By Rebecca Murray
March 2022 marked the 80th anniversary of the incorporation of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC) into the Canadian Army. The CWAC was first formed in the summer of 1941 as an auxiliary organization. Like their compatriots in the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service, CWAC members served across Canada and around the world during the Second World War. You can read more about the formation and history of the CWAC in my colleague’s post.
Building on lessons learned from indexing navy photographs from caption lists (see Women in the War: The Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service), I turned my attention to compiling a listing of photographs of servicewomen in army photographs.
I started with the Army Numerical sub-sub-series (1941–46), which consists of 110 photo albums and negatives, arranged in sequential order based on when the photos were registered by Canadian Army Film and Photo Unit staff. This sub-sub-series is probably the best resource at Library and Archives Canada for researchers looking for primary source graphic material of the Canadian Active Service Force (the overseas component of the Canadian Army) for this period.
All 110 of the albums, along with the majority of corresponding caption lists, have been digitized and made available through Collection Search. You will find available caption lists linked in the Record Information – Details tab of the album description, in the Finding aid field. These digitized albums and caption lists allowed me to continue the indexing project during pandemic lockdown.
Working exclusively with caption lists to index images was a challenge because captions do not always describe or identify all individuals in an image. Yet, when looking directly at an image, one can usually quickly ascertain if there are any servicewomen pictured. Further research, such as consulting a caption list or other collection resource material, can help to identify those individuals or provide additional context.
Here is an example from the ongoing indexing work using digitized album R112 volume 42827 “Army Numerical 22542-23813 – Sicily – Album 62 of 110,” (August 6–20, 1943).
I identified 13 images in the album that include servicewomen and noted these in a table using the negative numbers, the caption provided on the page, the date of the photograph and the photographer’s name.Then I looked at the caption list in Finding aid 24-513P-ARMY to see if it included any additional information about the servicewomen in these specific images. The caption list identifies servicewomen by name for 9 of the 13 images that I identified.
A total of 2,723 photographs of servicewomen have been identified from this sub-sub-series.
The work continues, but in the meantime I invite you to check out the numerical albums yourself. You can filter the list of 110 albums by date or add a keyword (such as United Kingdom or Northwest Europe) to sort by location and review thousands of digitized images from home. If you are interested in helping to identify servicewomen in photographs held at Library and Archives Canada, check out our Co-Lab challenge.
Rebecca Murray is a Senior Reference Archivist in the Reference Services Division at Library and Archives Canada.