Women in the war: the Canadian Women’s Army Corps in the Department of National Defence’s archives

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.

A screen capture of a record display from Collection Search.

A Collection Search record display with the Finding aid field expanded and circled

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).

A page from a photo album with 11 black-and-white photographs and handwritten notations.

Page 14 of Album 62 showing Canadian nursing sisters and other medical staff in Sicily in August 1943 (e011213504)

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.

Typewritten negative numbers on the left with corresponding captions, including the names of nursing sisters, on the right.

Captions for photographs 22807 to 22813, from page 8 of Finding aid 24-513P-ARMY

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.

4 thoughts on “Women in the war: the Canadian Women’s Army Corps in the Department of National Defence’s archives

  1. Pingback: Women in the war: the Canadian Women’s Army Corps in the Department of National Defence’s archives | Financial News Post

  2. Pingback: Women in the war: the Canadian Women’s Army Corps in the Department of National Defence’s archives — Library and Archives Canada Blog | Ups Downs Family History

  3. Pingback: This week's crème de la crème - June 18, 2022 - Genealogy à la carteGenealogy à la carte

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