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This contains collections of an unique nature, such as newspaper letter collections, interviews, and out of print publications.


Operation Spartan was one of the largest training exercises conducted in Great Britain during WWII. Staged in the first half of March 1943, it employed ten divisions of Army troops along with large numbers of supporting ground and air forces. Under Spartan’s war game scenario, an area in southwestern England was divided into three sections, each under varying degrees of occupation and control by “Allied,” “German,” and “Neutral” forces.

The Advance Post was Operation Spartan’s daily newspaper, explained in its own words as:

 “The original intention was that the British Army should have a lithographed news-sheet which would both excite and maintain their interest in the Exercise just completed, as well as furnishing them with at least the world’s news headlines of the real war, day by day. In other words, to put you in the Exercise picture and keep you there, letting you see what was happening on the broad, as well as the narrow, front.” (Issue No. 13)

The papers were received by the Canadian Letters & Images Project as part of the Robert James Duncan Collection.

Content notes:
The collection consists of eight issues the Advance Post, dated March 6-13.
By nature of their creation, the core content of each of the papers is simultaneously both factual and fictitious. On the one hand they may be considered to follow the tradition of “spoof-paper” publications, in that many of the articles describe events that clearly never took place (e.g., the headline “German Atrocities in Oxford”). On the other hand, the occurrences described and individual stories told all represent a factual reporting of real events as experienced throughout Operation Spartan. Supplementary articles that provided readers with genuine news about non-Spartan related events (such as updates on the latest Canadian Hockey scores), also support a view of the Advance Post as following in the tradition of a regular trench newspaper, intended not to deceive but to inform and entertain its soldier audience.
Included with all transcriptions is a warning about the importance of understanding context when interpreting these materials.

The Canadian Forestry Corps was originally formed during the First World War to respond to the military’s urgent need for wood. It was reformed early in the Second World War with an initial twenty Companies, expanding over time to add ten more.

The soldiers of C.F.C. No. 29 Company spent several months undergoing military training at Valcartier, Québec, before shipping overseas in May 1942 aboard HMT Banfora for deployment to forestry work in Scotland. The Corps was disbanded in September 1945.

Content notes:
The collection’s single photograph is of the members of the No. 29 Company, Canadian Forestry Corps, taken in Scotland in August of 1943. It was donated as a “orphaned” photograph, provenance unknown.

Carry On: Letters in War-Time, written by Coningsby William Dawson.

Lieutenant Coningsby William Dawson was born in High Wycombe, England, on February 26, 1883, the second of six children of parents William James and Jane (née Powell) Dawson. After completing a degree in history at Oxford University in 1905 he lived with his family in Taunton, Massachusetts, spending summers with them at the family’s orchard-farming property on Kootenay Lake near Nelson, British Columbia. Working as a writer, he published several novels in the decade prior to the outbreak of WWI.

Early in 1916 he travelled to Ottawa, where after training at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario, he was commissioned as a Lieutenant with the 53rd Battery, Canadian Field Artillery. Embarking for England in July 1916, and to France later that September, he was wounded several times during the war before being demobilized in June 1919.

The Dawson letters were originally published together as the book Carry On: Letters in War-Time in 1917. Now in the public domain, the book was digitized by the Internet Archive Digital Library in 2007 from the collection of the Robarts Library, University of Toronto. The formatted letters that have been made available here were created from the book as part of a research project at Vancouver Island University.

The book’s introductory poem “When the War’s at an End was written by Coningsby’s younger brother Lieut. Eric Powell Dawson who served during the war in the British Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and in 1918 published the wartime memoir Pushing Water (link below). Following the war Eric settled in Victoria, B.C.

External links:
Lieut. Coningsby Dawson's service record is available through Library and Archives Canada. (WWI officers were not routinely assigned Service/Regimental #s.)
Carry On: Letters in War-Time, written by Lieut. Coningsby William Dawson, with introduction and notes by his father William James Dawson; provided online by the Internet Foundation at, from collection of the Robarts Library, University of Toronto.
Pushing Water, written by Lieut. Eric Powell Dawson.

This collection contains over 250 letters from World War One published in the Cobourg World, a local newspaper published in Cobourg, Ontario. Newspapers across Canada regularly printed letters home from overseas, either letters written directly to the newspaper by the soldiers, or first written to the family and then contributed to the paper by the family. Collections such as those from the Cobourg World provide a fascinating look at the relationship of community and war as played out in the pages of the local newspaper. All letters in the collection have been previously published in the newspaper and were also later collected by local historian Percy Climo in a book entitled Let Us Remember: Lively Letters from World War One. The dates for which the letters are listed represent the dates on which they were published, as the original dates of the letters are not always indicated. Where the original date of writing is known it will be part of the letter text. Introductions to the letters and editorial comments as they appeared in the newspaper have been left as published. All transcriptions have been taken from copies on microfilm and as such there are no scans for this collection.

This collection consists of more than 30 letters, as well as news items and editorials, originally published in the Dutton Advance newspaper in Ontario. These are letters home from soldiers overseas to family and community, spanning the years 1900 to 1944, which offer a unique glimpse of the ties between the soldiers and their homes. The dates indicated for the letters are those on which the letters were published in the newspaper, not the date of writing. Original headings and commnents at the time of publication have been retained.

This collection consists of letters and/or related articles published in the Ladysmith Chronicle newspaper. The materials were compiled by the Ladysmith and District Historical Society in conjunction with the Ladysmith Archives. There are currently ten individuals represented in the collection; the links below are to their individual collections within the World War One section.

Appleby, William*
Day, Thomas*
Fisher, John Lindsey
Grant, John*
Kemp, Edward Harold*
Lapsansky, John Robert*
McCoy, Frank
Morrison, Frederick James Duncan*
Pickup, Alfred James
Simpson, Thomas Nesbit*

Soldiers who are represented on the Ladysmith Cenotaph are denoted with an asterisk (*) after their name.

Letters of a Canadian Stretcher Bearer, by R.A.L. [Ralph Beverly Watson]

Sergeant Ralph Beverly Watson (a.k.a. Joseph Ralph Watson) was born in Hull, England, on October 23, 1883, to parents Joseph Watson and Lavinia Sanderson. Moving to Canada sometime prior to the war, he settled in Ottawa where he married Beulah Bahnsen in January 1915. On May 25 that same year he enlisted from there as a Private in the Canadian Army Medical Corps.

He embarked for England on the troop ship SS Missanabie in July 1915 and was sent into action in France in February 1916. While hospitalized on several occasions, most seriously for gas poisoning, Watson survived through to the end of the war and was demobilized on February 3, 1919.

The Watson letters were originally published together in the book Letters of a Canadian Stretcher Bearer in 1918. The war was still ongoing at that time and the author was identified only as “R.A.L.” Other identifying details such as dates were also changed in order to preserve anonymity (e.g., the book gives his date of enlistment as May 31 instead of Watson’s actual enlistment date of May 25). The real identity of the author appears to have remained unknown for many decades, but has since been identified as Ralph Beverly Watson (born Joseph Ralph Watson, he was going by “Ralph Beverly” at the time of his marriage and enlistment).

Now in the public domain, Letters of a Canadian Stretcher Bearer was digitized by the Internet Archive Digital Library in 2008 from the collection of the University of California Libraries. The formatted letters that have been made available here were created from the Internet Archive book as part of a research project at Vancouver Island University.

External links:
Sgt. Watson's Service Record (Reg/Ser# 63) is available through Library and Archives Canada.
Letters of a Canadian Stretcher Bearer, by Ralph Beverly Watson, 1918, provided online by the Internet Foundation at, from the University of California Libraries Collection.

Meet the Navy was a Royal Canadian Navy (R.C.N.) musical theatre production created during World War II. Its purpose was to provide entertainment for service members on active duty, as well as to boost recruitment, and to positively maintain and enhance the general public’s perception of the Navy. Cast and crew were recruited both from within existing R.C.N. personnel and by seeking outside civilian talent that could then be persuaded to enlist with the Navy.

The September 1943 Toronto premier showcased a cast of nearly eighty performers (including over thirty Wrens), a large orchestra and support crew. Following a highly successful year spent touring Canada, the show headed overseas in October 1944. Working under the British Entertainments National Service Association (E.N.S.A.), the initial performances throughout Britian and Scotland were followed by tours through France, Holland, Belgium, and (post VE-Day) Germany.

The popular reception in Britian was so positive that late in the war a plan was made to create a British feature film from the stage show. Featuring a mix of original and new performers, the movie Meet the Navy premiered in 1946 but met with less success than the original.

Following the end of the war the scale of the production wound down, responding both to a decrease in audience interest and to the loss of cast and crew through demobilization back to civilian life. Their last stage performance took place in Germany in September 1945, with most of the remaining show personnel returning to Canada the following January.

Content notes:
The printed theatre programme for Meet the Navy provides information about the performance, performers, and production staff. Interspersed throughout is artwork highlighting key cast members and photographs of naval ships.

External links:
Laurel Halladay’s master's thesis 'Ladies and Gentlemen, Soldiers and Artists:' Canadian Military Entertainers, 1939-46 is a helpful resource for those interested in learning more about the production of Meet the Navy and the history of Canadian military entertainment units in WWII. Hosted by University of Calgary.

Private Richard William Mercer was born in Bolton, England, on July 27, 1897, to parents William and Georgina Mercer. On April 20, 1916, he enlisted at Wawota, Saskatchewan, with the 196th Western Universities Overseas Battalion, “B” Company (University of Saskatchewan), Canadian Expeditionary Force.

He completed his basic training at Camp Hughes, Manitoba, before shipping to England on the SS Southland in November of 1916. He served both there and in France with a number of different units including Bordon’s Motor Machine Gun Battery and the 1st Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade. He was transferred to the 2nd Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade in December of 1918 and served with them as part of the Allied Occupation Force in Germany, until finally returning to Canada for demobilization on May 18, 1919.

External links:
Pte. Mercer’s service record (Serv/Reg# 911016) can be viewed/downloaded in pdf format through Library and Archives Canada.

The Mercer collection was provided through the work of Dwight G. Mercer who has documented Pte. Richard Mercer’s Letters from the Great War history online, where more information can be found about the Mercer story and of the history of the 6th Brigade & 2nd Battalion Canadian Machine Gun Corps. Dwight Mercer’s footnotes have been included with both the letters and the memoir, and provide extensive background information on both content and context.

No. 432 (Leaside) Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force, was formed in England as part of No. 6 (R.C.A.F.) Group, Bomber Command, on May 1, 1943. Initially based at Skipton-on-Swale, the unit relocated to the East Moor Air Station, Yorkshire, in September 1943, where it remained until it was disbanded in May 1945.

Content notes:
The collection’s single photograph is of the members of the 432 Squadron assembled on and around one of their Handley Page Halifax B.Mk.III bombers, taken in May 1944. It was donated as a “orphaned” photograph, provenance unknown.

External links:
No. 432 Squadron information on the website of the Royal Canadian Air Force Association.

The Royal Canadian Air Force’s Initial Training School (No. 2) in Regina, Saskatchewan, was one of seven I.T.S. establishments operating during World War II as part of Canada’s Commonwealth Air Training Program. These schools provided new air force recruits with several intensive weeks of ground-based, pre-flight, general instruction.

Content notes:
The collection’s single photograph is of the members of “G” Flight, Initial Training School (No. 2), R.C.A.F., in Regina, Saskatchewan, taken on September 30, 1941. A transcribed list of names has been provided in the “Letter” contents section below. The photo was donated as an orphaned photograph, provenance unknown.

Like other Women's Institutes across Canada, the Stony Plain Women's Institute of Alberta was an important link between the soldiers overseas and the homefront. Through their members they contributed financial aid to organizations such as the Red Cross as well as sending parcels to overseas soldiers. The collection consists of thank-you letters from soldiers, acknowledgement cards for parcels, receipts for the Institute's donations to the Red Cross, and miscellaneous correspondence.

Target for Tonight (or Target for To-Night) is a WWII documentary film made in 1941 by the British Crown Film Unit. The film was directed and produced by Harry Watt and distributed by the British Ministry of Information associated British Film Distributors. The film follows the mission of the crew of  a Vickers Wellington bomber as they are sent on a strategic bombing mission over Germany. Much of it was shot on location at the Royal Air Force (R.A.F.) Mildenhall station, and real R.A.F. personnel were used for the majority of the casting.

It was released to both high critical acclaim and enormous public popularity, both within Great Britain and internationally. In February 1942 the film received an Academy Award as a Special Award winner “for its vivid and dramatic presentation of the heroism of the RAF.”

Most of the crew members that appear in the film did not survive the war, including Flight Sergeant John "Jack" Balfour Gray of the Royal Canadian Air Force (R.C.A.F.) who was serving attached to the R.A.F. as a Wireless Gunner at the time of the filming. Within the letters of the John Balfour Gray Collection are many references to the film and the public’s reaction to it. Jack died on February 27, 1942, when his Handley Page Hampden bomber crashed while returning from a night operation over Germany, killing all onboard. Among those R.A.F./R.C.A.F. cast members who survived the war was Jack’s friend and fellow Canadian, Flight Sergeant Henry "Harry" F.C. Humphries who makes several appearances alongside Jack in the film.

Below in the collection contents is the promotional booklet that was published with the release of the film: The Book of the famous film Target for To-Night: The Record in Text and Pictures of a Bombing Raid on Germany. The text, an adaptation of the original screenplay, was written by Paul Holt both for the booklet and for serialization in the Daily Express newspaper.

External links:
The complete video of Target for Tonight can be viewed on the Imperial War Museum’s website; the film has been divided into six separate media files of between six to eleven minutes each in length.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ record of the Target for Tonight Award.

This collection consists of four letters written to the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation during World War II. Two of the four letters recognize the contributions made for relief efforts for orphans both in Canada and in Britain, while another letter is from the Soviet Minister to Canada for contributions made for clothing to the Soviet Union. The fourth letter is announcing the awarding of the British Empire Medal to Chief Peter Moses, BEM.