Molly Lamb Bobak
(Vancouver 1922 – Fredericton 2014)
Private Roy, Canadian Women’s Army Corps
Oil on canvas
76.4 x 60.8 cm
Transferred from National Gallery of Canada, 1971
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art
Canadian War Museum, 19710261-1626
© Estate of Molly Lamb Bobak. Photo: Canadian War Museum
The portrait of Private Roy was painted in 1946, shortly after the end of World War II. The subject is unusual for war art. The work’s title and the uniform worn by the young black woman are the only indications of the wartime context. Molly Lamb Bobak depicts her subject taking a break, far from the devastation of the battlefields. The close-up portrayal, the casual pose and the familiar setting make this work an intimate portrait of the Private. The painting is also notable as an example of the diversity of Canadian women involved in the war effort.
Days after enlisting in the Canadian Women’s Army Corps in 1942, the Vancouver artist Molly Lamb Bobak began keeping an illustrated diary of her experience. But it wasn’t until May 1945, shortly after victory was declared on the European front, that she was hired as an official war artist and posted to Europe. Lamb Bobak was the only woman in Canada to hold that position during the conflict. Unable to go to the front lines, she painted a different picture of the war, focusing on the experience and tasks of female Canadian soldiers serving at the rear.
Embarkation Leave is a page from Molly Lamb Bobak’s illustrated diary, titled W110278 after her service number. Lamb Bobak began recording the events of her military life soon after joining the Canadian Women’s Army Corps, in 1942. The diary is laid out like a daily newspaper. But instead of reporting on national and international developments in World War II, Lamb Bobak humorously recounts her adventures as a soldier kept behind the front. She offers a surprising perspective on a little-known aspect of World War II: the role played by women in the armed conflict.