Many sources are available on line for free
Selected Topîcs – National Archives of Canada
- Courts-martial of the First World War
- Soldiers of the First World War – Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF)
- War Diaries of the First World War (Archived)
- Circumstances of Death Registers, First World War (Archived)
- Commonwealth War Graves Registers, First World War (Archived)
- Veterans Death Cards: First World War (Archived)
- Guide to Sources Relating to Units of the Canadian Expeditionary Force
- Halifax Explosion
- Internment Camps in Canada During the First and Second World Wars
- Call to Duty: Canada’s Nursing Sisters (Archived)
- Canada and the First World War (Archived)
- Mary Riter Hamilton: Traces of War
- Oral Histories of the First World War: Veterans 1914-1918 (Archived)
How to access First World War Canadian soldiers’ records online
Insights to a vast collection of material on the CEF
The following was published in Stand To! #72. Its focus was on the British readers; however, it is a useful step-by-step resource for any researcher.
The National Archives of Canada (NAC) and National Library of Canada have been gradually adding the Attestation Papers to its Nominal Roll of soldiers of the Canadian Expeditionary Force and these are now almost complete. Military records of veterans of the Great War who have been dead for more than twenty years are treated as historical documents and are available to the general public. The complete CEF War Diaries have been scanned in to the Internet. The Canadian Department of Veterans Affairs uses material from the CWGC site for the Canadian and Newfoundland war dead for its Virtual War Memorial but unlike the CWGC allows the scanning in of photos and other material. These are very valuable resources for those tracing names on war memorials listed under ‘Served with the Canadians’.
Battalion designations in the CEF are complicated and confusing. There were four divisions of front line infantry of twelve battalions each. A fifth division was contemplated but not put into the field. Two battalions, the 60th and 73rd were disbanded because of the high casualties and were replaced by the 85th and 116th. There were therefore fifty battalions which served as front line infantry of which forty-four were numbered. The other six had names: the Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR), Canada’s pre-war Permanent Force; Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI), raised quickly in 1914 by recruiting British veterans in Canada and Canadians with military experience; and four battalions (numbered 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th) of Canadian Mounted Rifles (CMR) whose name originated in the South African War but who fought as infantry in the Great War. Of the 260 numbered battalions recruited in Canada, 238 were broken up in England to replace casualties and man the other branches of the CEF. There were also cavalry and artillery formations in the CEF and the records of these are accessible in the same way as the infantry. A complete discussion of the CEF is available at the War Diaries site. Click on War Diaries Exhibition and then on Evolution of the Canadian Corps.
Fortunately for researchers Canadian troops retained their original regimental numbers (except in a few rare cases) despite many unit changes. These numbers were allocated in blocks to each battalion as it was raised and thus it is possible to know the unit the man originally joined. The number blocks are now online. Click on Online Help when you access the Soldiers of the First World War site and then click on Regimental Number List. Officers followed the British army convention and had no numbers; however, many Canadians were commissioned from the ranks and their original numbers are to be found on their Attestation Papers. To complicate research the CMR and all the numbered battalions were disbanded soon after the war with the exception of the 22nd which became the Royal 22e Régiment, the famous Van Doos. The history and memory of the numbered battalions was to be perpetuated by militia units, Canada’s equivalent of the British Territorials or the American National Guard. The degree of commitment to this perpetuation varies. Some militias include the CEF battalion in their own regimental history but many still have no written history. Consult the National Library’s bibliography at http://www.collectionscanada.ca/military/025002-6032.01-e.html for a list. The bibliography seems not to include the latest and still available battalion history. It is Second to None: the Fighting 58th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. The author is Kevin Shackleton, a member of the Central Ontario Branch.
How to find on-line records. Library and Archives Canada Personnel Records http://www.collectionscanada.ca/archivianet/020106_e.html
Click on SEARCH (left hand side)
Insert surname – MacKinnon
Insert Given name- Ronald
Click on Submit Query
The name will appear (this is my uncle) with the regimental number and the location in the NAC RG [Record Group] 150 Box 7008-27
Click on the square with two ‘A’’s
Click on image below Front of Form
The Attestation Paper (or Officer’s Declaration) will come on screen. Ronald MacKinnon joined the 81st Bn in Toronto, and was transferred to the RCR in England. After recovering from wounds sustained in Sanctuary Wood on 26 June 1916 he was transferred to the PPCLI and was serving in this unit when he was KiA at Vimy Ridge. His number never changed.
Go back and click on Back of Form
You can access the information if you know the soldier’s number by inserting it in the place provided. Go back to home page and insert 80045. This is my great-uncle William. His British birth made him typical of about two-thirds of the original CEF. A Scot, he had immigrated to Canada in 1913 leaving his wife and daughter in Scotland while he found work and earned enough to bring the family to Canada. He was KiA in November 1915 and is buried as a Canadian.
Go back to the home page and insert William Roland Wansbrough 3033559. He was conscripted under the Canadian Military Service Act passed in August 1917 and his entry gives an example of the system of Territorial Regiments that replaced the recruitment by numbered battalions in 1917. The typed ‘#2 M.D. on the right top stands for Number 2 Military District [i.e. Toronto]. The 1st C.O. on the left top stands for 1st Central Ontario Regiment.
Before leaving, click on How to Consult a Copy on Site or Order a Copy. You can order the entire military file. The most important of the many pages in the file is the Casualty Form. There is a charge for each page photocopied and you can pay online.
(b) War Diaries
Return to Archivianet home page and click on War Diaries of the First World War.
Click on Search the Database.
Click on the square with double ‘A’s for Images Associated With this Entry
Insert the name of the unit. Do not insert the date- you will be able to scroll to the dates you wish to consult. If you get a reply that No Records Match Your Request, modify your entry and try again. 20th Battalion works but 20th Bn. does not. 3rd Division works but 3 rd Division does not, Princess Patricia’s works but PPCLI does not. This site also has War Diaries of some British units that served with the Canadians.
Veterans Affairs Canada: Virtual War Memorial The Canadian Department of Veterans Affairs maintains a large site relating to Canada’s veterans. Medals and decorations issued to Canadians of the Great War were identical to the British ones and are shown on the site. Canada’s new awards including the Canadian version of the VC are also here. The Virtual War Memorial duplicates the CWGC listing of the dead of Canadian and Newfoundland forces (Newfoundland joined Canada in 1949). Unlike the CWGC site the Virtual War Memorial allows the public to add photos and information. Go to:
Enter surname- MacKinnon
Enter Given name- Ronald
Note that there is a Digital Photo Collection.
Click on Click Here to View Photos.
Repeat this for William MacKinnon. He is commemorated on the Fauldhouse, West Lothian, Scotland, War Memorial under the heading ‘Served with the Canadians’. The Memorial Card was sent to his brother, my grandfather, and I placed it on the VAC site. William Roland Wansbrough is also on the site, KIA only ten months after being conscripted.
Directorate of Heritage and History [DHH]
The Directorate of Heritage and History has recently scanned the official history of the CEF into the Internet where it is available for a free download. The PDF Reader ADOBE is required for reading the history and it, too is available for a free download. It has a search engine that allows you to follow the battles in which the battalion that you are researching was involved in. The Official History of the Canadian Army in the First World War: Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914-1919 by Col.GWL Nicholson is available at http://www.dnd.ca/hr/dhh/downloads/Official_Histories/CEF_e.PDF
The London Gazette is the official journal of record of the British government. Along with much else, it records promotions of military officers and the award of military decorations. Citations are given for many of these decorations. The MM usually does not have a citation but the recommendation for the award is often in the unit War Diary. www.gazettes-online.co.uk
- Click on London Gazette.
- Under Historians, Click on Search Builder.
- Click on Search by Date.
- Select World War I from Choose a Historical event
- Click Go to Step 3.
- Do not enter anything in Gazette Page Number. Click Go to Step 4.
- Type the person’s name in the “With all the words” box.
- Click Go to Step 5.
- Click Search.
- Scroll through the list of results until you find the document you are searching for.
- If no results are found go back to Step 4 and modify the name e.g. use initials instead of full given names.
The London Gazette can also be searched by Issue Number. If the person has been awarded a decoration, you will find this in the man’s personnel file (Casualty Form-Active Service) marked as LG and a five digit number.
We are not done! 🙂
Most of the items on this page were collected by Gord Mackinnon
Additional CEF documents now Online
Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has recently put documents online relating to the CEF dead of the First World War. This is the same material that has been available on Ancestry.com for some time. To access these documents and others:
- Go to the Library and Archives Canada homepage:
- Select Military and Peacekeeping.
- Select Circumstances of Death First World War (Circumstances of Death First World War and Commonwealth War Graves Registers First World War are the recent additions. )
- Click the HELP button.
- At the bottom of the HELP there is a list of the Microfilm Sequence and volume numbers. Scroll through the list and record the Sequence Number that contains the name you are searchingFor example, Lt-Col John McCrae is in Sequence 75.
- Use your browser’s BACK button to return to the list of Sequence Numbers and volumes.
- Find the Sequence Number that you recorded and Click on it. Note that registers for surnames Sip-Z have not survived.
- Insert a page number in the box on the upper right and press Go. A suggestion is to do a “binary” search – e.g. if the Sequence you are searching has 900 pages – enter page 450 and Click Go. If the name you are searching for is greater than the one that appears then enter page 675 (half way between 450 and 900) and click Go.
- Repeat this process until you are close to the Name you are searching for. You can then search page by page by clicking the > and < symbols until you find the name you are searching for. For example, Lt-Col John McCrae is on page 216 of 899 in Sequence # 75.
The Commonwealth War Graves Registers First World War contain information on the burial of the soldier. The procedure is similar to the above except that the Microfilm Sequence and page numbers will be different. For example, John McCrae is in Sequence 62 page 48 of 1113 pages. Another difference is that names starting with Mac or Mc are not separated in this file. The surname files for those who died in the UK are in Sequences 100-106 at the end of the list.
The Medals, Honours, and Awards file is also recent. The Canadian Virtual War Memorial is at another site administered by Veterans Affairs Canada.