The sketches in Bobak’s war diary capture some of the more quieter moments in WW II army life. The “front page” (above) illustrates how she turned a diary into a long-lasting work of art.
The large, bold headline reads: Heart-rending Scenes On Sunday. Fateful Day Brings Ghastly Parting For Lance-Corporal And Vermilion Friends. Moaning And Weeping As Train Pulls Out!
Squeezed between this and an illustration of parading Canadian Women’s Army Corp regulars is the following news flash: On Sunday, Jan. 31, Vermilion Barracks lost another B Company. Reporters rushed to the scene at 12 noon. The mess was ringing with The Khaki Shirts, It’s A Long Way To Tipperary and Auld Lang Syne. “It was heart-rending,” remarked reporters, “to see the graduating girls….”
While the format for this front page from 1943 resembles the design traditions of a big-city broadsheet, the hand-written news and illustration are part of a more personal daily record that has become a national art treasure.
W110278—The Diary of a CWAC was created by Molly Lamb Bobak and represents a combination of rich musings and humorous depictions on army life that date from November 1942 to June 1945. The first edition of this unique war diary notes that the newspaper was published “in between serving the soldiers in the canteen” at Vancouver barracks—”between six and 10 at night.”
The newspaper format is maintained throughout with headlines, datelines, news flashes, letters to the editor, feature stories and even volume numbers. The illustrations, which are expressed in a variety of media, mostly pencil, pen, ink, watercolor and charcoal, are referred to in the text as “authentic flash pictures”.
Born in 1922 at Burnaby Lake, B.C., Bobak had an early connection with Canadian artists. Her father, Harold Mortimer-Lamb, was a friend and supporter of A.Y. Jackson and Fred Varley who visited the family on occasion. Between 1938-41 she attended the Vancouver School of Art where teacher Jack Shadbolt had a profound influence on her.
When Bobak joined the services in 1942 as a private in the CWAC she was three years away from becoming a lieutenant in the Canadian Army Historical Section and the first woman to be appointed an official war artist in WW II. Prior to going overseas after the ceasefire in 1945, she did everything from mopping floors to serving in canteens to designing sets for army variety shows.
Her war art has, indeed, reflected the human condition that exists in time of war. “For those of us directly involved in WW II, the experience remains an unforgettable ‘time out of time’ even today, when that great conflict recedes into ever-deepening perspective,” observes fellow war artist and former National Gallery of Canada director Charles Comfort in the foreword to Double Duty, Sketches and Diaries of Molly Lamb Bobak, Canadian War Artist. “Molly Lamb’s diary will awaken memories for many who were there, as well as stimulate interest among those in the generations that have followed.”
“I was fortunate enough not to see the horrors of war,” says Bobak, who moved to Fredericton, N.B., with her husband and fellow war artist Bruno Bobak in 1960. “When I did go overseas I saw a lot of flattened and burned out buildings. Those images were all over the place…. I think the best thing I got out of those years was the terrific feeling I have for my own country and the wonderful people who live in it.”
Besides her war diary, Bobak has captured nature’s floral beauty in Wildflowers of Canada: Impressions and Sketches of a Field Artist. This was published in 1983 by Pagurian Press of Toronto. Double Duty was published in 1992 by Dundurn Press Ltd. of Toronto in co-operation with the National Archives of Canada.
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