Weaponry and Wartime Experience

Women as War Artists

Molly Lamb – Canada’s First female War Artist

Captured German Tank, 1945

Caption: Captured German Tank, 1945

At the outbreak of the Second World War a number of artists offered their services to the National Gallery, but the government would not establish the Canadian War Records Program until 1943. Once again the impetus came from London, where the Canadian High Commissioner, Vincent Massey, took a great interest in this project. The artistic portrayal of Canada at war would be conducted both on the battlefield and at home. Among the 33 artists whose works were exhibited were Alex Colville, Willie Ogilvie and Charles Comfort. The work only one woman was accepted: Molly Lamb. After graduating from the Vancouver School of Art, Lamb entered the Women's Army Corps in 1942, at age 20. She immediately expressed a desire to serve as a war artist but would not join the programme until after the cessation hostilities in Europe in 1945. The National Gallery accepted nine her works for its permanent collection. She had painted these in free moments while serving as a private and then corporal in the wartime shows section of the Canadian Auxiliary Services. Lamb went overseas in July 1945 and spent six weeks touring France, the Netherlands and Germany with a car and driver. Two of the results are Wilhelmshaven at Night and Ruins of Emmerich. Apparently Lamb's gender was the main obstacle to her gaining access to battlefields during the fighting. 81

The National Gallery eventually bought several pictures of Canada at war painted by women. Although they did not go to the front lines, Isabel McLaughlin, Marion Long, Alma Duncan, Dorothy Stevens and several other women made valuable contributions to Canada's heritage of war art.