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The Amazing WWII Adventures of the Canadian Army Film and Photo Unit


By Don Angus

A new documentary by Ottawa filmmaker James O'Regan, available on DVD for home viewing, tells a remarkable, compelling story that we’ve only seen or heard before in various bits and pieces. The documentary Shooters is the full, start-to-finish story of the amazing Second World War adventures and world-beating accomplishments of the Canadian Army Film and Photo Unit.

The CFPU, established in 1941 with only four members, was the last such unit formed by the Allied armies. Having grown to 59 cameramen by the time it was disbanded in 1946, unit members were the first in scooping the world on the major events in Europe: the invasion of Sicily; the D-Day invasion -- the top story of the century; the liberation of Paris; the Elbe River linkup of the Allied armies; the first feature documentary shot while under fire; and the only footage shot of action leading to a Victoria Cross.

James O’Regan, the film’s writer, producer, director and narrator, has dedicated the work to his late father, Brian O’Regan (1924-1999), a dispatch rider and Jeep driver for the unit who went ashore with his motorcycle at Normandy in 1944. The documentary is 48:50 in length.

Shooters screens for the first time original colour footage of the D-Day operation, scenes from the unit's first production, Wood for War, about the Canadian Forestry Corps at work in Scotland, and clips from CFPU newsreels, never before seen on television, that were shot exclusively for Canadian soldiers.

The ranks of CFPU veterans have thinned over the 60 years since VE Day, but Shooters features intriguing interviews (shot in March of 2001) with four men who helped capture the war on film: Charles (Bud) Roos, the first Allied cameraman ashore on D-Day; Al Calder, who parachuted over the Rhine and shot that operation; Lew Weekes, who shot the liberation of Paris; and Michael Spencer, the unit's first editor and one of the original four members, who later helped found the Canadian Film Development Corp. (Telefilm Canada).

Calder and Weekes, who have since died, both talked about their intensive camera training at Pinewood Studios in London and the admonition they received to “always use a tripod,” despite the daunting weight of the old metal and wooden contraptions. Weekes said the Canadians persevered because “the tripod stuff took preference” over hand-held footage back in London.

The interviews are interspersed with archival CFPU footage, much of it displaying dramatically the line-of-fire risks these intrepid cameramen, armed with their Eyemos, took. They often were allowed to get ahead of advancing Canadian troops, and one film unit actually “liberated” Dieppe in France, driving in first mere hours after the Germans had retreated.

Brian O’Regan was a member of that unit. Earlier, at Normandy, he had found a film can on the beach marked “Grant No. 1,” and the contents turned out to be the iconic footage by Bill Grant of Canadians landing at Bernieres-sur-mer, the first images of D-Day the world saw. Later, Brian was the subject of a world scoop photo at the Elbe River linkup between the U.S. and Soviet armies.

Shooters recounts that several cameramen died in action and many more were wounded in various campaigns. One was filming from a reconnaissance plane when he was shot by a German fighter. The camera keeps running as it falls to the floor of the cockpit.

The documentary also reveals that CFPU production from 1941-46 totaled 75,000 still photos and 1.5 million feet of motion picture film. Shooters may be ordered at