First Canadian casualties of the First World War

It is well documented that George Lawrence Price, who was killed by a sniper two minutes before the Armistice on November 11, 1918, was the last Canadian soldier to die in combat during the First World War. But who was the first?

It turns out, the answer is a bit complicated. On August 4, 1914, Britain declared war on Germany. As a dominion of the British Empire, Canada automatically entered the war. Members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force only arrived at the battlefields of France and Belgium in early 1915; however, some Canadians who were overseas when war broke out joined British forces and saw active service more quickly. British units were fighting in Belgium and France as early as August 1914, with intense combat at Mons, the Marne and Ypres, resulting in 500,000 casualties by October 1914.

Canada’s Books of Remembrance, along with the Canadian Virtual War Memorial, contain the names of more than 118,000 Canadians who fought and died in wars since Confederation. While primarily commemorating soldiers killed within Canadian units, the Books of Remembrance also commemorate those killed serving with British regiments. They include the names of Canadians who died in service of other causes—disease, illness, accident, or injury—as well as those killed in action and as the direct result of injuries received in or related to combat.

Death in service, but not in combat

Private Harry B. Little of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry enlisted on August 10, 1914, at the age of 26. He died four days later from heart failure while on a troop train in Alberta. Little was buried in Czar Cemetery, Alberta.

Death in battle, but not for Canada

Corporal Charles Raymond served with the British infantry, 2nd Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps. Raymond was born in Windsor, Ontario, and was killed in combat on September 14, 1914, at the age of 32. He is buried in La Ferté-sous-Jouarre Memorial cemetery, Seine-et-Marne, France.

Death in battle and for country

Finally, the first Canadians to die in combat while serving with a Canadian unit during the First World War were Malcolm Cann, John Hatheway, William Palmer, and Arthur Silver, on the Pacific Ocean, approximately 80 kilometres off the coast of Chile in the Battle of Coronel. They were in the first class of the newly created Royal Naval College of Canada. Under the command of British Rear Admiral Sir Christopher Cradock of the Royal Navy’s North American and West Indies station, Cann, Hatheway, Palmer, and Silver were taken as midshipmen on the HMS Good Hope, part of a squadron of ships that set out to defend British commerce from German naval aggression in the eastern Pacific. They engaged a German squadron commanded by Admiral Graf Maximilian von Spee on November 1, 1914, off the coast of Chile. In what would be the worst British naval defeat in a century, more than 1,600 Allied sailors were killed in the battle, including the four Canadian midshipmen, whose ship was sunk with all hands on board.

Related resources

Sharing genealogical data in the electronic age: the GEDCOM application

You have just met relatives who share your passion for family history and you are looking forward to gathering data about your “new” relatives. In order to share the genealogical records you already have, here’s how you can exchange genealogical data, no matter what software your recipient is using
The GEDCOM file format specification was designed to transmit and receive genealogical data such as location and date of birth, marriage and death information in a standard format. Welcome then to the equivalent of an online family reunion!

About GEDCOM

Developed by  Family Search, GEDCOM text files contain information and links for exchanging genealogical data between two parties regardless of the software. Files can also be downloaded from a website, imported into genealogical software, and added to Family Tree. The files can also be transmitted as attachments to emails. You can recognize a GEDCOM file by its extension, “.ged”.

Library and Archives Canada releases fifteenth podcast episode, “Out of the Ordinary: Rare Books”

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is releasing its latest podcast episode, Out of the Ordinary: Rare Books.

Special Collections librarian Meaghan Scanlon joins us to discuss rare books and the collection (held at Library and Archives Canada) that has grown from relatively modest beginnings into one of the finest collections of rare printed material in the country.

Subscribe to our podcast episodes using RSS or iTunes, or just tune in at Podcast–Discover Library and Archives Canada: Your History, Your Documentary Heritage.

For more information, please contact us at podcasts@bac-lac.gc.ca.

New Research Guides Online!

Library and Archives Canada is pleased to announce the launch of two new guides: Guide to Sources Relating to the Canadian Militia, 1855–1988 and Guide to Sources Relating to Canadian Naval Vessels, 1909–1983. The guides were originally compiled over many years by the late Barbara Wilson (1931–2014), an archivist with the former National Archives of Canada, now Library and Archives Canada.

Guide to Sources Relating to the Canadian Militia, 1855–1988

This guide is an indispensable starting point for researching the records that document Canadian militia units. It is a unique finding aid that brings together, by militia unit name, references to records and files scattered throughout several different archival fonds held at Library and Archives Canada.

Guide to Sources Relating to Canadian Naval Vessels, 1909–1983

This guide is an indispensable starting point for researching the records documenting Canadian naval vessels that served with the Royal Canadian Navy. It is a unique finding aid that brings together—by ship’s name—references to records and files scattered throughout several different volumes of archival fonds of the Department of National Defence.

On Pointe–A Dancing Force to be Reckoned With

Celia Franca—dancer, teacher, choreographer, founder and artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada—has been described as beautiful, graceful, talented, determined, a powerhouse and a tour de force. Other descriptions have been more pointed, alluding to Ms. Franca’s no-nonsense teaching methods as well as her drive and tenacity in her successful attempt to establish a Canadian classical ballet company in only ten months while at the same time working as a file clerk in a Toronto department store.

A black-and-white publicity portrait of Celia Franca facing the camera

Portrait of Celia Franca (MIKAN 3803233)

Celia Franca was born Celia Franks in London, England in 1921. Her parents were Polish Jewish immigrants, her father a tailor in London’s East End. She surprised her family when at a very young age, she announced that she wanted to be a dancer. After earning scholarships, she studied at London’s Guildhall School of Music and the Royal Academy of Dance. Franca made her London stage debut at the age of 14, after which there was no turning back. By the age of 20, Franca was considered to be one of the most accomplished ballerinas with the Sadler’s Wells Ballet Company (a forerunner of the Royal Ballet) and by the age of 26, Franca was ballet mistress, choreographer and soloist with the London-based Metropolitan Ballet.

A black-and-white studio portrait of Celia Franca as a young girl. She is dressed in a tutu and is on pointe.

Portrait of Celia Franca on pointe (MIKAN 3803737)

In 1950, a new national Canadian ballet company was being contemplated by some Toronto arts patrons and members of that city’s business community. When it was time to choose a director, Franca was approached and accepted the job. She was not only director of the newly formed National Ballet of Canada, but also principal dancer with the company until 1959. Under her direction, the National Ballet of Canada flourished and became recognized and applauded internationally. As a result of Franca’s tenacity and teaching style, “Canadian dancers now had no need to leave Canada to become world-renowned artists.”

In 1959, Celia Franca along with Betty Oliphant, founded the National Ballet School of Canada as a training institution for aspiring dancers and teachers. It was also a very ingenious way to provide definitive dancers for the National Ballet of Canada. Franca resigned from the National Ballet in 1974, and in 1978 co-founded The School of Dance in Ottawa with Merilee Hodgins.

Throughout her lifetime, Celia Franca was the recipient of many awards and honours. In 1968, she was invested as an Officer of the Order of Canada and later promoted to Companion. Celia Franca died in Ottawa in 2007, but her dancing legacy lives on.

Celia Franca’s legacy at Library and Archives Canada:

Images from Sir George Back’s Sketchbooks Now on Flickr

Sir George Back created a remarkable record of his Arctic expeditions from 1818 until 1837. The talented naval officer and expedition artist accompanied Sir John Franklin on his first and second overland expeditions. The objective of the first expedition (1819-1822) was to chart the coast from the mouth of the Coppermine River to Repulse Bay, while the second expedition (1825-1826) was to explore the coast to the east and west of the mouth of the Mackenzie River.

Sergeant Ernest Alvia “Smokey” Smith, VC

Ernest Alvia “Smokey” Smith (May 3, 1914 – August 3, 2005) was the last living Canadian recipient of the Victoria Cross (VC) and the only private in the Canadian Armed Forces to receive this decoration during the Second World War. It is the highest military honour awarded to British and Commonwealth Forces.

Private Ernest Alvia “Smokey” Smith, V.C.

Private Ernest Alvia “Smokey” Smith, VC (MIKAN 4233307)

Private “Smokey” Smith earned this distinction 70 years ago—on October 21 and 22, 1944—in Savio, Italy, where he was fighting with the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada. His unit was ordered to establish a bridgehead across the Savio River, which had risen significantly due to torrential rain, making it impossible for tanks and anti-tank guns to cross. Having successfully crossed the river, the unit’s right flank was attacked by the German 26th Panzer Division. Smith, an experienced member of the anti-tank platoon, had participated in the amphibious Allied invasions of Sicily and Italy, been wounded twice, and been part of fierce street fighting during the advance in Italy. Sheltering in a ditch as a German Panther tank rolled toward him and machine guns raked his position, Smith waited until the tank was within 30 feet of his PIAT (Projector, Infantry Anti-Tank, a.k.a. “tank-stopper”) and then stood up, fired, and disabled the tank. Still in full view of the enemy, he drove back the Germans who leapt from the burning tank, along with a second Panther and 30 infantry soldiers, all the while protecting a wounded comrade. According to his VC citation, “Private Smith, still showing utter contempt for enemy fire, helped his wounded friend to cover and obtained medical aid for him behind a nearby building. He then returned to his position beside the road to await the possibility of a further enemy attack.” (The London Gazette, no. 36849, December 20, 1944). Smith’s unit consolidated the bridgehead position and paved the way for the capture of San Giorgio Di Cesena and a further advance to the Ronco River.

Private Ernest Alvia “Smokey” Smith, V.C., of the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada

Private Ernest Alvia “Smokey” Smith, VC, of the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada (MIKAN 3227168)

As Smith later told it, he was placed in a Naples jail by Military Police to keep him out of trouble until he could be sent to London to receive his VC. He was, by his own words, a man who didn’t like to take orders but who believed firmly in the job he had to do. Following the war, Smith re-enlisted in the army but did not see combat. He later served as a recruiting sergeant in Vancouver and remained in the army until his retirement in 1964. Smith received the Canadian Forces Decoration and was invested as a Member of the Order of Canada in 1996 in recognition of his service to Canadian veterans’ organizations.

To learn more about Canada’s military past, visit the Military Heritage pages.

Current Status of the Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Personnel Service Files

In January 2014, we announced a project to digitize 640,000 Canadian Expeditionary Force personnel service files as part of the First World War commemoration activities of the Government of Canada. The goal of this project is to provide free access to high-quality digital copies of all service files in PDF format, anytime and anywhere.

Close to 100 years old, these personnel files are quite brittle. Additionally, over the years, service files have been consulted many times, so they are extremely fragile. It was time to take concrete steps to ensure their preservation for future generations.

To achieve this goal, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) will have to close portions of this collection as they undergo preparation, conservation, and digitization. The entire process is complex because each file must be examined: staples, paper clips and glue must be removed, and in some cases, the files must be treated for mould. After this preparation is completed, digitization is next, starting with box No. 1 and going up. Once digitized, the service files will be stored in a permanent, safe environment. We estimate that 32,000,000 pages will be available online once digitization is finished.

We are happy to inform you that we have started posting the digitized files online. They are accessible via our Soldiers of the First World War: 1914–1918 database. As of today, 76,330 files are available online. Regular uploads of about 5,000 files will take place every two weeks. All digitized files are searchable by name, regimental number and rank. We will inform you as more digitized files are added to the database.