I asked my father today for more information about the circumstances surrounding this photograph. Here is what he told me, in his own words, with my notes in brackets:
"The photographer arrived at an extremely crucial moment and was fortunate in getting the pictures that resulted. A convoy of enemy vehicles, trying to escape the Falaise Gap, came into St. Lambert from the south east and were surprised to find that the Argylls and the South Albertas were there. When they realized that the town was in our hands they tried to reverse and go the other way, but their leader [Hauptmann Rauch] who was in one of the leading vehicles was unable to turn around and as a result, became a prisoner - although he wasn't too happy about that.
My Company Sargeant Major, George Mitchell, who was a wonderfully heroic leader, was there to take the officer captive. Oddly ??? enough, the German officer never turned up in a p.o.w. camp - I wouldn't be surprised if George Mitchell or one of the other Argylls was fed up with his pomposity and blew him away shortly after the picture was taken. The German soldier in the picture is holding a 'safe conduct leaflet' [see the right hand of the soldier on the left of the photo] which were airdropped on the enemy positions - I have a sample of the leaflet."
No one ever said war was pretty or kind.
I have found more film footage from St. Lambert. A DVD that was released in 2006, "Death & Destruction in the Falaise Gap", includes at the end some newsreel footage and the most complete version I have seen of Sgt. Stollery's film taken at St. Lambert on August 19, 1944.
Do you mean that Hauptmann Rauch could have been shot down soon after the picture? Did your father see it?
I am not surprised of such behavior. War is a mess.
May I ask you how old was your father at this time?
His testimony is very vivid, anyway. Thank you.
My father did not see Hauptmann Rauch shot, but suspects that is what happened to him. My father was 20 at the time.
After the film and photos were taken (on the afternoon of August 19, 1944) Major Currie ordered the photographers to return to Trun because it was too dangerous in St. Lambert. My father's unit, "C" Company of the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, was sent south with orders to try to connect with the Americans in Chambois. Sgt. Mitchell (the man who is seen taking Hauptmann Rauch's surrender, and who my father says was very brave) described the patrol as "terrifying". They got as far as Moissy that night, but after coming under machine gun and grenade attack from the many Germans there, their commander, Major Winfield (who had been wounded) decided they should return to St. Lambert. My father says he has often thought of the significance of the decision to go back to St. Lambert. If they had been able to connect with the Americans, the Allies might have been able to close the Gap sooner. Of course, it is very likely that everyone in "C" Company would have been captured or killed if they had stayed in Moissy or tried to get to Chambois on the evening of August 19. The battle of the Gap reached its peak the next day, August 20. The Canadians in St. Lambert were surrounded on all sides by Germans that day and could not get out of the village.
Thanks for your reply.
It is always interesting to have a direct testimony of these difficult days. I think you are lucky to have the chance to talk about this with your father. I did the same with my own father a couple of years before he passed away, although mine was not a soldier. But he has been caught by the Gestapo in 1944 and I told his story somewhere else in this forum.
Listen to him is like reading your father's testimony: it gives me shiver. We, civilians for the most part of us, easily forget that this war was done by very young men (and your father was only 20 years old!) And I often think about what could have been my reactions during these dangerous missions. Anyway...
I am not surprise, with the time elapsed since then, that your father think about the significance of his return back to St. Lambert, and then not closing the Gap. But if he did not have done it, he might have been killed, didn't he? Big History against one man's life? It is better your father stayed alive.
One more question: what can you tell us about the relationships between american and british soldiers? We read a lot of different things about that. I am curious to have your, or your father's opinion.
Thanks a lot for all.
Thanks for your thoughts.
As I get older, and the feeling of invincibility that young men have fades, I realize more how fickle life is and that it's amazing my father survived the war and that I was born. The battle of the Falaise Gap was not even the worst situation he was in. At Igoville, on the Seine, his unit had to run 200 metres across a field under German machine gun fire, and suffered 50% casualties. At Moerbrugge, in Belgium, "C" Company was surrounded for three days on the north side of a canal and nearly ran out of ammunition before the Engineers completed a Bailey bridge and the South Alberta tanks came to the rescue. In Holland, a German 14 inch shell came through the wall of the building my father was in and blew up beside him. He has had very bad hearing ever since then, but amazingly was not wounded. Many of his friends and colleagues were killed near him, but luck was on his side.
My father has never spoken to me of the relations between British and American soldiers. Canadians are sometimes caught in the middle, because we have traits of both but are neither. Have you ever seen the film, "My American Cousin"? It shows some of the differences between Canadians and Americans, from a Canadian perspective. I think there was some envy from the British side of the fact the American soldiers had more money and were charming to the British girls. Having a common enemy in the Germans probably helped keep them from fighting more with each other.
It is funny because I did have the same reaction when I was listening to my father: ?how did he succeed to get through the war without a scratch??
The story of this shell explosion is quite impressive! It seems your father had had really a lot of luck.
Your statement about Canadians makes me smile. And I think you are right: neither American nor British. And I do not speak about the French Canadians? Your analyse of British and American behaviour makes sense. I read that a lot of street fights between British and American soldiers occurred in UK before the D-Day. It is surely linked to some king of ?culture shock?. Maybe we need to create a topic on this subject in this forum.
I did not see the movie you are talking about. Maybe it was not issued in France. Or it has a different title.
Did your father see a lot of photographers or journalists during the conflict? It is always amazing when you look at old black and white movies or pictures showing the WWII that they were filmed by some unarmed people. I am pretty sure a lot of them get killed.
Well, thanks again for sharing your feelings and views on this. I think we must not forget, ever, that before seeing a white flag on a picture it took many, too many, casualties.
Did your father see a lot of photographers or journalists during the conflict? It is always amazing when you look at old black and white movies or pictures showing the WWII that they were filmed by some unarmed people. I am pretty sure a lot of them get killed.[/quote]
The two men who took the famous photos and film at St. Lambert on August 19, 1944, were soon afterwards ordered by Major Currie to return to Trun because it was too dangerous for them in St. Lambert. I read that one of them was wounded shortly afterwards.
I also read that Frank Capra, who accompanied the American troops on D-Day at great risk to himself, took many photos during the first hours of the fighting. Unfortunately, most of the film was destroyed by a film processor in England who worked too quickly because he was eager to see the photos.
I'm not aware of any other battles that my father was in being filmed during the fighting. In most cases it was far too dangerous. The famous photo of Major Currie and the others at St. Lambert is the only known photo of someone in the act of winning the Victoria Cross.
I was aware of this accident during development in England. What a pity.
And what a pity Capra had to be blown up by a mine in '54...
Thanks for all these precisions. I was glad to share these with you.
Some confusion there...
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