The Second World War air photo collection held at the Laurier Centre for Military Strategic and Disarmament Studies came to the university in 1985. The collection which was used by 1st Canadian Air Photo Interpretation Section (IAPIS) during the campaign in Normandy and Northwest Europe provides extensive coverage of First Canadian Army’s area of operation in Normandy, the coast north of the Seine in France and Belgium, much of the Netherlands, and the northern sector of the German Rhineland where Canadians fought in February – March 1945.
After the war the air photos were sent to a Canadian Forces Base at Rivers, Manitoba for use in training air photo interpreters. From there they were packed into large shipping crates and sent to the Canadian War Museum. Understaffed and short of space, the CWM simply stored the crates in the old streetcar barn which was later named “Vimy House.”
While researching the second volume of our heavily-illustrated Maple Leaf Route series (5 volumes 1983 – 87) colleague Robert Vogel and Terry Copp were shown the large unopened wooden crates that had remained in storage for “some time.” With a borrowed light crowbar I opened several crates and found the treasure trove.
The discovery prompted an inquiry by the War museum and a decision to offer the material to the national photography Collection of the Public Archives. They turned down the offer apparently because the photos were not of Canada. Fred Azar, one of CWM staff, phoned to say that the collection might be sent for disposal. After discussions with John Weir, President of Wilfrid Laurier University, Terry wrote to L.F Murray, Associate Director of the CWM (27 September, 1985) with a “formal offer to acquire, store, and make available for research under appropriate conditions the air photo collection.” Mr. Murray replied on 15 October offering the photos if we paid shipping costs.
A graduate student Dr. Sean Brown, now deceased, immediately drove a rented truck to Ottawa as we were told the containers were already on the shipping bay and had to be removed. Over the next several years Laurier students completed a preliminary inventory and over the years our finding aids have been improved, but the collection itself lacked an index and offered an incomplete set of flight plan maps to assist identification.
The collection has been widely used by Canadian, British, Dutch, American, and German scholars. Our journal, Canadian Military History, has drawn upon this resource for many articles, most recently the detailed study of the fate of 4th Canadian Armoured Division’s “Worthington Force,” a major tank battle which was accidentally photographed from the air. We are currently fundraising to digitize the entire collection.
A finding aid for each country can be downloaded below. The list outlines the areas surveyed.
- East Flanders
- Bas Rhin
- Haut Rhin
- Pas de Calais
- Baden Wurttemberg
- Lower Saxony
- North Rhine Westphalia
- Rhineland Palitinate
- Noord Holland
- North Brabant
- South Holland
- Basel Land
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