CBC Digital Archives

1944: The battle for Carpiquet

"This is Matthew Halton of the CBC." So began Halton's war broadcasts. His reports were at times tender and sad and other times shocking and explosive. Halton was an unabashed sentimentalist who covered the war as a crusade, for which he was sometimes criticized but more often loved. Covering the major milestones of his generation – from the war trenches to the coronation of the Queen, Halton became Canada's most famous foreign correspondent. A thoughtful philosopher and determined idealist, Matthew Halton was an everyman poet who wore his heart boldly on his sleeve.

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It's two minutes to five in Normandy. Sitting with a company of Western Canadian machine gunners in a stone barn, the CBC's Matthew Halton begins his countdown. At five o'clock, the Canadians will attack the German-occupied industrial suburb of Carpiquet -- a key piece of territory needed to win the Normandy invasion. It will be, Halton describes, the most enormous concentration of fire ever put down on a small object.

Halton reports on the attack in what has become his trademark poetic style, vividly describing the barrage of bullets and bursting shells. With his engineer, he captures every sound in the spectacular and successful battle. "This is the morning we waited for," Halton describes to Canadian listeners back home. "A morning in France, a morning in which the fair fields in Normandy are torn and ripped and split apart."

• Only 150 teenagers from the Hitler Youth occupied Carpiquet, and the Canadians outnumbered the Germans by a ratio of 18 to one. But, to their advantage the Germans were positioned on higher ground and could move through a series of interconnected underground blockhouses. They also had a highly sophisticated radio intelligence squad which foresaw the movements of the Canadian forces.

• The Canadians failed to capture the Carpiquet airfield but did go on to claim the town of Caen. Of the 2000 Canadian men fighting at Carpiquet, 260 were injured and 117 were killed.
• Matthew Halton covered the campaigns in Sicily, Italy and northwest Europe as the senior war correspondent. From 1945 until his death in 1956, he served as the CBC's European correspondent.

• "The wide fields were red with blood and poppies on that morning of July 4 at Carpiquet. In France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Regalbuto, Moro River, Carpiquet and the appalling hill at Kappelen, the sun shines now. But remember these names, Canada, because they're written on your heart." -- Matthew Halton

Also on July 4:
1816: Distiller-businessman Hiram Walker is born in East Douglas, Mass. His Windsor, Ont. Company introduces Canadian Club whisky in 1858, which becomes a major Canadian export in 1910.
1886: The first Canadian Pacific Railway passenger train from Montreal reaches Port Moody, B.C., after a five and half day trip. Over 170 passengers make the journey. The first eastbound train leaves the next day.
1905: The House of Commons passes a bill establishing Alberta and Saskatchewan as provinces.
Medium: Radio
Program: CBC Radio News Special
Broadcast Date: July 5, 1944
Reporter: Matthew Halton
Duration: 8:14
Photo: Ken Bell/Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-162527

Last updated: October 2, 2013

Page consulted on September 17, 2014

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