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Records of the Canadian Expeditionary Force - First World War
The First World War, fought between 1914 and 1918, was the first of the great world-wide conflicts of the twentieth century, pitting the 'Central Powers' of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey and smaller allies against the 'Entente', notably the British Empire, France, Russia, Italy, Japan, the United States, and their allies.
Shortly after the British declaration of war in August 1914, Canada offered an initial contingent of 25,000 for service overseas. A second contingent was offered in the autumn of 1914. The 1st Canadian Division was formed from units of the first contingent in January 1915, and was fighting in France the following month. In September 1915, the Canadian Corps was formed, incorporating the 1st and 2nd Canadian Divisions, and the Canadian Cavalry Brigade. Further contingents and reinforcement drafts continued to be sent overseas. At the time of the Armistice in November 1918, the Canadian Corps had expanded to include four infantry divisions and corps units. Other Canadian units, including some artillery batteries, engineering companies, and railway and forestry troops, served directly under British command in France and Belgium. Still other units, responsible for administrative support, training, forestry and medical care, served in England. The Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF), as the army raised during the First World War was designated, grew in the course of the conflict to 619,636, of whom 424,589 served in Europe.
The Ministry of Militia and Defence (whose records are described by Library and Archives Canada as Record Group [RG] 9), the predecessor of the Department of National Defence today, was responsible for the recruitment, preliminary training and dispatch overseas of recruits for the CEF.
The Ministry of the Overseas Military Forces of Canada (whose records are described by Library and Archives Canada as RG 150) was created by an Order-in-Council dated 28 October 1916 (P.C. 2651) to oversee the administration of the CEF. The Ministry functioned as the liaison between the Canadian government and the British government, the War Office and British General Headquarters. It had broad responsibility for all matters connected with the administration of the CEF. Whereas the CEF was placed under the control of the British military authorities for operational purposes, responsibility for all other matters (including finance, logistics, training and reinforcement) fell to the Ministry of the Overseas Military Forces of Canada.
With the end of conflict in Europe, the repatriation of the CEF, and the final settlement of financial arrangements with the British, the Ministry of the Overseas Military Forces of Canada ceased to exist on 8 June 1920 (P.C. 1705, 26 July 1920).
Attestation Papers and Enlistment Forms
Volunteers for the Canadian Expeditionary Force were questioned at the place of enlistment to complete the two-sided Attestation papers which included the recruit's name and address, next-of-kin, date and place of birth, occupation, previous military service, and distinguishing physical characteristics. Recruits were asked to sign their Attestation papers, indicating their willingness to serve overseas. By contrast, men who were drafted into the CEF under the provisions of the Military Service Act (1917) completed a far simpler one-sided form which included their name, date of recruitment, and compliance with requirements for registration. Officers completed a one-sided form called the Officers' Declaration Paper.
This series consists of approximately 620,000 individual Attestation papers and Military Service Act Enlistment forms. They were completed in triplicate at the time of enrolment in the CEF. At least one copy of the Attestation papers or Enlistment form accompanied the CEF member overseas, where it was placed on the individual service file at the Ministry of the Overseas Military Forces of Canada in London.
Paper originals of the Attestation papers and Enlistment forms are described by Library and Archives Canada as RG 9, II B8, Vols. 1-654.
The service files of CEF members can consist of up to two or three dozen forms, dealing with enlistment, training, medical and dental history, hospitalization, discipline, pay, medal entitlements and discharge or notification of death. A copy of the Attestation paper or Military Service Act Enlistment form is invariably present on the file, unless the soldier was a deserter or defaulter (failed to report for duty).
Service files indicate the locations of postings in England, but do not provide similar information for theatres of war, such as the Western Front. They indicate only the unit to which the individual was posted. From the start of the First World War, Canadian Expeditionary Force units were required to maintain a daily account of their 'Actions in the Field'. These logs were called War Diaries and they are a historical record of a unit's administration, operations and activities during the First World War. The records have been scanned and can be viewed online in our ARCHIVED - War Diaries of the First World database. Records not yet digitized are available on microfilm.
For information about military operations, we suggest that you consult the official history of the Canadian Army in the First World War, entitled Canadian Expeditionary Force 1914-1919, by G.W.L. Nicholson (Queen's Printer, Ottawa, 1962). This book should be available through your local library. (Also Available Online www.cmp-cpm.forces.gc.ca/dhh-dhp/his/oh-ho/index-eng.asp.)
Paper originals of the service files are described by Library and Archives Canada as RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Boxes 1-10,684. Files for individuals with the names Neils Aabel to Stanley Adair were moved from that accession to permanent volumes. Those references are RG 150, without an accession number, and with volume numbers instead of box numbers.
The database is an index to the service files held by Library and Archives Canada for the soldiers, nurses and chaplains who served with the CEF. In addition, scanned images of most of the Attestation papers are available in the database. More will be added as the scanning project continues.
The database contains only one search screen. This search screen offers specific field search capability.
The search screen contains the following search fields:
To search the database, enter the name of the individual and/or their regimental numbers, if known in advance. A search by Surname and Given names allows you to find records on a specific individual. You can also specify if you only want to search for references that include digitized images of the complete service file.
The Number of references by page option allows you to change the number of references appearing on the results page for the duration of the search in progress. By default, the number is set to twenty.
Truncate if necessary, * replaces a character, and * replaces a chain of characters, to allow for possible misspelling.
Be careful with regimental numbers. You will only retrieve numbers that correspond strictly to what you have specified.
Officers did not have a regimental number unless they enlisted first as privates or non commissioned officers.
If you did not find the person's name, you can try searching spelling variations or combinations of given names and initials.
Some individuals enlisted more than once, often using an assumed name, and have more than one Attestation paper. This is indicated by the initials AKA (also known as). If there is only one Attestation paper for such an individual, a "see also" reference will direct you to the name under which that person enlisted.
If you still cannot find the name, it could mean that the person enlisted under an assumed name, did not serve during the First World War, or did not serve with the CEF.
Your search results will be posted as a summary list from which you will be able to obtain more detailed descriptions.
Results Summary List
The results summary list, sorted by column, contains information that will allow you to rapidly assess how relevant the documents are that you have found. Each page of the list provides 20 references, which is a default value that you can change. You can export the results to a diskette or to your own computer.
The results summary list includes all or some of the sections described below. If the information seems insufficient or unclear, for example, because of misspelling or errors, you should contact the reference services of Library and Archives Canada for more information.
The first column is linked to the detailed description (see below). Clicking on the underlined name will bring you to the detailed description.
The Name column provides the family name and the given names of the soldier. The given names may be complete or only the first letter of one or many given names may be shown.
The Date of Birth column provides the soldier's date of birth as it appears on the attestation paper.
The Regimental number column provides the identification number assigned to the soldier when he enlisted. In the case of officers, the rank will replace the regimental number. Officers did not have any regimental numbers unless they enlisted first as privates or non commissioned officers.
The Reference column provides the Record Group and the container number of the records. These numbers are used to locate the appropriate documents.
Detailed Description (Item Display)
From the results summary list, you may consult one detailed description at a time. Each detailed description includes all or some of the sections described below. If the information seems insufficient or unclear, for example, because of misspelling or errors, you should contact the reference services of Library and Archives Canada for more information.
Names: Surname and given name(s) of the soldier.
Regimental number: Identification number assigned to the soldier when he enlisted. In case of an officer, the rank will replace the regimental number. Officers did not have any regimental numbers unless they enlisted first as privates or non commissioned officers.
At the beginning of the First World War a number of units were allotted regimental numbers with alphabetic prefixes, the most common being an "A". These prefixes for the most part were changed to numbers for the sake of consistency across the Canadian Expeditionary Force. As an example, the prefix "A" became a 4 (A34555 becomes 434555).
Reference: Record Group and container numbers of the records. These numbers are used to locate the appropriate documents. All the files of this collection are part of RG 150, (Records of the Canadian Expeditionary Force)
Birth date: Soldier's birth date, according to the file, usually referring to the declaration of the soldier when he enlisted. A file may contain more than one birth date, if a soldier enlisted more than one time or if he modified his declaration during his military service.
Attestation Paper: Most references will contain images of the attestation or enlistment form that can be acessed by clicking on the images on the Front of the form link. Two-sided forms also include a Back of form link.
Tip: To Print a copy of a scanned image, click on the icon. When the full image appears, right click on the image, select copy, then paste to your word processing software, using the Edit: Paste Special feature.
Digitized file: If the complete file has been digitized, the reference will contain a pdf link.
Suggest a Correction: If you wish to suggest a correction to the spelling of the name or the date of birth, you can click on this link to access the Suggest a Correction form. Note that the information in the database reference reflects the information as it appears on the attestation form and/or in the documents in the service file. Archival documents cannot be altered.
For researchers who do not know a soldier's regimental number, the attestation papers for the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) were scanned and those documents can be viewed in the database to assist you in identifying the correct file. Not all of the attestation papers have been scanned; however, this is a long-term project and as resources become available, more images will be added.
If there is more than one entry for the name you are searching in the database and the attestation papers have not yet been scanned, you may not be able to determine the correct file reference. Due to the large volume of inquiries we receive, we cannot undertake searches of the actual files and attestation papers. If you wish to hire someone to attempt a search on your behalf, we provide a list free-lance researchers.
If the individual died in service, you can search the Canadian Virtual War Memorial database www.vac-acc.gc.ca/remembers/sub.cfm?
source=collections/virtualmem, which will indicate the regimental number or rank. For those who died while serving with the British Forces, you can search the Commonwealth War Graves Commission database www.cwgc.org/.
For information about service records for members of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, the Royal Canadian Navy, the British Army, Royal Air Force, Royal Flying Corps and Royal Navy, please consult our First World War page.
If you found the entry for the individual you are trying to locate, you can consult the service file on-site in Ottawa. Note that the retrieval of archival documents usually takes between 24 and 48 hours. Please read our Consultation Rooms page for more information. Also note that these records are not available for interlibrary loan. If you are doing extensive research in many files, you may wish to hire a freelance researcher to consult the records on your behalf.
Most of the attestation papers have been digitized and appear online in the database.
The service files are paper originals. Beginning in May 2010, Library and Archives Canada has started to add digitized copies of the files to the database to make them more accessible, to help preserve the originals and to avoid copying the same file more than once.
For files not yet digitized, you can order photocopies or scanned images. The cost is the same. When a digital copy is requested, the complete file will be scanned and the digital images will be added to the database the next time it is reloaded. In this way, all Canadians can help contribute to the preservation of our country's military heritage.
Due to the large volume of inquiries we receive, we are unable to provide a service for selecting and copying specific documents from within a file; we only provide copies of complete file. As well, the documents are not paginated and we cannot undertake page counts of files prior to ordering. However, most Canadian Expeditionary Force service files contain an average of 25 to 75 pages, with those for personnel who were drafted or enlisted later in the war typically having smaller files. They are open to the public without access restrictions.
How to order copies
Orders can be placed using our secure online Order Form for Photocopies and Reproductions, or by mail or fax. Please include your credit card number and the expiry date.
Library and Archives Canada
395 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0N4
Cite the full archival reference as it appears in the database.
If you are having problems identifying the correct file, please consult this section.
We would like to thank the many employees of Library and Archives Canada who have contributed their time and expertise since 1996 to the successful digitization of CEF Attestation papers.
In particular, we thank the students from Renfrew, Ontario, who enthusiastically scanned and processed images from the Attestation papers during the summer of 1996, the 1997-1998 Gatineau Preservation Centre Team, and the Team who worked at headquarters on the 1999-2000 project. To date, over 60 youth have been able to benefit from the partnership between Library and Archives Canada and Industry Canada’s Digital Collections program.