"This is Matthew Halton of the CBC".
Matthew Halton was born in Pincher Creek, Alberta, on September 7th 1904. He attended school in Calgary and then moved to Edmonton to study journalism, graduating with a BA from the University of Edmonton in 1929.
Matthew traveled to London, England to study first at King’s College and then at the London School of Economics.
He returned to Canada in 1931 and joined the Toronto Star as a reporter, and was sent back to England as the paper’s London correspondent. While there, he wrote about the rise of Nazism in Germany, the Spanish Civil War, and the outbreak of the Second World War.
Matthew Halton - the voice of Canada at War
"This is Matthew Halton of the CBC". That was the sign-on of Canada’s most famous war correspondent, the man described as "the voice of Canada at war". Halton's radio reports from the battlefields of the Second World War were a vital link between Canadian soldiers fighting and dying in Europe and their friends and loved ones at home. His broadcasts became part of the country's wartime experience and made him a national hero for millions of Canadians.
Matthew Henry Halton was born in Pincher Creek, Alberta, in September 1904, the third of five children of pioneering British immigrants. He graduated from the University of Alberta then won a scholarship to King's College and the London School of Economics where he began publishing stories for Canadian newspapers. On his return to Canada in 1931, he became a reporter for the Toronto Star where his exceptional talents as a writer and interviewer were quickly recognized.
The following year, he was named the Star's London correspondent with a mandate to cover major political and social events across Europe. It was on assignment in Germany in 1933 that Halton became one of the first correspondents to warn of the dangers of Nazism. In a prophetic series of reports about Hitler's intentions, he wrote that "Germany is becoming a vast laboratory and breeding ground for war."
For the rest of the decade, he chronicled Europe's drift to disaster, covering the Spanish Civil War in 1936 and reporting from Vienna and Prague on the Nazi takeover of Austria and Czechoslovakia. Colleagues noted his gift for making faraway events in Europe seem significant and alive for his readers in Canada.
The Second World War
In 1941, Halton began an eighteen-month assignment covering the British campaign to defeat the German army in North Africa. The battles there, and the events that led to war, were the subject of his best-selling book, "Ten Years to Alamein". Already, he was doing occasional broadcasts for the CBC and establishing a nation-wide reputation in Canada.
In 1943 "Matt", as he was known to his friends and family, left the Toronto Star to become the CBC's senior war correspondent. In that role, he covered all the major Canadian operations in Europe, the invasion of Italy, the D-Day landings in Normandy and the long, grinding effort to drive Hitler's army out from Belgium and Holland and ultimately from Germany itself.
His reporting was hardly objective by today's standards. Like many other correspondents, he saw the war as a holy crusade against the evil of Nazism and was happy to accept Ottawa's invitation to go on a speaking tour across Canada to raise funds for the war effort.
Halton's broadcasts, and of those of his contemporary Peter Stursberg and other CBC correspondents, were enhanced by the CBC's pioneering efforts to record the sounds of war. The Second World War was the first conflict to be covered by electronic media and CBC engineers outdid the BBC and the American networks in developing mobile recording equipment.
As a result, CBC correspondents were able to accompany their reports with the sound of machine-gun fire, the roar of artillery and the crash of bombs. For listeners back home, the impact was chilling and dramatic.
Above all though, it was the intensely sincere, colourful and emotional style of Matthew Halton's war reporting that gripped his listeners. Few Canadians who heard the broadcast could easily forget his final report from Berlin of the Nazi surrender, VE Day, 8th May 1945:
"The German war is over. Five little words that one hardly dares to speak. During long, weary years and during hours that seemed like years, one sometimes wondered if the carnival of death wasn't a nightmare from which one would happily wake. And now that the nightmare is over. one had to wonder if it wasn't a pleasant dream from which we awake to find the usual mad mornings of war and blood. Your first thought is that no more Canadians will die.
Not again in this war will Canadians huddle against the wet earth of Europe in shuddering dawn and then rise to their feet and move out into the storm of steel. Not again will we see brave men who can stand no more. No more mounds of earth beside the road. It's hard to believe that no shells will come screaming over. It's hard to believe that if they stand up in the open no one will shoot at them, Death has walked at their side. It's hard to believe, for a day or two, that the nightmare is over and that they can drink the wine of life."
After the War
Matthew returned to Germany in 1946 to cover the Nuremberg trials. For all his wartime broadcasts, many of them carried on the BBC, Halton was awarded the Order of the British Empire by King George VI. After the war he became the CBC's Senior Foreign Correspondent based in London, where he lived until his untimely early death in 1956. Shortly before he died he estimated that he had written more than four million words during his 25-year career abroad.
In that period, he interviewed Neville Chamberlain, Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, Marshall Tito, Mahatma Gandhi, Dwight Eisenhower and dozens of others who helped to shape the history of the Twentieth Century.
Halton was always a proud Canadian, a man who cherished his roots in small-town Alberta. In 1956 he received an honorary degree from the University of Alberta, and in 1982 he was posthumously elected to the Canadian News Hall of Fame. Both his daughter Kathleen and his son David followed his tracks into journalism.
A History Television documentary on his life said that Matthew Halton "shaped the views of a nation and set an unparalleled standard of excellence for future generations of foreign correspondents."
A selection of audio recordings by Matthew Halton
Battle of El_Alamein: 22 Oct 1942
Normandy Landings: 6 June 1944
The Liberation of Paris: 23 Aug 1944
Breendonck, Belgium: 30 Sept 1944
Battle Exhaustion, Hochwald, Germany: 5 Mar 1945
A Soldiers Story, Snowy MacDonald: 8 Mar 1945
German Surrender: 5 May 1945
Nuremburg Trials: 12 April 1946