Canadian Military Records:
World War I and II

Canadian military records for World War I and World War II, for the most part, were created and maintained by Canada.

Nevertheless, in World War I, Canada fought under the British flag, as part of the British Commonwealth.

When World War I broke out in 1914, Canada was a nation at peace, with approximately 3,000 men in its regular army, and a very small navy. Within two months of war being declared, the number of men who had volunteered for duty expanded the force by more than 10 times this number, and the first contingent of Canadian soldiers had been trained and were on their way to Britain - no small feat for such a small regular force!

Two men in my extended family participated in this War, one on either side. (There were many more in collateral lines, but these are the closest relatives I know of who participated). My mother's eldest brother was a stretcher bearer in that War, and a paternal great-uncle, a soldier.

Both 'lived to tell the tale', although my maternal uncle at one point was wounded and unconscious, and was taken to the morgue, as he was presumed dead. Later, he 'came to' in the mortuary, looked around, and asked where he was, to the great shock of the soldier sitting at the desk outside the door!

One of several cemeteries in France for Canada's War Dead.
Public Domain; Wikimedia Commons

A total of four Canadian Corps were formed and trained in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, and sent to Europe. They fought under British command until 1917, when the British commander was replaced by a Canadian.

The Canadian troops initially were used to bolster other Allied troops. They participated in a number of famous battles:

  • the Battle of Neuve-Chappelle, in which the Canadian troops fought their first battle in the War. The Allied troops were unsuccessful, but it provided the Canadians with great insights into the machinations of the war, and where their vulnerabilities lay;
  • the Second Battle of Ypres, in which the Germans used chlorine gas as a weapon, against which the Canadians, having discovered a way to neutralize the gas, were the only ones able to remain at their posts with few ill effects;
  • the Battle of the Somme, in which just over 24,000 Canadian lives were lost, but which also established the Canadian troops as a formidable assault force;
  • the Battle of Vimy Ridge, in which Canadian forces acted together, along with a British army unit and other British support. They were able to meet all but one of their objectives on the first day of battle, and took the remaining hill the following day. About 3000 Canadians were killed, and another 7,000 wounded, in that battle;
  • the Second Battle of Passchendaele, in which Canadian troops fought alongside British, Australian, and New Zealand forces, and successfully captured Passchendaele and the surrounding area; and
  • the Hundred Days War, in which Canada participated in various offensives in different areas. During these final days of the War, about 46,000 Canadians were either killed or wounded.

Canada also has the somewhat dubious distinction of being the home of the person traditionally recognized as the last soldier from the British Empire killed in the War. Private George Lawrence Price, born in Nova Scotia in 1892, but living in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan at the time of his conscription in 1917, was killed at 2 minutes to 11 a.m. on November 11, 1918, when the armistice took effect, at Ville-sur-Haine, Belgium.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which is operated by Britain but funded by six commonwealth countries (United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and South Africa), maintains cemeteries in about 150 countries for the soldiers of those commonwealth countries who died in both Wars.

The Commission also handles inquiries from family members seeking the grave of a fallen soldier. They therefore may be another source for at least partial Canadian military records.

See their website for information with respect to finding the grave or memorial to a particular fallen soldier, or learning more about a medal recipient.

Canadian Military Records - World War I

The three divisions of the military with which we are all familiar are the army, the navy, and the air force.

(i) The Army

The records of the 600,000 individuals who enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces in World War I are located at Library and Archives Canada. This includes Canadian military records for nurses and chaplains, as well as enlisted men.

An index of these individuals, searchable by name or by regiment number, is available at Collections Canada

Once located, the Canadian military records for a particular individual can be ordered through Library and Archives Canada. LAC is in the process of digitizing these records and adding them to the database.

The Attestation Papers (the document signed when an individual joined the Expeditionary Force, with the person's physical description and medical fitness on the back), are already online, and can be viewed within the search results.

As requests for additional Canadian military records are received, and individual files are pulled to fill those requests, the file's contents will be digitized and added to the database.

To order an individual's Canadian military record, write or fax LAC at the following address or fax number:

Reproduction Services
Library and Archives Canada
395 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0N4

Fax: 613-995-6274

You can also order online, at Collections Canada's Order Form for Photocopies and Reproductions .

At the present time (February 2012), the costs of photocopying are as follows:

Regular Service - delivery within 30 business days of receipt of request

$ .40 per page; $ .30 per page for students and seniors (65 and over), with appropriate proof of status submitted with the request for the documents;

Expedited / Rush Service - delivery within 5 - 10 business days of receipt of request, provided all necessary information is given at the time of the order, and specified conditions are met.

$ .80 per page; $ .60 per page for students and seniors (65 and over), with appropriate proof of status submitted with the request for the documents.

While LAC indicates that most Canadian military record files average between 25 and 75 pages, every file is different, and some can have many more or many less pages. The pages are not numbered, and if you order documents, you will receive the entire file. It therefore is not possible to predict just how much obtaining the documentation will cost.

Please note that, if an individual continued to serve in the military after the end of World War I, his/her records pertaining to World War I will be in his service file, rather than in the World War I Canadian military records.

Poster for Canadian Naval Service, 1914
Wikimedia Commons

(ii) The Royal Canadian Navy

LAC holds the Canadian military records for those who joined the Royal Canadian Navy. There are two parts to these records:

  1. a single-page, over-sized sheet detailing an individual's service, including the names of the ships on which he served and the naval stations on land to which he was attached. These sheets are arranged in 27 separate volumes. The Royal Canadian Navy Ledger Sheets database is an index to assist in locating the ledger sheets for a particular individual; and
  2. Service Files. These files contain things like attestation papers, demobilization records, discharge forms, and separation allowances. They average 25 - 50 pages per file. To find individual Canadian military records, search the Archives database to find the Finding Aid reference (i.e., in the search function, put "Finding Aid 24-167", click on the appropriate link in the results, and scroll down to find the Finding Aid number associated with that set of records). Then, back in the Archives search window, search on that Finding Aid number and the person's name (i.e., 24-167 Smith, John).

(iii) The Air Force

Given the relatively recent invention of the airplane at the time of the first World War (i.e., the Wright brothers' first flight in a motorized, manned aircraft, lasting 12 seconds and travelling 120 feet), Canada did not have an Air Force in World War I. Canadian men wishing to join the air force could join the (British) Royal Air Force, or the British Flying Corps.

Daniel Sheehan flying a Royal Flying Corps airplane, World War I
Wikimedia Commons

The records of Canadian men who did so are located at the National Archives in England, with the exception of the following sets of records at the Library and Archives Canada (LAC):

  • RG 24, vol. 23195: E to H and I to M
  • RG 24, vol. 23196: A to D and N to W
  • RG 24, acc. 1995-96/670, box 1: Acland to Luxton
  • RG 24, acc. 1995-96/670, box 2: Macaskill to Zieman

Links to various Royal Air Force service records pertaining to World War I are located at the National Archives in the UK.

Newfoundland Regiments

Newfoundland was not a Canadian province during World War I. Rather, it was known as the Dominion of Newfoundland. Nevertheless, it contributed two regiments to the war effort: the Royal Newfoundland Regiment and the Newfoundland Forestry Corps.

The Royal Newfoundland Regiment sent approximately 800 men to war. In the Battle of Beaumont Hamel, 710 were killed, wounded, or missing, basically wiping out an entire regiment in the space of about 30 minutes.

LAC has those records, located in this database.

To search the database, enter the surname of the person and "Newfoundland" in the Keywords box. Enter '38' in the Records Group box.

Canadian Military Records: World War II

Full Canadian military records with respect to World War II, for those still alive or who died within the past 20 years, are not yet available to the general public, due to Canada's privacy laws.

The only records which have been made available are those pertaining to those who died in the service during World War II. The online Canadian Armed Forces War Dead database provides an index of the records which are available.

The entire service file is available for these individuals.

World War II RAF squadron at Attlebridge, Norfolk
Wikimedia Commons

For the service record of someone who survived service in World War II, limited access is available, as follows:

  • If the person is still alive, access to the file requires that person's written consent.
  • If the individual died within the past 20 years, limited information can be released to the immediate family (defined as the parents, spouse, siblings, or children or grandchildren of the deceased), upon presentation of proof of death and proof of relationship to the deceased.
  • If the individual died more than 20 years ago, there are no restrictions on access to the file, upon presentation of proof of death.

Go to 'Canadian Military Records: New France"

Go to 'Canadian Military Documents: British Rule'

Go to 'The American Revolutionary War: Fighting for the British

Go to Canadian Military Records: an Introduction'

Go to FamilyHistoryAlive Home Page

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