One woman’s scrapbook uncovered at Fort Rodd Hill tells story of thousands during Second World War

Joyce Margaret Whitney served in the Canadian Women’s Army Corps from 1942 to 1946. Her scrapbook, filled with memories, poems, sketches and mementos, was found at Fort Rodd Hill two weeks after she died. (Courtesy of Fort Rodd Hill & Fisgard Lighthouse Collection)
Joyce Margaret Whitney served in the Canadian Women’s Army Corps from 1942 to 1946. Her scrapbook, filled with memories, poems, sketches and mementos, was found at Fort Rodd Hill two weeks after she died. (Courtesy of Fort Rodd Hill & Fisgard Lighthouse Collection)
Joyce Margaret Whitney served in the Canadian Women’s Army Corps from 1942 to 1946. Her scrapbook, filled with memories, poems, sketches and mementos, was found at Fort Rodd Hill two weeks after she died. (Courtesy of Fort Rodd Hill & Fisgard Lighthouse Collection)
Joyce Margaret Whitney served in the Canadian Women’s Army Corps from 1942 to 1946. Her scrapbook, filled with memories, poems, sketches and mementos, was found at Fort Rodd Hill two weeks after she died. (Courtesy of Fort Rodd Hill & Fisgard Lighthouse Collection)
Joyce Margaret Whitney served in the Canadian Women’s Army Corps from 1942 to 1946. Her scrapbook, filled with memories, poems, sketches and mementos, was found at Fort Rodd Hill two weeks after she died. (Courtesy of Fort Rodd Hill & Fisgard Lighthouse Collection)
Joyce Margaret Whitney served in the Canadian Women’s Army Corps from 1942 to 1946. Her scrapbook, filled with memories, poems, sketches and mementos, was found at Fort Rodd Hill two weeks after she died. (Courtesy of Fort Rodd Hill & Fisgard Lighthouse Collection)
Joyce Margaret Whitney served in the Canadian Women’s Army Corps from 1942 to 1946. Her scrapbook, filled with memories, poems, sketches and mementos, was found at Fort Rodd Hill two weeks after she died. (Courtesy of Fort Rodd Hill & Fisgard Lighthouse Collection)
Joyce Margaret Whitney served in the Canadian Women’s Army Corps from 1942 to 1946. Her scrapbook, filled with memories, poems, sketches and mementos, was found at Fort Rodd Hill two weeks after she died. (Courtesy of Fort Rodd Hill & Fisgard Lighthouse Collection)
Joyce Margaret Whitney served in the Canadian Women’s Army Corps from 1942 to 1946. Her scrapbook, filled with memories, poems, sketches and mementos, was found at Fort Rodd Hill two weeks after she died. (Courtesy of Fort Rodd Hill & Fisgard Lighthouse Collection)
Joyce Margaret Whitney served in the Canadian Women’s Army Corps from 1942 to 1946. Her scrapbook, filled with memories, poems, sketches and mementos, was found at Fort Rodd Hill two weeks after she died. (Courtesy of Fort Rodd Hill & Fisgard Lighthouse Collection)

Photographs of family and friends, poems and jokes lovingly cut out and pressed into the pages and newspaper clippings or important records: All this and more were found inside a brittle, yellowed scrapbook unearthed at Fort Rodd Hill’s collections building in August. The book, bursting with entries, was left behind by a young woman by the name of Joyce Margaret Whitney.

Kate Humble, the curator at Fort Rodd Hill & Fisgard Lighthouse National Historic Site, had the pleasure of digging into the scrapbook and learning everything she could about Whitney, a member of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC) who served all over Canada and in Europe.

On the very first page of the scrapbook is Whitney’s face, filling a space designated for the book’s owner. A second spot on the page titled “my best girl’s photograph” was left blank.

Through her research, Humble discovered Whitney joined the CWAC in 1942 at the age of 19. She came from the rural municipality of Valjean, Saskatchewan which currenlty has a population of two.

“Joining the CWAC gave women the opportunity to do stuff they just never would have done previously, especially if they were from small towns,” Humble said.

Whitney went through basic training and then trained as a clerk and typist, helping to keep many important records up to date while soldiers were overseas fighting the Second World War.

“CWACS did not do the flashy work, they weren’t on the front lines, they weren’t there to win combat medals. They were behind the scenes,” Humble said. “The Canadian war effort just would not have been as functional without the CWAC.”

Whitney joined the war effort as soon as she could and throughout her time in the Canadian Women’s Army Corps, travelled all over Canada and served in London, England as well. Humble said Whitney represents thousands of women who learned new skills, met new people and had an earnest drive to contribute to the fight.

The normal life path of a woman at the time was narrow, with expectations to get married and have children. But the Second World War changed things for women, Humble said, and many jumped at the chance to see new places and meet new people.

“It speaks to the character of Canadian women,” Humble said. “Throughout history they have shown themselves to be determined to do what they could.”

Whitney’s scrapbook includes poems that she chose to keep, sketches drawn by her, photographs of the other women she met and even a photograph of her CWAC softball team, complete with the head of Athena – the goddess of war and symbol of the CWAC – on their jerseys.

One poem titled “Just a Private” includes the lines “I’m just a lousy Private / There are millions more like me / But if there weren’t any Privates / Just where would the Army be?”

Whitney advanced from private to corporal during her time in the CWAC.

After being discharged in 1946, Whitney married and lived in Grand Forks where her two older children were born. She moved to Victoria in 1951 where she and her husband raised their three children. Some of Whitney’s favourite pastimes included knitting, crosswords and playing bridge.

At the age of 96, and two weeks before Humble found her scrapbook, Whitney died in New Westminster, where her nursing home was.

“It felt just a little like someone I knew had died, because her scrapbook was so relatable, so personal,” Humble said.

Whitney’s scrapbook helped Humble form a picture of a young woman in her 20s who had a sense of humour and drive to see and learn new things. It now sits at Fort Rodd Hill in a safe, temperature and humidity controlled area to preserve Whitney’s memories and help tell the story of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps, which had several members working at Fort Rodd Hill in the post-war period.

Whitney’s children, who had no idea the scrapbook existed, plan to visit Fort Rodd Hill in December to have a look at what their mother was like as a young woman.

“Even when you’re 95 and you’re doing a crossword in your nursing home you remember,” Humble said. “You remember going to London and the different places, smells and people you met and maybe people you’ve lost. I can’t imagine that wouldn’t change you.”

Remembrance Day

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Scarlet fever reported at Victoria elementary school

Parents advised to look for symptoms of ‘strawberry tongue’ and rash

Saanich dog walkers react to potential review of bylaws allowing off-leash dogs on beaches

Focus should have remained on migratory birds, not on dog behaviour, says Cadboro Bay dog walker

No dogs allowed off-leash at Luxton Fairgrounds in Langford

New sign placed by Metchosin Farmers Institute on Wednesday, Feb. 19

North Saanich’s Deep Cove Market up for sale for almost $1.8 million

Long-time owner Rosemary Scott hopes the public will understand her decision

Council approve temporary storage to extend life of Oak Bay Fire Hall

It’s cute, it’s iconic, but the picturesque Oak Bay Fire Hall is… Continue reading

Protecting privacy key to stopping spread of COVID-19, B.C. health officials say

The number of coronavirus cases in B.C. remains at seven

Toffoli scores OT winner as Canucks beat Habs 4-3

Demko makes 37 saves for Vancouver

Private clinics would harm ‘ordinary’ people using public system in B.C.: lawyer

Health Minister Adrian Dix announced in 2018 that the government would begin to fine doctors $10,000

B.C. terminates contract with hospice society refusing assisted death

Delta Hospice Society loses hospital service fund of $1.5 million

Child in hospital following fatal crash that killed father, sibling on B.C. highway

The single vehicle crash occured near Kamloops on Highway 5A

‘Die!’: Vernon councillor mailed death threat

This story contains information that might be sensitive to some readers

Hidden message connects Castlegar homeowners decades apart

The Rodgers family was surprised when a message fell out of the walls as they were renovating

Two B.C. men plead guilty to bus-terminal assault of man with autism in Ontario

Parmvir Chahil and Jaspaul Uppal due to be sentenced in June for aggravated assault

Most Read