Canada’s experience of the First World War was captured by officially commissioned artists such as A.Y. Jackson and David Milne from 1916 onwards through the Canadian War Memorials Fund. However, many other artists—amateur and professional—captured their experiences of the war while they were busy fighting, building roads, transporting goods or providing care to others, but still creating vivid imagery of the world around them.
The William Redver Stark fonds at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is a rare illustrated record of one of these undeclared artists’ lives in the military. Through 14 sketchbooks of remarkably well-preserved drawings and watercolours, we discover the life of a soldier through his eyes, which were closer to the action than those of his official counterparts, and which provide a more spontaneous, intimate perception of how day-to-day activities may have looked.
In these sketchbooks, we find images of soldiers at work and at rest, captured German prisoners and artillery, landscapes through which battalions moved, and sights at the London Zoo where Stark went while on leave. The illustrations serve as a rich and indispensable complement to the artist’s military file, to his battalion’s history, and to our visual understanding of a serviceman’s experience during the First World War.
The William Redver Stark fonds was donated to Library and Archives Canada in 2005 by his nephew, Douglas Mackenzie Davies and his family: his wife, Sheila Margaret Whittemore Davies, and their two sons, Kenneth Gordon Davies and Ian Whittemore Davies.
How to search the sketchbooks
All 14 sketchbooks of the William Redver Stark fonds have been individually described and digitized, making it easier to search for themes or types of scenes. For example, you can search the fonds for all images that contain bridges or construction.
To search the sketchbooks, go to the advanced archives search and in the drop-down menu under “Any Keyword,” enter either the archival reference number (R11307) or the MIKAN number (616998). If you want to narrow down your search even more, enter a keyword such as “bridges” in the second box.
Other related materials:
- William Redver Stark’s CEF file
- War diaries of the 1st Battalion of the Canadian Railway Troops: November 1916 – December 1918
- Guide to sources relating to the Canadian Railway Troops
- Images from William Redver Stark’s Sketchbooks on Flickr
Be sure to read William Redver Stark: Restoring the Sketchbooks to learn more about the work done by LAC’s conservators to restore the sketchbooks.