Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Personnel Service Files – Update of May 2017

As of today, 438,679 of 640,000 files are available online in our Personnel Records of the First World War database. Please visit the Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Service Files page for more details on the digitization project.

Library and Archives Canada is digitizing the service files systematically, from box 1 to box 10686, which roughly corresponds to alphabetical order. Please note that over the years, the content of some boxes has had to be moved and, you might find that the file you want, with a surname that is supposed to have been digitized, is now located in another box that has not yet been digitized. So far, we have digitized the following files:

  • Latest box digitized: Box 7452 and last name Oliver.

Please check the database regularly for new additions and if you still have questions after checking the database, you may contact us directly at 1-866-578-7777 for more assistance.

Lieutenant Robert Grierson Combe, VC

Today in the series First World War Centenary: Honouring Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients, we remember Lieutenant Robert Grierson Combe of the 27th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF). In this series, we profile each of Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients 100 years to the day in action for which they were awarded this prestigious military medal.

Born August 5, 1880 in Aberdeen, Scotland, Combe enlisted in the CEF as a Lieutenant, a rank he resumed at his own request, despite having qualified as a Major.

A black-and-white image (blended photograph and sketch) of a soldier with close cropped hair and a mustache.

Lieutenant Robert Grierson Combe, VC, undated (MIKAN 3645669)

While the Canadian Divisions had been successful in securing Vimy Ridge, the British and Commonwealth forces continued to push against German lines to provide a diversionary assault to draw the German Army away from the Aisne sector and allow the French Army to make a breakthrough. On May 3, 1917, at Acheville, France, Lieutenant Combe was leading his company forward against an intense barrage of enemy artillery. Having reached the German position with only five men, Combe inflicted heavy casualties and, gathering small groups of men to join him, managed to capture his objective and take eighty prisoners. His citation in The London Gazette, no. 30154, Wednesday, 27 June, 1917 reports:

….He repeatedly charged the enemy, driving them before him, and, whilst personally leading his bombers, was killed by an enemy sniper. His conduct inspired all ranks, and it was entirely due to his magnificent courage that the position was carried, secured and held.

Lieutenant Robert Grierson Combe was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously for his leadership and courage under fire. He was buried near Acheville, France. Ongoing fighting in the area resulted in the destruction of the military cemetery and the loss of his gravesite. For this reason, his name appears on the Vimy Memorial, along with the names of 11,000 other Canadian soldiers who have no known graves.

Library and Archives Canada holds the service file of Lieutenant Robert Grierson Combe.

Related Resources

Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Personnel Service Files – Update of April 2017

As of today, 427,651 of 640,000 files are available online in our Personnel Records of the First World War database. Please visit the Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Service Files page for more details on the digitization project.

Library and Archives Canada is digitizing the service files systematically, from box 1 to box 10686, which roughly corresponds to alphabetical order. Please note that over the years, the content of some boxes has had to be moved and, you might find that the file you want, with a surname that is supposed to have been digitized, is now located in another box that has not yet been digitized. So far, we have digitized the following files:

  • Latest box digitized: Box 7260 and last name Nelles.

Please check the database regularly for new additions and if you still have questions after checking the database, you may contact us directly at 1-866-578-7777 for more assistance.

Captain Thain Wendell MacDowell, Private William Johnstone Milne and Lance-Sergeant Ellis Wellwood Sifton

A banner that changes from a black-and-white photograph of a battle scene on the left to a colour photograph of the Vimy Memorial on the right.The Discover Blog returns to the First World War Centenary: Honouring Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients series, in which we profile each of Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients on the 100th anniversary of the day that the actions took place for which they were awarded the Victoria Cross. Today we present the story of three Canadian soldiers who were awarded the Victoria Cross for their actions on the first day of the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

On April 9, 1917, Captain Thain Wendell MacDowell of Lachute, Quebec, and two runners, Private James T. Kobus and Arthur James Hay, became separated from their unit while storming a German position. MacDowell destroyed one machine gun and put another out of action. With Kobus and Hay, MacDowell entered a dugout, where he convinced the German soldiers he encountered that the three were part of a much larger force. Two officers and 75 soldiers surrendered to MacDowell, Kobus and Hay. The three men held the position for five days until relieved (London Gazette, 8 June 1917, no. 30122, p. 5702). MacDowell, a previous recipient of the Distinguished Service Order, was promoted to the rank of Major and later became Lieutenant-Colonel of the Frontenac Regiment in Napanee, Ontario. He died in Nassau, Bahamas, on March 29, 1960, and is buried in Brockville, Ontario.

A black-and-white photograph of two men in uniform standing in a field.

Lieutenant-Colonel C.M. Edwards, D.S.O., and Major T.W. MacDowell, V.C., D.S.O., 38th Battalion, October 1917 (MIKAN 3521126)

A typewritten page of the accounts of the day, from 8:45 a.m. to 6:05 p.m. The account starting at 11 a.m. states the following: “A report from Capt.MacDowell, timed 10.30 was sent in by runner stating that he could see no sign of the 78th Battn and that the Bosche were firing with machine guns on him but that he had not been able to locate these (it subsequently turned out to be in CLAUDE Trench Junction of CLUTCH), and calling for reinforcements. This report was forwarded to Brigade. At the same time a Reserve Lewis Gun crew was sent up to Capt. MacDowell and Private G.J.P. Nunney, who had come in to get a wound dressed, stated he had a Lewis gun and had salved 32 pans of ammunition and volunteered, if he got a carrying party, to go out again, get the ammunition and go over to Capt. MacDowell. All men going out to this point carried ammunition and bombs. Major Howland was ordered to send men over to reinforce Capt. MacDowell which he did sending a Machine Gun crew and ammunition. Three officers and specialists who were at Chateau de la Haie were ordered up at this time and on arrival reinforced Capt. MacDowell.”

Second page of the “Report on the operations of 38th Canadian Infantry Battalion, April 9th to 13th, 1917” from the War Diaries, 38th Canadian Infantry Battalion, April 1917, page 34 (MIKAN 1883252)

Private William Johnstone Milne was born in Cambusnethan, Scotland, and immigrated to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, in 1910. He enlisted in the 16th (Scottish) Battalion and was serving near Thelus, France, on the first day of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. That day, as the advance of Milne’s company was held up by a German machine gun, Milne crawled forward and captured the gun. When his company was on the move again, Milne targeted another machine gun in the German line and succeeded in silencing it. His citation for the Victoria Cross states that his “wonderful bravery and resource on these two occasions undoubtedly saved the lives of many of his comrades” (London Gazette, 8 June 1917, no. 30122, p. 5705). Private Milne was killed shortly after destroying the second German machine gun. His body was never recovered. He is commemorated on the Vimy Memorial, along with 11,000 other Canadians who died in France and have no known graves.

A black-and-white photograph of a man in uniform. His cap and collar are adorned with maple leaves, and he is looking directly at the photographer.

Private W.J. Milne, undated photograph (MIKAN 3357327)

Lance-Sergeant Ellis Wellwood Sifton of Wallacetown, Ontario, enlisted with the 18th (Western Ontario) Battalion to serve as a battalion driver. Before the attack on Vimy Ridge, Sifton was asked to “take a chance with the boys in the front line,” a challenge he accepted. With his company under heavy machine-gun fire near Neuville-St. Vaast, France, Sifton located the German machine gun nest. He went through a gap in the wire, ran across open ground, charged the gun crew and managed to knock over the gun before fighting the gunners. As others in his company came forward, Sifton held off a German counter-attack (London Gazette, 8 June 1917, no. 30122, p. 5704). Just as he was about to be relieved, he was killed by a wounded German soldier.

A black-and-white photograph of two men adorning a makeshift grave with white stones in a desolate landscape that has patches of snow and frost on the ground. The grave is marked by a cross with the words “L.S. [Lance-Sergeant] E.W. Sifton, VC” and adorned with a maple leaf. Beside the grave is a larger cross with the words “RIP Canadian soldiers killed in action 9-4-17.”

Two comrades of the late Lance-Sergeant E.W. Sifton, V.C., 18th Battalion, visit his grave, February 1918 (MIKAN 3194451)

A typewritten account of the actions that led to Lance-Sergeant Sifton’s Victoria Cross medal: “An act of conspicuous gallantry was performed by Sergt. E.W.Sifton of ‘C’ Coy [Company]. A M.G. [machine gun] was holding up his Company and doing considerable damage. Sergt. Sifton, single-handed, attacked the Gun crew and bayoneted every man, but was unhappily shot by a dying Boche.”

War Diaries, 18th Canadian Infantry Battalion, April 9, 1917, page 6 (MIKAN 1883227)

Lance-Sergeant Ellis Wellwood Sifton of Wallacetown, Ontario, enlisted with the 18th (Western Ontario) Battalion to serve as a battalion driver. Before the attack on Vimy Ridge, Sifton was asked to “take a chance with the boys in the front line,” a challenge he accepted. With his company under heavy machine-gun fire near Neuville-St. Vaast, France, Sifton located the German machine gun nest. He went through a gap in the wire, ran across open ground, charged the gun crew and managed to knock over the gun before fighting the gunners. As others in his company came forward, Sifton held off a German counter-attack (London Gazette, 8 June 1917, no. 30122, p. 5704). Just as he was about to be relieved, he was killed by a wounded German soldier.

Library and Archives Canada holds the military service files for Captain Thain Wendell MacDowell, Private William Johnstone Milne and Lance-Sergeant Ellis Wellwood Sifton.

Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Personnel Service Files – Update of March 2017

As of today, 416,749 of 640,000 files are available online in our Personnel Records of the First World War database. Please visit the Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Service Files page for more details on the digitization project.

Library and Archives Canada is digitizing the service files systematically, from box 1 to box 10686, which roughly corresponds to alphabetical order. Please note that over the years, the content of some boxes has had to be moved and, you might find that the file you want, with a surname that is supposed to have been digitized, is now located in another box that has not yet been digitized. So far, we have digitized the following files:

  • Latest box digitized: Box 7059 and last name McLelland.

Please check the database regularly for new additions and if you still have questions after checking the database, you may contact us directly at 1-866-578-7777 for more assistance.

Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Personnel Service Files – Update of February 2017

As of today, 404,164 of 640,000 files are available online in our Personnel Records of the First World War database. Please visit the Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Service Files page for more details on the digitization project.

Library and Archives Canada is digitizing the service files systematically, from box 1 to box 10686, which roughly corresponds to alphabetical order. Please note that over the years, the content of some boxes has had to be moved and, you might find that the file you want, with a surname that is supposed to have been digitized, is now located in another box that has not yet been digitized. So far, we have digitized the following files:

  • Latest box digitized: Box 6831 and last name McGee.

Please check the database regularly for new additions and if you still have questions after checking the database, you may contact us directly at 1-866-578-7777 for more assistance.

Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Personnel Service Files – Update of January 2017

As of today, 387,710 of 640,000 files are available online in our Personnel Records of the First World War database. Please visit the Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Service Files page for more details on the digitization project.

Library and Archives Canada is digitizing the service files systematically, from box 1 to box 10686, which roughly corresponds to alphabetical order. Please note that over the years, the content of some boxes has had to be moved and, you might find that the file you want, with a surname that is supposed to have been digitized, is now located in another box that has not yet been digitized. So far, we have digitized the following files:

  • Latest box digitized: Box 6526 and last name Murray.

Please check the database regularly for new additions and if you still have questions after checking the database, you may contact us directly at 1-866-578-7777 for more assistance.

Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Personnel Service Files – Update of December 2016

As of today, 378,229 of 640,000 files are available online in our Personnel Records of the First World War database. Please visit the Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Service Files page for more details on the digitization project.

Library and Archives Canada is digitizing the service files systematically, from box 1 to box 10686, which roughly corresponds to alphabetical order. Please note that over the years, the content of some boxes has had to be moved and, you might find that the file you want, with a surname that is supposed to have been digitized, is now located in another box that has not yet been digitized. So far, we have digitized the following files:

  • Latest box digitized: Box 6355 and Morello.

Please check the database regularly for new additions and if you still have questions after checking the database, you may contact us directly at 1-866-578-7777 for more assistance.

Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force personnel service files – update of November 2016

As of today, 361,236 of 640,000 files are available online in our Soldiers of the First World War: 1914–1918 database. Please visit Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Service Files for more details on the digitization project.

Library and Archives Canada is digitizing the service files systematically, from box 1 to box 10,686, which roughly corresponds to alphabetical order. Please note that over the years, the contents of some boxes have been moved. You might find that the file you want (with a surname that should have been digitized) is now located in another box that has not yet been digitized. So far, we have digitized the following files:

  • Latest box digitized: Box 6052 and Mattineau.

Please check the database regularly for new additions and if you still have questions after checking the database, you may contact us directly at 1-866-578-7777 for more assistance.

Launch of First World War personnel records database

We are pleased to announce an updated version of our “Service Files of the First World War, 1914-1918 – CEF” database. The new database, now called “Personnel Records of the First World War”, provides access to the service files of members of Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) along with records for other First World War personnel.

The new database includes records for the following groups:

Canadian Expeditionary Force

  • Imperial War Service Gratuities recipients
  • Non-Permanent Active Militia
  • Rejected CEF volunteers
  • Royal Newfoundland Regiment and Forestry Corps

Discover the Personnel Records of the First World War collection today!

And be sure to visit the First World War page of the Military Heritage section of our website for an overview of all our First World War records.

We wish to acknowledge the participation of the Provincial Archives Division of The Rooms corporation of Newfoundland and Labrador for access to its digitized personnel files.