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'You simply have to stand and take artillery fire': soldiers' letters in virtual Victoria to Vimy collection

Letters from the Battle of Vimy Ridge, photos of soldiers in stretchers and postcards of Victoria's harbour are part of the new online collection, Victoria to Vimy. The University of Victoria is sharing First World War artifacts donated by local families.

Victoria families share letters, postcards and photos from the First World War in new online exhibit

A photograph of soldiers being carried on stretchers at Vimy Ridge. This photo is from an album called 'War 1914-18: the Fun and the Horror' created by Archie Wills from Victoria. (Archie Wills/University of Victoria archives)

"I was just a mass of mud and dog tired."

Letters written by Captain Keith Macgowan of the 131st Battalion of the New Westminster Regiment are included with the Vimy to Victoria collection. (University of Victoria archives)

That is how one soldier who trained in Victoria described the Battle of Vimy Ridge in a letter to his mother. 

The letter was written by Captain Keith Macgowan of the 131st Battalion of the New Westminster Regiment and is included in the new online collection Victoria to Vimy

The University of Victoria created the virtual exhibit which includes scrapbooks, photos, letters and postcards from the First World War, donated by Victoria families for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

Born and raised in Fernwood, Victoria

​Many of the photographs in the Victoria to Vimy collection are from albums created by Cpl Archie Wills of Victoria.

According to the University of Victoria archives, Wills was born and raised in the neighbourhood of Fernwood. 

Wills served in the 58th Battery, Canadian Forces Artillery, and was at the Battle of Vimy Ridge. 

A photo of Archie Wills' battalion leaving the inner harbour in Victoria on May 28, 1916. (Archie Wills/University of Victoria archives)

After the First World War, Wills became a journalist who wrote for the Victoria Daily Times newspaper and he later served on city council.

Dear Daddy, I hope you are safe

The Vimy to Victoria collection also includes postcards between soldiers and their families in Victoria. 

A postcard of Clover Point, Victoria sent by the daughter of Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Monk. It reads, 'Dear Daddy, how are you? I hope you are safe. Jocie gave me a pair of roller skates which I enjoy very much. Love from Faith.' (University of Victoria archives)

Several postcards from the family of Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Monk who served in the 54th Battalion and fought at Vimy Ridge are also featured in the collection. 

On the back of one postcard, the daughter of Monk wrote, "Dear Daddy, how are you? I hope you are safe.

"Jocie gave me a pair of roller skates which I enjoy very much. Love from Faith."

These postcard include the images of the Clover Point target range and warships in the Esquimalt Harbour.

Two brothers buried together

One of the more significant stories of loss and survival brought to life through this collection is the experience of the Destrubé family during the First World War. 

A photo of three Destrubé brothers who all fought in the First World War. From left to right they are George, Paul and Guy Destrubé. Only George survived the war. (University of Victoria archives)

George, Paul and Guy Destrubé all served.

George was injured in battle in the spring of 1916 and, according to the university archives, Paul and Guy carried their brother for several hours to reach medical care. 

After convalescing in Wales, George's return to service was delayed by a quarantine for mumps. Because of this delay, George missed rejoining his brothers in the Battle at Miraumont, where Paul and Guy were both killed. 

A typed copy of George Destrubé 's letter home after the death of his two brothers. It reads, in part, 'It was a great, great relief to know that our dear boys were buried together and a cross erected.' (University of Victoria archives)

The online collection includes many letters between George Destrubé and his family in Victoria.

The grave will be traceable after the war

On March 13, 1917 he wrote to his family about his brothers being buried together.

In the letter he states, "You may rest assured that the graves will remain untouched and the spot still quite traceable after the war."

After the war, George returned to the family homestead in Alberta, but he eventually moved to Victoria with his wife Suzanne. 

The story of the Destrubé family is just one of many featured in UVic's new online collection.

About the Author

Jean Paetkau

Associate producer, CBC Victoria

Jean Paetkau is an award-winning writer who works as an associate producer for CBC Victoria. Her work includes writing for digital, TV, radio and print.

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