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Will Family Fonds (P621)

1910-1946. - 11 cm of textual records. - 56 photographs. - 3 drawings.

Administrative History - Biographical Sketch:

Isabel Milne and James Will were married sometime shortly after the First World War, probably in Montreal, and had two children: Isabella and James W. For a while they lived at 1691 De La Roche Street. Their first child, James, was born in 1921. Isabella must have been born after him because James often refers to her as "my little sister" in his letters. James Will (father) was a member of the 60th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force in the First World War. Although he survived the war, he died at the young age of 36 years and 5 months, on July 12, 1931 or 1936. He was buried in Mount Royal cemetery on July 15.

Isabella lived at 1160 St. Marc Street (apartment 31) in Montreal. Her brother James went to Earl Grey and Strathearn schools and later graduated from Sir George Williams College (founded in Montreal in 1926, it later became Concordia University). He enrolled in the Canadian army and was sent to Europe in 1939 as a member of the Black Watch Regiment. He was subsequently transferred to a Canadian infantry brigade and was stationed near Croydon, England, until 1944, before following the troops that carried out the D Day invasion on the Normandy coast. His letters to his sister Isabella then came from France and later from Holland. He was killed, apparently in Germany, on March 1, 1945, as it says in one letter that he was buried in a temporary cemetery. He was 24 years old and had just given up his rank of corporal in order to return to the Black Watch as a private.

Isabella Will married James Ironside, probably in the summer of 1944. Like James Will, Ironside was a Canadian army soldier stationed in England. Isabella's brother knew Ironside and introduced the two of them through correspondence. Ironside was later wounded and shipped home to Canada, where he was cared for at the Royal Victoria Hospital and at St. Anne's Hospital.

Scope and Content:

This fonds concerns the Will family of Montreal, especially Isabella and her brother James, a soldier in the Canadian army during the Second World War. It covers the activities of James Will between 1941 and 1945, when he was stationed in England, then when he was in Europe from 1944 until his death on March 1, 1945. It also documents the experiences of another Canadian soldier in England, James Ironside, who returned wounded to Canada and eventually married Isabelle Will.

The fonds chiefly consists of letters sent to Isabella Will or her mother, Isabel Milne-Will. They were written by James Will and James Ironside when they were stationed in England. There are also a few cartoons of army life in wartime. Included as well are various documents relating to the death of James Will: a note by the chaplain of his brigade, an official letter from the government, and a personal letter and newspaper story about his death in combat.

The letters are full of joie de vivre, humour and affection. Besides providing a wealth of information, particularly about the daily life of a Canadian soldier in England during the Second World War, some letters also have aesthetic value, being written on letterhead that the Salvation Army supplied to soldiers to encourage them to write to their friends and family. The letterhead bears the Salvation Army insignia and a colour reproduction of the Union Jack. Some of the letters were clearly examined by the censors during the war, as they have a special stamp or the word "Opened" on them. There are also references in the letters to certain photos contained in the donated collection (photographs of military personnel stationed in Europe).

The fonds also contains documents relating to James and Isabelle Will's parents: two receipts in the name of James Will (father) and his obituary; a wedding wager between Isabel Milne and a friend; an autograph notebook containing words, poems and drawings by friends; a graduation certificate from Earl Grey School; a drawing of a lady; a poem and a greeting card.

The fonds also contains a newspaper article on the failed Dieppe raid and the soldiers who served in it with distinction, and a note from the government awarding a commemorative bar to a certain [Jacques] Lapointe.

The fonds's last series contains photographs taken by professional studios as well as some snapshots taken by amateur photographers. There are pictures of cars, First and Second World War soldiers, a European hospital with military personnel in front of it, and two commercial photographs of Princess Elizabeth when she was a child. There are also prints of photographs by Van Dyke, Van Dyke & Meyers, E. C. Ford and F. Carrière and of pictures by five European photographers from Aberdeen, Dundee and Brighton.

The fonds is divided into the following series and subseries:

  • Series A: Text documents
    • A1: James Will (father)
    • A2: Isabel Milne-Will
    • A3: James W. M. Will (son)
    • A4: Isabella Will-Ironside
    • A5: Military affairs
  • Series B: Photographs