|Canadian riflemen land at Juno Beach, D Day, 6 June 1944. Colour photo by Ken Bell|
Ken Bell was my great uncle. Before WW2 he was a keen amateur photographer and, soon after Canada declared war on Nazi Germany in 1939, he joined up, offering his services to the newly formed Canadian Army Film and Photo Unit, a propaganda outfit which would record Canada's involvement in the war.
On 6 June 1944, 70 years ago today, along with tens of thousands of American, British, Canadian, and other Allied forces, Ken landed at Juno Beach in Normandy with the Highland Light Infantry of Canada, on day one of Operation Overlord.
Juno Beach was not a slaughter like Omaha Beach, but it still cost the Canadians close to 1,000 dead and wounded. The first wave, among them the Royal Winnipeg Rifles and The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada took heavy losses in the opening minutes, but they pressed forward and took the beach. Later, at around 11.40 am, came the 9th Brigade, among them the Highland Light Infantry of Canada, advancing through the exhausted lead brigades. And with them was Ken, armed not with a rifle but with a Rolleiflex camera.
Many of Ken's photographs were taken in colour, and they remain to this day the only surviving colour photographs of the Normandy Landings.
|Candian Army Film and Photo Unit|
One of the toughest battles the Candians fought was for Caen, the strategic capital city of Normandy which, it had been hoped, would be captured by the Allies in the early days of the Normandy Landings, Operation Overlord. But its stubborn German defenders would hold out for over a month, delaying the Allied breakout from the beaches.
|Canadian Infantry fire into an enemy occupied house in Caen, July 10 1944.|
|Unidentified Canadian Soldiers in a bombed out church in Carpiquet, near Caen, June 12 1944|
|Sergeant H.A. Marshall, Calgary Highlander|
Charles Roos was in the first wave, the first Allied cameraman ashore on D-Day, and his film of Canadian soldiers disembarking under fire on Juno Beach is what you've seen in D Day documentaries - the most iconic footage of the D-Day Landings.
After the war, Ken worked as a commercial photographer. He was very successful, but in many ways his war work was always his most memorable, and in 1973 Ken authored a book titled Not in Vain, published by the University of Toronto Press, a collection of photographs taken partly during the war, and partly 25 years later when he returned to the same locations in France, Belgium and Holland, retracing his steps towards Germany. The passing of time is shown on each page, showing how the same locations had changed since the war.
|A Canadian Private gives first aid to a child|