'You simply have to stand and take artillery fire': soldiers' letters in virtual Victoria to Vimy collection

"I was just a mass of mud and dog tired."

That is how one soldier who trained in Victoria described the Battle of Vimy Ridge in a letter to his mother. 

The letter was written by Captain Keith Macgowan of the 131st Battalion of the New Westminster Regiment and is included in the new online collection Victoria to Vimy. 

The University of Victoria created the virtual exhibit which includes scrapbooks, photos, letters and postcards from the First World War, donated by Victoria families for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

Born and raised in Fernwood, Victoria

​Many of the photographs in the Victoria to Vimy collection are from albums created by Cpl Archie Wills of Victoria.

According to the University of Victoria archives, Wills was born and raised in the neighbourhood of Fernwood. 

Wills served in the 58th Battery, Canadian Forces Artillery, and was at the Battle of Vimy Ridge. 

After the First World War, Wills became a journalist who wrote for the Victoria Daily Times newspaper and he later served on city council.

Dear Daddy, I hope you are safe

The Vimy to Victoria collection also includes postcards between soldiers and their families in Victoria. 

Several postcards from the family of Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Monk who served in the 54th Battalion and fought at Vimy Ridge are also featured in the collection. 

On the back of one postcard, the daughter of Monk wrote, "Dear Daddy, how are you? I hope you are safe.

"Jocie gave me a pair of roller skates which I enjoy very much. Love from Faith."

These postcard include the images of the Clover Point target range and warships in the Esquimalt Harbour.

Two brothers buried together

One of the more significant stories of loss and survival brought to life through this collection is the experience of the Destrubé family during the First World War. 

George, Paul and Guy Destrubé all served.

George was injured in battle in the spring of 1916 and, according to the university archives, Paul and Guy carried their brother for several hours to reach medical care. 

After convalescing in Wales, George's return to service was delayed by a quarantine for mumps. Because of this delay, George missed rejoining his brothers in the Battle at Miraumont, where Paul and Guy were both killed. 

The online collection includes many letters between George Destrubé and his family in Victoria.

The grave will be traceable after the war

On March 13, 1917 he wrote to his family about his brothers being buried together.

In the letter he states, "You may rest assured that the graves will remain untouched and the spot still quite traceable after the war."

After the war, George returned to the family homestead in Alberta, but he eventually moved to Victoria with his wife Suzanne. 

The story of the Destrubé family is just one of many featured in UVic's new online collection.