Day after day, Allied planes fanned out over the front lines of the Second World War, cameras on a timer flicking off a photograph every second. In the era before satellites, this was the only way to get accurate images of enemy troops and defences to help commanders plan battles.
The photos show everything from German bunkers guarding the beaches of Normandy to the progress of Allied troops in the wake of D-Day, 68 years ago today.
After the war, over 120,000 of these were packed away in boxes and shipped to the air force base in Rivers, Manitoba. When it closed, they ended up in the archives of the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, where Wilfrid Laurier history professor Terry Copp discovered them in the 1980s. When he later learned the museum was looking to get rid of the images, he sent a grad student to retrieve them. He arrived in the nick of time, Prof. Copp says: the images were sitting on a loading dock, ready to be trashed.
Over the years, Prof. Copp and his colleagues have used them in lectures and to illustrate books. But now, they are having the collection digitized and organized, in hopes of making it accessible to more researchers and presenting the most interesting ones online.
It's a daunting task: there are about 400 boxes, each one containing 300 to 350 images, printed on photo paper, but the majority will likely be finished by the end of summer.
“Our big concern is because the photographs are now nearly 70 years old, we want to make sure that this collection doesn't deteriorate and disappear,” Prof. Copp said.