A Soldier’s Letter Home

At the City of Victoria Archives, we come across so many interesting stories about Victoria and the people who lived here.

The Archives is a great source of municipal documents which tell the history of our local government and services. Over the years we have also received many donations of records from the community, including diaries, letters, photographs, and other documents telling the stories of early residents of Victoria and recounting activities of some of the people that helped shape the city.

One of these stories is William D’Oyly Hamilton Rochfort’s. The following photographs, letters, and drawings tell the story of Rochfort, a Victoria-based architect who fought in the First World War. He designed a number of private residences and commercial buildings around the city, including the Royal Theatre.

William Rochfort in his office in the Five Sisters Block, N.E. corner of Fort Street and Government Street, 1909 (M05369) and William Rochfort in uniform, 1916 (M07471).

William was born in England in 1884 to Captain D’Oyly T. and Constance Rochfort. He landed in British Columbia in 1904, and began his work as an architect. He also served in the 5th Regiment of the Canadian Garrison Artillery as Bombardier and Sergeant. In 1910, he married Ieglena “Glen” E. Switzer who worked as an actor on the local stage. The couple had a son, Pat, in 1912.

Pat Rochfort with dog, ca. 1914 (M09375) and Pat and Glen Rochfort, 1916 (M09377).

Following the start of the First World War in the summer of 1914, the 5th Regiment was drafted into the 47th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Forces for active service. William served as a Lieutenant in the Battalion, which was mobilized in New Westminster in November 1915.

Crowds at New Westminster seeing off soldiers as they embark for England, 1915 (M09372) and on board ship in mid-Atlantic on the way to England, 1915 (M09373).

William was one of five Rochfort brothers who served at the front. While on duty in England and France, William sent letters home to his wife and son.

“This is the farm house I am in just now. Ask Pat how he would like to live here.” Illustration from letter written by William Rochfort to his son Pat during WWI, 1916 (M09383).

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“…Lord! How I do long for you both. Dam this war, I do wish it would end… I shouldn’t be surprised if were over by xmas, then once more we’ll be together again…”. Letter written by William Rochfort to his wife Glen during WWI, ca. 1916 (M09380, M09381).

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“When we are all home again I’m going to build you the nicest little play house in the orchard you ever saw.” Letter written by William Rochfort to his son Pat during WWI, 1917 (M09386, M09387).

Many of these letters contain William’s illustrations of the people and places he saw during his time of service.

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“Pat what do you think of these English engines” and “Daddy in a gas helmit [sic].” Illustrations from letters written by William Rochfort to his son Pat during WWI, 1916 (M09384, detail of M09388).

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“Types of some soldiers I have seen out here.” Illustration of soldiers from letter written by William Rochfort to his son Pat during WWI, 1916 (M09382).

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“…This is what your daddie looks like now, he crawls along with a rheumatis [sic] limp but it will soon be gone old son, and below is the sort of thing your old daddie has to put up with…”. Letter written by William Rochfort to his son Pat during WWI, ca. 1917 (M09390, M09391).

These letters and illustrations provide a glimpse into one soldier’s experience at the front and are a touching reminder of the anguish experienced by so many families who were separated during the war.

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“Tell Pat this is what his Daddy looks like” and “This is what I hope to be like some day again. This is what I have been like.” Illustrations from letters written by William Rochfort to his wife Glen during WWI, 1916 (M09378, M09389).

All of the Rochfort brothers returned home from the war, with the exception of William’s younger brother Arthur, who died at 20 years of age in November 1918, right before the end of the war.

Reproductions of the above photographs, letters, and illustrations are currently on display in the main floor hallway of City Hall. “A Soldier’s Letters Home” was put together to commemorate the 100 anniversary of the start of the First World War (1914-1918).

Are you looking to trace your family history in Victoria? To learn more about how to access the Archives for your own research, please visit www.victoria.ca/archives or visit the Archives at 8 Centennial Square, across from City Hall.

Are you related to a well-known Victoria resident, or have a great local family story to tell? Let us know in the comments.