Eva May Roy
A member of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC), Eva May Roy was the subject of one of Molly Lamb Bobak’s most famous paintings. Molly Lamb Bobak, Canada’s first female war artist, aptly titled the painting “Private Roy.” It depicts Roy standing behind the counter at a military canteen in Halifax. Despite her stern appearance in the painting, Sergeant Roy is remembered as a friendly and outgoing person who loved to sing. Bobak recalls Roy in Molly Lamb Bobak: Life & Work saying, “She was a warm wonderful person full of compassion and understanding about life. Whenever I think about her, I remember an engaging laugh and the best hugs.”
Born on December 3rd, 1914, in Toronto, Ontario, Roy initially worked as a presser in a laundry before the war. When the war began, she became a machine operator and fuse assembler at a munitions plant in Ontario. In 1944, Roy enlisted with the CWAC and received training as a cook before serving in military canteens in Canada, the United Kingdom, and Holland. Roy’s overseas deployment was rare; only one in nine Canadian women in the army served overseas during the Second World War.
Approximately 50,000 women served in Canada’s military during the Second World War, performing various support roles. Prior to the formation of the CWAC in 1941, women were restricted in their ability to be directly involved in the war effort, with nursing being the only viable option. However, as a Black woman, it would have been exceedingly difficult for Roy to receive the necessary training to serve as a nurse.
Her time in the CWAC was not without prejudice. Roy was posted for a month to audition for the Army Show but would be unsuccessful as no one would teach her the routines. Although there is no official reason Roy did not make it, if she had been successful, she would have been the only Black woman in the chorus. Despite this setback, Roy still brought her love of song and uplifting spirit to the canteen.
In January 1946, Roy returned to Canada and found work as a government postal clerk in Toronto. In 1955, a recruitment campaign for the CWAC inspired Roy to re-enlist, and she served until 1965, achieving the rank of Sergeant. Eva May Roy passed away on April 29th, 1990, in Cobourg, Ontario.
Main photo: A group photo with Eva May Roy in the front row, second from left. (Credit: CBC News)
Burke, Ashely. 2022. “‘She didn’t hesitate’: The untold story behind a Black Canadian woman’s wartime portrait.” CBC News. Accessed July 2023. https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/retired-sgt-eva-may-roy-untold-story-1.6647157.
Canadian War Museum. 1990. “SGT. Eva Roy.” Accessed July 2023. https://www.warmuseum.ca/collections/archive/3175840.
Gewurtz, Michelle. 2019. “On Equal Ground.” Art Canada Institute. Accessed July 2023. https://www.aci-iac.ca/spotlight/on-equal-ground-by-michelle-gewurtz/.