Experience the History of D-Day with NFB Archives

On June 6, 1944, Allied troops mounted the largest military offensive in modern history, beginning their push to liberate Western Europe from Nazi occupation. According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, “Nearly 150,000 Allied troops landed or parachuted into the invasion area on D-Day, including 14,000 Canadians at Juno Beach. The Royal Canadian Navy contributed 124 vessels and 10,000 sailors and the Royal Canadian Air Force contributed 39 squadrons to the operation.” Embedded within these forces were NFB and Canadian Army Film and Photo Unit cameramen, tasked with recording and putting a human face on this gargantuan mobilization. Like the soldiers, they too risked their lives for the cause. Discover some of their amazing colour footage online at NFB Archives.

To better understand the significance of D-Day and Canada’s contribution to the liberation of France, we recommend the classic NFB documentary Break-Through (1944), directed by James Beveridge. Although decidedly propagandistic in tone, the 10-minute film paints a vivid portrait of the campaign by humanizing the French civilians and drawing a contrast between the tyranny they survived under occupation and the freedoms restored to them by “another kind of army: a citizen’s army of men and women both resolute and cheerful, an army whose discipline did not destroy its soul.” The final chapters of the war were yet to be written, but the film helps us experience the light at the end of the dark tunnel that audiences back in Canada must have felt when it was released in 1944.

In the opening credits of Break-Through, a title card gives “acknowledgement to the Film Units of the Canadian Armed Services, the U.S. Army Signal Corps and the British Army Film Units.” In 1941, the Canadian Army recruited 76 cameramen and photographers (including one female photographer, Karen Hermiston) from across Canada and tasked them with documenting all aspects of the war. According to Valour Canada, their assignment was to “provide informational and inspirational material for the maintenance of public morale and the stimulation of recruiting” and to keep “Canada’s war efforts before… the world.” Many of the outtakes from the newsreels produced by the unit are housed here at NFB Archives, including the iconic shot by cameraman Sgt. Bill Grant, taken from the landing craft as Canadian troops disembarked to help secure the beachhead.