardent co-operation of Lady Luck—of course! No exact arrangements were possible for the dispatch of film and stories to England; newspapermen and photographers simply piled their material into a press bag, rushed down to the beach, and handed it to the skipper of any landing craft pulling out for the cross-Channel trip. Some press bags fell into the proper hands on arrival in England; others were misplaced for days in the frantic ports of Southern England; a few were lost by enemy action.

But there was one way of giving Lady Luck a nudge and a flying start, and that was to get the material early and get it away as quickly as possible. Canadian Army cameramen nudged Lady Luck to the extreme

limit of that beautiful girl’s capacity to take punishment.

H-hour struck at 7.30 a.m. Twelve minutes later Sgt. Bud Roos, Toronto, moved inshore with “Don” company of the Regina Rifles. As it was making for the beach at top speed, the assault landing craft struck a mine. Roo^ was hurled into the sea. He bobbed up with his movie camera still firm under his right arm and he splashed ashore amidst a hail of German fire power. Roos didn’t know whether his film had been ruined by water but he realized it would serve no purpose to examine the rolls. He dug a slit trench and began shooting film.

Lieut. Don Grant, Windsor, a still photographer, came in with the Winnipeg Rifles three minutes after Roos and had an even more exciting landing. As his assault craft, ramp down, raced inshore it hit a sand bar and Grant toppled into the water. This turned out to be lucky for Grant because the moment he hit water machine-gun fire raked the craft and most of the men behind him were mowed down. Grant got ashore, discarded his ruined camera, and began shooting pictures with a candid camera he had wrapped in oil silk inside his battle dress blouse.

At 8.20 a.m., while the battle on the beach was still in its earliest stage, Capt. Frank Duberville, Ottawa, and Sergt. Bill Grant, Vancouver, managed to come ashore dry by riding on top of a self-propelled gun. Duberville had a still camera and Grant a cine outfit. They scrambled behind dunes, made their pictures, and kept a watchful eye for any beached craft that might be pulling out for Fmgland.

Three more photographers came ashore on D-Day —Capt. Colin McDougall, Ottawa, Capt. Ken Bell, Toronto, and Sgt. Alan Grayston, Montreal. They took pictures and raced their negatives to the skippers of small craft making ready to depart the hellish beach.

Beat World bv 12 Hours

ALL THESE MEN, landing with different units J\. at distant points along the beach and sending back their film by a variety of ships, played their part in implementing Lady Luck. It turned out that the pictures shot by Sgt. Roos were useless because his film was drenched. But those shot by Capt. Duberville and Sgt. Grant proved the outstanding pictures of the invasion and scored a clean 12-hour beat on the world. This was a sensational piece of Canadian publicity. The majority of English-speaking newspapers and every newsreel advertised the Canadian contribution to the D-Day achievement.

This scoop launched No. 2 Canadian Film and Photo Unit on the most exacting assignment ever given to noncombatant personnel on active service— the picture record of the western European campaign. Thereafter CFTU men were in the thick of every battle, often moving with the most forward units, and on a few occasions positioning themselves at a vantage

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point in no man’s land in anticipation of a clash.

Unlike a writing war correspondent, who can get a more rounded story and more pertinent detail by viewing the battle from a comparatively safe distance and interviewing the troops when the peak of fighting has passed, photographers must be on the spot to get action pictures—on the spot both in the literal and colloquial meanings of the term. Realizing this well in advance of active operations, the Canadian Army decided that the pictorial record of our fighting troops should be made by soldiers, not by civilians. Professional newspaper photographers were recruited into the Army and trained like any other combat troops. Soldiers already in the Army who showed an aptitude for photography were given special courses in Britain’s famed Army school of photography at Pinewood Studios and transferred to the Film and Photo Unit.

Thus a highly skilled unit of soldier photographers was ready to accompany Dominion troops into battle. These men carry arms as well as cameras; they can shoot with a lens or a Piat; they can lead a section of infantry in battle—if the need should arise.

The need has arisen on many occasions. A classic example is that of Sgt. David Reynolds, Toronto, who dropped into Normandy with the 1st Canadian Parachute Regiment the night before D-Day. In preparation for his assignment Reynolds went through a full course as a paratrooper, including the requisite number of parachute jumps. When he floated to earth, east of the Orne River, he had strapped to his body still and movie cameras as well as a full complement of combat weapons. He was the first cameraman to land on French soil.

Reynolds dropped wide of his rendezvous area and came down in a deserted stretch of land, losing his movie camera during the descent. After wandering in the dark for more than an hour he joined a small unit of British paratroops making for a cluster of houses. The British officer in charge, having lost his own sergeant, assigned Reynolds to lead a section into the first house. As he pushed open the door Reynolds spotted a German officer in the hall. The Nazi went down under a burst from the photographer’s Sten gun. Other paratroops whom Reynolds had assigned to approach the house from the rear killed two more Germans. Having fulfilled his fighting mission, Reynolds was released to apply himself to taking still pictures. After a few shots he made his way through enemyheld territory to the beach and sent his film to London.

During the month-long battle for Caen our Army photographers lived with forward units. When that city was finally cleared as far as the Orne River, CFPU men began work on a documentary feature, the script of which had been prepared in advance. Major John McDougall, Montreal, officer commanding the unit, wrote the script and directed the shooting. He recorded in his diary:

Front-line Film

“To the best of my knowledge ‘City’ is the first film to be shot from a prepared script on an active battlefield. For the past two days I’ve had my little crew working in Caen and it’s rather unpleasant. Jerry is on the other side of the river, a few hundred yards away, and he’s dropping plenty of mortar stuff into the town. This naturally doesn’t make for pleasant picturema king. ”

The product of this dangerous task was, “You Can’t Kill a City,” which was shown in theatres all over America

and Britain. Film critics, highly impressed with the film, can scarcely believe it was photographed under enemy fire. Capt. Michael Spencer, Ottawa, was codirector and Sgt. AÍ. Grayston did most of the cinematography.

A CFPU photographer was one of the first Allied soldiers to enter Falaise. A few days later, when the battle of the gap was at its most furious, five Army photographers, under Lieut. Don Grant, went forward in a Bren gun carrier to take action pictures of a machine gun exchange at close quarters. Four of the men were wounded— all except Lieut. Grant. Though pinned down for five hours by enemy fire, Grant managed to arrange the evacuation of his wounded. This was one of the exploits which won for him the Military Cross.

The job of taking pictures has cost No. 2 Canadian Film and Photo Unit three killed and eight wounded. Pte. Lou Currie, Springhill, N.S., a driver, was killed by mortar fire during the hloody battle for Carpiquet airfield. Sgt. Jimmy Campbell, Hollywood, was killed by mortar fire at Fleury-surOrne, on July 20, as his movie camera was turning. Lieut. George Cooper, standing a few feet from him, removed Campbell’s film, sent it to England, then returned to bury the sergeant.

During the assault on Walcheren Island, most furiously defended point c)n the Scheldt estuary, Sgt. Lloyd Millen, Winnipeg, set up his cameras on an assault craft carrying the first wave of infantry. The craft suffered a direct hit as it approached the Island. There were no survivors.

Other photographers have had hairraising escapes. Lieut. Cooper, Ottawa, raced his jeep into Fleury-sur-Orne one day last July seeking the headquarters of a Canadian infantry battalion. He found, to his intense discomfort, that the town was occupied by Nazis. Apparently the scheduled Canadian attack had not yet been mounted. Before Cooper and his assistant, Sgt. Len Thompson, Regina, could turn their jeep around, eight Germans rushed out of a house, waving their arms in surrender. Half puzzled, half delighted, Cooper took them into custody. As he was marching them out of Fleury, all hell broke loose. Canadian artillery opened a barrage preparatory to assaulting the town. Cooper, Thompson and two of their prisoners flung themselves into the cellar of a farmhouse; the other six scrambled away in the confusion. The owner of the house, a French farmer, was also in the cellar and produced several bottles of beer which were shared by Canadians and prisoners alike. They emerged when a Canadian battalion stormed into the town—but Cooper, who is now in Canada, will not soon forget the artillery fire. “It was a dickens of a pasting,” he said on his return to our camp, “worse than any Jerry barrage I’ve ever been under.”

The Canadian Film and Photo Unit was organized in September, 1941, under direction of Col. William G. Abel, overseas director of Army Public Relations Services. Lieut, (now Major) McDougall along with a staff of two comprised the unit. Today No. 2 CFPU operating in western Europe (No. 1 operates with the First Canadian Corps in the Mediterranean) has a total strength of 63 in the field. At the London headquarters unit there is a huge staff of darkroom workers, cutters, editors, writers, commentators and clerks. These people prepare newly arrived film into newsreel clips which are distributed free to all commercial companies through Canada’s National Film Board. Theatrical shorts, like

“You Can’t Kill a City,” are released on a commercial basis through distributing agencies. Two other functions of CFPU are the making of technical films and the production of a Canadian Army newsreel made especially for showing to Canadian troops in the line.

War Recorded in Film

Probably the most important work of the unit is its contribution to the permanent record of this war. Every foot of original negative shot by the men at the front is deposited in Government vaults in Ottawa where it will be available for war historians and film editors charged with patching together the picture story of Canada’s fighting effort.

When the war ends, most of the Canadian Army’s still photographers will probably drift back to their original newspaper offices. Also returning to Canada will be about 30 young men who have proved themselves among the world’s top movie cameramen—men who started the war as combat troops, drivers and clerks. They will not be satisfied to go back to their humdrum jobs; they are married to a movie camera. In this circumstance lies promise for a movie industry in Canada.

Meanwhile the war pushes into Germany and Canadian Army cameramen go forward with the troops. This afternoon I saw an infantry battalion edging through a wood in Germany preparatory to storming a fortified town. A movie cameraman moved with the troops. Suddenly a series of eerie whistles sounded through the trees and German mortar fire spattered the area. Like the trained troops they are, the Canadians became invisible within 30 seconds. Every ditch, mound and cluster of trees hid its complement of

troops. Mortar shells kept falling with sickening persistence. The area which had hummed with activity now appeared lifeless as a South American jungle—except for the glint of sun upon a lens. The cameraman had his head above ground and was filming the explosions.

On arrival atthe main press camp

late this evening I mentioned the incident to Major McDougall. “Must ! your men,” I asked, “go forward at the head of the leading infantry?” “Sure,” he replied, “we can’t take any chances. The Russians willing, a Canadian cameraman has got to be first into Berlin. He won’t make it hanging around the back areas.”