Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Personnel Service Files – Update of July 2018

As of today, 608,399 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 10449 and last name Wilson.

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.

Arthur D’Orr LePan, Camp Kosciuszko and the Polish Army in France

By Catherine Butler

Poland on the eve of war

On the eve of the First World War, an independent Poland had been absent from the European map for nearly 120 years. In the late 18th century, Poland was partitioned by Russia, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Prussia; Prussia would eventually become part of a unified Germany. Polish lands were carved up and absorbed, and Polish people were scattered among three powerful empires.

In the century following the partitions and the profound social and political transformations they precipitated, millions of Poles emigrated to North America. At the outbreak of the First World War, several hundred thousand Poles were living in Canada, while nearly four million were living in the United States. With such a large diaspora, countless Polish Americans and Polish Canadians were eager to fight on the Allied side with the aim of restoring their homeland.

After a series of meetings between the representatives of Sir Robert Borden’s government and Polish delegations from the U.S., the Canadian government, with the approval of Britain, agreed to provide training to Polish officers living in North America. These officers, recruited from Canada and the U.S., would be sent to fight for the Polish Army in France, which ultimately financed their training. Although initial training efforts started in early 1917, a designated Polish Army camp at Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario opened in September 1917. Colonel Arthur D’Orr LePan was appointed as Commandant to the camp, a facility that came to be known as Camp Kosciuszko.

A black-and-white photograph showing a field with a group of officers following their commander in the foreground, and officers standing at attention in a line in the background

Recruits at the Polish military camp, Niagara, Ontario, November 8, 1917 (a071288)

The diaries of Colonel LePan

Colonel A.D. LePan was born in Owen Sound, Ontario, in 1885 and was educated at the University of Toronto. He served in the Canadian Army from 1915 to 1919, including as Commandant until the camp closed in March 1919. His involvement in training Polish officers began in January 1917 with the arrival of 23 American volunteers at the School of Infantry in Toronto. As Commandant, Colonel LePan saw over 20,000 recruits from the U.S. and Canada pass through Camp Kosciuszko en route to France between September 1917 and March 1919.

Many of Colonel LePan’s activities at Camp Kosciuszko are described in diaries he kept during his time as Camp Commandant. These diaries were donated to Library and Archives Canada by his son, Douglas V. LePan, in 1977. Colonel LePan’s writings offer interesting insights into a fascinating episode of Canadian history.

In addition to lists of camp personnel, the diaries contain information about training, troop movements, lists of deaths in France, along with cause and location, and a plan of grave plots of Polish soldiers at the St. Vincent de Paul churchyard in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Colonel LePan also kept a copy of the telegram authorizing the establishment of the Polish camp.

Also included in these papers are remarks given in March 1919 by Colonel LePan during a banquet in Buffalo, New York, addressing the closing of the camp. In his speech, he spoke about how crucial international co-operation between France, Canada, the U.S. and the Polish Military Commission was in making the camp a success and, most importantly, in re-establishing an independent Polish state.

“One can quite readily conceive that the camp presented interesting international associations … It was no unusual sight to have gatherings of officers at which the countries of Poland, France, United States and Canada were represented and on each occasion was found officers who from their environment and education had different ideas and ideals, all cooperating with the one great ideal of making this new creation as big a factor as possible, not only in the creation of a national Poland, but as an agency for freeing the world from an oppression that not only Poles had heard of as we have on this continent, but also that they had felt in body and soul.”

Find out more

Until November 1918, the Niagara Historical Society and Museum will be presenting an exhibition entitled Camp Kosciuszko: The Polish Army at Niagara Camp, 1917–1919. The aim of the exhibition, which began in November 2017, is to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the opening of Camp Kosciuszko. Thousands of Polish Canadians and Polish Americans trained there before being sent to Europe to fight for the liberation of their homeland after 123 years of occupation.


Catherine Butler is a Reference Archivist in the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Nursing Sisters of the Canadian Army Medical Corps in the First World War, Part I

By Laura Brown

Forty-one-year-old Alice Isaacson had accomplished a lot by the time she joined the Canadian Army Medical Corps (CAMC) as part of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) in 1916. The Irish-born, American-trained nurse had eight years of nursing supervisor experience under her belt, as well as a year of service with the 23rd General Hospital of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in Étaples, France. A reference letter penned by a Medical Officer, likely in support of her transfer from the BEF to the CEF, described her as “skillful, energetic and reliable” and as an individual who was undaunted by large tasks. On one occasion she was responsible for looking after 120 seriously ill patients with little assistance. One of the few things she had not yet learned to do was ride a bicycle, but this, too, would be tackled with determination before her return home at the end of the war.

Alice kept several diaries during her service overseas, which included postings in France at the No. 2 Canadian General Hospital at Le Tréport and the No. 6 Canadian General Hospital at Troyes. Her writings and an insightful photo album are now part of her fonds held at Library and Archives Canada (LAC). These records, as well as other private and government collections, such as the Department of National Defence fonds, are some of the examples of the valuable archival resources at LAC that document the history of women’s service in Canada’s military.

A black-and-white photograph of uniformed men and women riding bicycles. The women are dressed in light-coloured uniforms with dark belts and hats, while the men wear khaki uniforms with hats. They pedal along a pathway that is bordered on the left by a tall brick wall. A large building with windowed façades is prominent in the background. The caption, “Cycle Parade” is written on the lower half of the image.

Personnel riding bicycles, No. 6 Canadian General Hospital, Troyes, France, June 2, 1917. Photograph Album of Alice E. Isaacson, R11203-01-E (e002283123)

Only a few nurses were part of the Canadian Army Medical Corps at the start of the First World War in 1914, but numbers soon increased as civilian nurses were eager to transfer their skills into the military context. In total, more than 3,000 nurses served in the CAMC, including 2,504 overseas in England, France, and at Gallipoli, Alexandria and Salonika in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Nursing was the only means by which women were permitted to serve in the Canadian military during the First World War. To enlist, nurses had to be single, British subjects (which included Canadians at the time), in good health, between the ages of 21 and 38, and have qualifications from a recognized nursing school. If accepted, recruits were commissioned as officers with the rank of lieutenant, which is notable as Canada was the only country in the world to rate nurses as officers at the time. Canadian nurses were addressed with the traditional title of “Nursing Sister”, and enjoyed a number of benefits in their positions, including good wages and leave. The head nursing sister, known as the Matron-in-Chief, was in charge of all the nurses in the service. Margaret Macdonald of the CAMC was given this title, and was the first woman to hold the rank of major in the whole of the British Empire.

A black-and-white photograph shows nursing sisters dressed in white aprons and veils, attending to a crowd of male patients inside a tent. One of the nursing sisters is sitting on a chair, with her feet and hands folded, staring at the camera. The other two nursing sisters are standing as they bandage the wounds of soldiers. The patients are dressed in casual clothing and some are in uniform. Medical supplies including bandages and pails are seen in the foreground and mid-ground.

Nursing sisters attending to soldiers in a dressing tent at No. 7 Canadian General Hospital, Étaples, France, ca. 1917. W.L. Kidd Collection (e002712847)

Military nurses faced a multitude of new experiences that contrasted to their work in the civilian context, whether it was sleeping in a tent, shifting to a new posting at short notice, or making do with limited supplies. Improvising and adapting to changing circumstances was necessary, as nurses might face quiet wards with a few patients one day, and masses of incoming and outgoing patients the next. These women saw first-hand the bodily harm caused by the era’s modern warfare, including shrapnel and poison gas, and witnessed a loss of life that few could have predicted when they first enlisted.

Nurses were not permitted to serve in trenches and most were posted well back from the front lines, working in general or convalescent hospitals. However, some were tasked closer to enemy action. Alice Isaacson noted the coveted nursing positions at casualty clearing stations (advance units along the evacuation routes between front lines and hospitals) in her diary, while posted at No. 2 Canadian General Hospital in September 1917: “Such an exciting afternoon today! . . . Sisters Jean Johnston, S.P. Johnson and Riddle are to go to CCS tomorrow morning! Sisters Hally and Villeneuve are heartbroken at being left here – But we are all glad these sisters have their chance for CCS at last.”

A black-and-white photograph showing three people sitting on the steps of a wooden hut. Two men, wearing trousers with rolled up legs and casual shirts, sit on either side of a uniformed nurse. All are smiling at the camera.

Nursing Sister Lillias Morden with patients outside of a medical hut at No. 2 Canadian General Hospital, Le Tréport, France, 1917. Photograph Album of Alice E. Isaacson, R11203-01-E. (e007150684)

Nurses made significant contributions to the war effort in their care of ill and injured soldiers, a duty that extended after the armistice on November 11, 1918. The “Spanish flu” influenza pandemic that began at the end of the war and spread through military camps placed further demands on nurses. Close to 1,500 nursing sisters were still serving with the CAMC by mid-1919. Lillias Morden, a nurse from Hamilton, Ontario, was one of them. She joined the CAMC in 1916, served in England and France, and assisted with demobilization efforts at the end of the war. Morden did not leave her military position until November 1920.

While nurses such as Alice Isaacson and Lillias Morden made it home after the First World War ended, some nursing sisters were not as fortunate. Part II of this blog post will explore how the conditions under which nursing sisters served could be dangerous, with some paying the ultimate price.

Related resources

In April 2018, Library and Archives Canada launched Co-Lab, a new collaboration tool, for the public to contribute by transcribing, tagging and interacting with historical records. Now we are adding a new challenge: showcasing the personal files of some of Canada’s nursing sisters who served in the First World War. You can get started right away!


Laura Brown is a Military Archivist in the Government Archives Division.

Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Personnel Service Files – Update of June 2018

As of today, 601,736 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 10331  and last name Whittey.

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.

Joseph Thomas Kaeble, VC

By John Morden

This week in the blog series on Canadian Victoria Cross recipients, we honour corporal Thomas Kaeble, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his valour on the battlefield on June 8 and 9, 1918. His actions took place 100 years ago today.

Joseph Thomas Kaeble was born on May 5, 1893, in Saint Moise, Quebec. Prior to the First World War, he served as a machinist. He enlisted in the 189th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force on March 20, 1916, and on November 12, 1916, transferred to the 22nd French Canadian Battalion. The following year, in April, Kaeble was wounded and admitted to hospital. He was released from hospital shortly after, in May. While in hospital, he was promoted to the rank of corporal.

A black-and-white photograph of a soldier in full uniform.

Joseph Kaeble, undated. Source: Directorate of History and Heritage.

Kaeble earned the Victoria Cross during the 1918 Spring Offensive, Germany’s last gamble for victory on the Western Front. On the evening of June 8, 1918, while the 22nd Battalion was stationed near Neuville-Vitasse in France, the German army launched a raid against the Canadian lines. The attack was preluded by a blistering German bombardment, which left the Canadians stunned. Afterwards, a wave of 50 German soldiers came towards Kaeble’s position. With most of his comrades injured from the bombardment, Kaeble got out of the parapet, and, with a Lewis machine gun, held off the German onslaught on his own. Despite being hit several times, he held the attackers at bay until he was finally knocked back into his trench, severely wounded. While laying wounded, he was reported to have said to his brothers in arms: “Keep it up boys; do no let them get through! We must stop them!” (London Gazette, 30903, September 16, 1918)

In that battle, Kaeble suffered compound fractures in both legs, both arms, as well as a fractured hand and neck. In the end, the German raid was repulsed by the 22nd, to large extent because of Kaeble’s valiant stand.

A typed report describing the events of the “night of June 8th/9th 1918”.

in the 22nd Canadian Infantry Battalion War Diary on the actions that took place on June 8 and 9, 1918 (e000963629)

Corporal Kaeble would die of his grievous wounds on June 9, 1918. Along with the Victoria Cross, he was also awarded the Military Medal for his actions in France. He was the first French Canadian to be awarded the Victoria Cross.

A colour photograph of a gravestone with some plants beginning to grow. In the background are other graves.

Kaeble’s grave, Wanquetin, France. Source: Wikimedia Commons. Credit: Wernervc

Kaeble’s legacy holds strong in Canada. He is honoured, among others, with a bust in Ottawa’s Valiants Memorial. In November of 2012, a new patrol vessel, the CCGS Caporal Kaeble V.C., was presented to the Canadian Coast Guard.

Library and Archives of Canada holds the digitized service file of Corporal Joseph Kaeble.


John Morden is an honours history student from Carleton University doing a practicum in the Online Content Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Personnel Service Files – Update of May 2018

As of today, 592,203 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 10117 and last name Waterous.

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.

George Burdon McKean, VC

By John Morden

Today in Library and Archives Canada’s blog series on Canadian Victoria Cross recipients, we remember George Burdon McKean, who earned his Victoria Cross one hundred years ago today for his heroic actions on the battlefield.

A black-and-white photograph of a smiling military officer.

Lieutenant George Burdon McKean, VC, June 1918 (MIKAN 3218939)

Born on July 4, 1888, in Willington, England, McKean immigrated to Canada in 1909 and settled in Edmonton, Alberta. Before enlisting on January 23, 1915, McKean was a schoolteacher. McKean joined the 51st Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force and arrived in England in April 1916. On June 8, 1916, McKean transferred to the 14th Battalion.

Sometime in the night of April 27–28, 1918, while the 14th Battalion was stationed near Gavrelle, France, McKean earned the Victoria Cross, Britain’s most prestigious military decoration. During a scouting mission, the party of men led by McKean ran head-on into a strongly defended German position. While the rest of the unit was pinned down by machine gun fire, McKean charged into the German trench with “conspicuous bravery and devotion.” Upon reaching the position, McKean killed two German soldiers, held his ground and called for more bombs. After resupplying, McKean took another position and single-handedly killed another two German soldiers and captured four more. McKean’s example rallied his men and the mission was successful. As reported in the London Gazette two months later:

“This officer’s splendid bravery and dash undoubtedly saved many lives, for had not this position been captured, the whole of the raiding party would have been exposed to dangerous enfilading fire during the withdrawal. His leadership at all times has been beyond praise.”

London Gazette, no. 30770, June 28, 1918

Later, McKean was awarded the Military Medal and Military Cross on March 28, 1917 and February 1, 1919, respectively. He would survive the war, though he would be wounded in the right leg on September 2, 1918 during the Hundred Days Offensive. He remained in England for the rest of the conflict. Following his release from hospital, McKean served as acting captain at the Khaki University of Canada in London, England, until his retirement on July 19, 1919.

He chose to remain in England after leaving the army and was killed in an industrial accident on November 28, 1926. McKean’s final resting place is Brighton Extra Mural Cemetery in Sussex, England.

Today his Victoria Cross is kept at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. McKean is honoured with a mountain named after him in the Victoria Cross Ranges in the Canadian Rockies.

A black-and-white photograph of a soldier in an officer’s uniform with gloves and a cane standing in front of stairs and a window.

Lieutenant George Burdon McKean, VC, undated (MIKAN 3218943)

A black-and-white photograph of a group of soldiers standing and sitting in front of trees in the winter.

Officers of the 14th Battalion, France, February 1918 (MIKAN, 3406029)

Library and Archives Canada holds the digitized service file of Lieutenant George Burdon McKean.


John Morden is an honours history student from Carleton University doing a practicum in the Online Content Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Personnel Service Files – Update of April 2018

As of today, 581,553 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 9926 and last name Venables.

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.

The Battle of Vimy Ridge

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.Everything was in place for the hour of the assault, 5:30 a.m. on April 9, 1917.

The preceding hours of darkness aided by cloud cover had permitted the infantry to file forward unobserved into their jumping-off positions, many of which were clearly observable to the enemy in daylight. Had this movement been witnessed, an enemy barrage might have broken up the assault wave with serious casualties; as it was, the positions were gained without notice.

In the half-light of zero hour under a cold overcast sky, when manoeuvring was still largely obscured from the enemy, the intense bombardment opened with sudden fury, and the advance of the infantry began. Continue reading

Lieutenant Gordon Muriel Flowerdew, VC

By Emily Monks-Leeson

Today our First World War Centenary: Honouring Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients, remembers Lieutenant Gordon Muriel Flowerdew, who received the Victoria Cross, the Commonwealth’s highest award for gallantry, for his actions at the Battle of Moreuil Wood on this day 100 years ago.

A black-and-white photograph of a soldier taken slightly in profile.

Lieutenant Gordon M. Flowerdew, Victoria Cross recipient (MIKAN 3521609)

Flowerdew was born in Billingford, England, on January 2, 1885. He immigrated to Saskatchewan in 1903 and later settled in British Columbia as a rancher. He enlisted in September 1914 in Lord Strathcona’s Horse, a cavalry brigade, and became a commissioned officer in 1916. By 1918, Flowerdew was Lieutenant (Acting Captain) in command of “C” Squadron of Lord Strathcona’s Horse. Though the cavalry brigades had not engaged in much direct fighting because of the static nature of trench warfare, this changed in the spring of 1918 with the return to rapid, open warfare. On March 30, 1918, the Strathconas were engaged in heavy fighting at Moreuil Wood, France, having been tasked with preventing the Germans from crossing the Avre River and advancing on Amiens.

As German soldiers entered Moreuil Wood, Acting Captain Flowerdew spotted two lines of German infantry positions supported by machine guns. He ordered a cavalry charge. His squadron passed over both German lines, attacking with their swords, and then turned and passed over the lines again, driving the defending German soldiers into retreat. According to Flowerdew’s Victoria Cross citation, by then the squadron had suffered 70 percent casualties, killed and wounded, and Acting Captain Flowerdew was badly wounded in both thighs. Nonetheless, Flowerdew continued to encourage his men, ordering them to dismount.

Through hand-to-hand fighting, the survivors managed to hold the previously occupied German positions until a unit led by Lieutenant Frederick Maurice Watson Harvey joined them. Harvey had received the VC in 1917 for his role in the attack on German positions at the Guyencourt, France. Flowerdew and his men prevented the capture of Moreuil Wood and denied the advancing German army a strategically important position.

A handwritten description of the day’s actions in combat.

Lord Strathcona’s Horse war diary page with a description of Flowerdew’s actions of the day, Page 422 (MIKAN 2004721)

Lieutenant Gordon Muriel Flowerdew died of his wounds on March 31, 1918. He is buried at Namps-au-Val British Cemetery in France. Library and Archives Canada holds Lieutenant Gordon Muriel Flowerdew’s digitized service file.


Emily Monks-Leeson is an archivist in Digital Operations at Library and Archives Canada.