Private John Chipman Kerr, VC

By Emily Monks-Leeson

As part of the First World War Centenary: Honouring Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients series, today we remember the life and military service of Canadian Victoria Cross recipient John Chipman “Chip” Kerr of Fox River, Nova Scotia.

A black-and-white photograph of two soldiers in uniform sitting on a bench. The man on the right is looking directly at the camera with a slight smile.

Private J.C. Kerr, VC, on the right. (MIKAN 3217379)

Prior to the war, Kerr worked as a lumberjack near Kootenay, British Columbia, and homesteaded in Spirit River, Alberta, with his brother, Charles Roland “Rollie” Kerr. When war was declared in 1914, the Kerr brothers, Chip and Rollie, went to Edmonton to enlist, leaving a note tacked to the door of their cabin that declared: “War is Hell, but what is homesteading?”

A black-and-white collage of three typewritten pages with the date September 15 in the margin and an hour-by-hour account of the actions taking place.

Account of the operations of the 49th Canadian Infantry Battalion from September 15–18, 1916. (MIKAN 1883261)

On September 16, 1916, Kerr was serving with the 49th Infantry Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) near Courcelette, France, not far from where Leo Clarke of the 2nd Battalion (Eastern Ontario Regiment) won the Victoria Cross the week before. Kerr’s actions on that day would earn him his own Victoria Cross. During a grenade attack carried out by his battalion, Kerr was the first bayonet man in a bombing party advancing on German positions. Recognizing that his unit’s bombs were running out, Kerr ran along the back ridge of the trench under heavy fire until he was close enough to the German troops to fire on them at point-blank range. Thinking they were surrounded, the German troops surrendered. Kerr’s citation in the London Gazette provides the details:

Sixty-two prisoners were taken and 250 yards of enemy trench captured. Before carrying out this very plucky act one of Private Kerr’s fingers had been blown off by a bomb. Later, with two other men, he escorted back the prisoners under fire, and then returned to report himself for duty before having his wound dressed. (London Gazette, No. 29802, October 26, 1916)

Chip Kerr survived the war, while his brother Rollie, also serving in the 49th Battalion, was killed in late December 1917. Kerr rejoined the army at the beginning of the Second World War, transferring to the Royal Canadian Air Force with the rank of Sergeant. He died in Port Moody, British Columbia, on February 19, 1963.

Mount Kerr, a 2,600-metre peak in Jasper National Park, is named after him, as is Chip Kerr Park in Port Moody, British Columbia.

Library and Archives Canada holds the CEF service file for Private John Chipman Kerr and his brother, Private Charles Roland Kerr.


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

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

As of today, 333,687 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 5608 and Levesque.

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 Flers-Courcelette

By Alex Comber

Far from achieving their objectives, the Battles of the Somme, continuing into August 1916, had accomplished little, at enormous expenditure of lives and resources. The Battle of Flers-Courcelette, which took place September 15 to 22, 1916, was another attempt to achieve a decisive result on the Somme Front. Fighting as part of the British Reserve Army, the Canadian Corps, commanded by Sir Julian Byng, would contribute two of its infantry divisions to the left wing of a wider attack.

This was the first major offensive operation for the Canadians, and their first experience of the devastating human toll of combat in 1916. The battle began by a massive artillery bombardment of enemy positions, similar to the earlier Somme battles. This “creeping barrage” was better timed with the pace of advancing soldiers, and kept just ahead of them. Most enemy units did not have time to recover and prepare their defences before the Canadian infantry battalions were upon them.

An image of a trench map, dated September 1916, showing the planned line of advance for the 27th Battalion near Courcelette, France.

This trench map, part of the War Diary of the 27th Battalion (City of Winnipeg), shows the planned lines of advance of this Battalion’s leading companies, from jumping-off trenches near Pozières (bottom left) toward the “final objective” just to the north of the sugar factory. Trench maps offer a wealth of detail, and this one shows the village of Courcelette at the top, and information about the other units that would advance on either flank of the 27th Battalion. (MIKAN 1883247)

Highlights of the successful advance of Canadian units included the capture of the village of Courcelette by Lt. Col. T.L. Tremblay’s 22nd Battalion (French Canadians) and the 25th Battalion (Nova Scotia Rifles) as well as the capture of the heavily fortified sugar factory east of the village by the 21st Battalion (Eastern Ontario). Elsewhere, the attack stalled, and hopes for a decisive success faded, as the Germans launched strong counterattacks or withdrew to fortified positions. Canadian units suffered approximately 24,000 wounded and killed soldiers during the operation.

A black-and-white photograph of a ruined industrial building in a destroyed landscape.

This Canadian War Records Office official photograph of October 1916 shows the remnants of what was originally a sugar factory before the War following the bombardment and Canadian advance on the fortified German position. (MIKAN 3403776)

The first tanks, called “Land ships” appeared on the battlefields of Flers-Courcelette. They were slow, cumbersome, and mechanically unreliable, and most were put out of action or broke down before they could help the advancing soldiers. However, the few that remained operational destroyed fortified pillboxes and caused chaos in enemy lines. Lt. William Ivor-Castle, an official photographer working for the Canadian War Records Office, filmed tanks advancing to their starting positions, and these caused a sensation when published in England as the first photos of tanks “in combat.”

A black-and-white photograph of a British heavy tank advancing through a shell-cratered landscape.

This Mark 1 tank, named “Crème de Menthe,” was one of the most successful of those supporting the Canadian attack at Courcelette on September 15, 1916. Early tanks were painted with colourful “Solomon-style” camouflage. (MIKAN 3397296)


Alex Comber is a Military Archivist in the Government Archives Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Sergeant Leo Clarke, VC

By Emily Monks-Leeson

We continue our series First World War Centenary: Honouring Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients with the story of Sergeant Leo Clarke, Canada’s seventh First World War Victoria Cross recipient.

A black-and-white newspaper clipping of a photograph of a young man in uniform

Sergeant Leo Clarke, VC, died of wounds, c.1915-1916 (MIKAN 3214037)

Leo Clarke, born in Waterdown, Ontario, on December 1, 1892, was a surveyor for the Canadian National Railway. He enlisted in February of 1915 at Winnipeg with the 27th Battalion and transferred to the 2nd (Eastern Ontario Regiment) Battalion after arriving in England.

On September 9, 1916, Leo Clarke and the 2nd Battalion took part in an Allied assault on a network of German trenches stretching from Martinpuich to Courcelette in northern France. Clarke’s battalion was to capture a 50-yard area between Mouquet Farm, a Canadian-held position, and Courcelette. An Acting-Corporal at the time of the attack, Clarke led a party to clear the left flank of a German trench and create a “block” to fortify the Canadian position. The trench was heavily defended and, following bitter hand-to-hand combat, Clarke was the only member of his unit not killed or wounded. Alone he fought off a counter-attack of twenty German soldiers and officers.

A black-and-white handwritten page describing the day to day actions of the battalion.

War diary extract from the 2nd Canadian Infantry Battalion from September 1-9, 1916 describing the days leading up to and including the offensive (MIKAN 1883206)

Clarke’s citation from the London Gazette recounts that:

After most of his party had become casualties, he was building a “block” when about twenty of the enemy with two officers counter-attacked. He boldly advanced against them, emptied his revolver into them and afterwards two enemy rifles which he picked up in the trench.

One of the officers then attacked him with the bayonet, wounding him in the leg, but he shot him dead. The enemy then ran away, pursued by Acting Corporal Clarke, who shot four more and captured a fifth. Later he was ordered to the dressing-station, but returned next day to duty. (London Gazette, no. 29802, 26 October 1916).

Leo Clarke died in action a month later, on October 19, 1916. His Victoria Cross, posthumously awarded in the spring of 1917, was presented to his father by the Duke of Devonshire, Governor General of Canada, before a crowd of 30,000 gathered at Portage and Main in Winnipeg.

A black-and-white photograph of a group of soldiers in uniform in a field.

Bombing Platoon (2nd Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force) at Scottish Lines near Poperinghe not far from Ypres. This photo was taken by Henry Edward Knobel – an Official War Photographer – while the 2nd Battalion was out in rest billets after fighting at Sanctuary Woods, Maple Copse (Battles of the Somme). Leo Clarke, VC, is in the front row on the far right. June 16, 1916 (MIKAN 34005888)

Sergeant Leo Clarke lived on Pine Street in Winnipeg, Manitoba, as did two other Victoria Cross recipients: Frederick William Hall and Robert Shankland. Pine Street was renamed Valour Road in 1925 in honour of the three men.

Library and Archives Canada holds the service file for Sergeant Leo Clarke.


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

Stelco archives now acquired

By Lucie Paquet

Library and Archives Canada is proud to announce that it has acquired the archives of The Steel Company of Canada, more commonly known as Stelco. These archives are now part of our national heritage. They include more than 100 metres of textual records, thousands of photographs, technical and architectural drawings, and over 200 film and sound recordings. The Steel Company of Canada (Stelco) fonds, currently in archival processing, documents all aspects of the evolution of the steel industry from the beginning of its mechanization in the 1880s through to the 1980s.

Black and white photograph showing an industrial complex for steel production and processing.

Aerial view of The Steel Company of Canada Limited (Stelco) mills in Hamilton, circa 1952. (MIKAN 4915715)

The Steel Company of Canada Limited was formed in 1910 as a merger of five companies that had previously taken over some 40 smaller ones, operating in various areas of Quebec and Ontario: Hamilton Steel and Iron Company Ltd., Montreal Rolling Mills Company, Canada Screw Company, Dominion Wire Manufacturing Company, and Canada Bolt and Nut Company. Each one had its own speciality, from the primary production of steel for the rail, agricultural and marine sectors to consumer products. This new, large company enabled the Canadian steel industry to keep pace with strong American and European competition.

The account ledgers, correspondence, management minutes, patents and photographs provide a detailed account of the beginnings of this industry, its development and its challenges.

Black and white photograph showing a mill beside a canal. Other factories and railway tracks for transporting steel materials can be seen in the background.

Saint-Henri steel mill, one of Stelco’s departments in Montreal, May 17, 1946. (MIKAN 4915716)

The archives not only document the company’s expansion, but also the development of several entire cities, towns and neighbourhoods.

Black and white photograph showing a close-up of blast furnaces on an industrial site.

Blast furnaces of The Steel Company of Canada Limited (Stelco) in Hamilton, circa 1948. (MIKAN 4915717)

Cities like Hamilton quickly became major industrial centres referred to as “steel towns.”

Black and white photograph showing men in a plant. A large number of workers manually operating the first mechanical machines can be seen in the background.

Interior view of workers at one of the steel processing plants in Hamilton, circa 1920. (MIKAN 4915719)

In the mid-twentieth century, the plants attracted many immigrants and the population in urban centres doubled in just a few short decades.

Black and white photograph showing employees packing products inside a plant.

Interior view of workers in the finishing and packing department in Hamilton, circa 1920. (MIKAN 4915720)

The Stelco archives bear witness to the working conditions of men and women who spent their whole lives in the plants.

Black and white photograph showing a group of people holding a flag with a V for victory.

Parade of Stelco managers and employees not long after the end of the Second World War, in 1945. In the foreground can be seen Stelco directors H.G. Hilton and H.H. Champ, and a military officer, among others. (MIKAN 4915722)

Stelco and its workers had important responsibilities during the First and Second World Wars, responding to the demand for military materiel from the Canadian and British governments and contributing to the Allied victory.

But success did not stop there. The phenomenal growth of urban centres during the 1950s, real estate, energy resources, means of transportation and various consumer products created strong demand for steel.

Black and white photograph showing workers operating a machine used to roll the steel and make it into panels.

Interior view of a more modern plant from the 1960s for producing steel in rolls and panels. (MIKAN 4915723)

There followed the creation of large industrial complexes and the introduction of a high-tech research centre, which enabled Stelco to develop new steel products and increase operations and production in all areas, both residential and commercial.

Black and white photograph of a man in a white lab coat taking a photomicrograph.

Engineer from the metallurgical laboratory testing the quality of the steel structure by means of “photomicrography,” circa 1960. (MIKAN 4915724)

A collage of coloured advertisements. The first image shows different residential products, including a wood fireplace for the living room, the second shows the manufacturing of steel panels, and the third shows several architectural drawings for building construction.

Collage of three advertisements from Steel in Homes (1967), Stelco Plate Products (November 1969) and Expanding the Markets for Stelco Steel, circa 1970. (MIKAN 4915725)

The Steel Company of Canada Limited (Stelco) exported its products worldwide, becoming one of the largest steel companies in North America. As an example, it was actively involved in the design and construction of the Expo 67 Steel Pavilion.

Black and white photograph showing several modern architectural structures.

In the background, the Canadian Steel Pavilion at the Montreal World Fair in 1967. This pavilion was built by the four largest Canadian steel companies: Algoma, Stelco, Dofasco and Dosco. They reproduced in miniature all the components associated with steel manufacturing. In the centre of the image, the Canadian Pulp and Paper Industry Pavilion can be seen. (MIKAN 4915727)

Over the coming months, we will introduce you to the world of Stelco—its plants, directors, employees, operations, innovations, products and challenges, as well as its social, sports and cultural activities.


Lucie Paquet is an archivist with the Science, Governance and Political Division of Library and Archives Canada.

Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force personnel service files–update of August 2016: We’ve passed the half-way mark!

As of today, 320,638 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 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 5410 and Larocque.

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 July 2016

As of today, 307,588 of 640,000 files are available online via our Soldiers of the First World War: 1914–1918 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 5218 and Knaggs.

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 Thomas Orde Lawder Wilkinson, V.C.

Today our series First World War Centenary: Honouring Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients remembers Lieutenant Thomas Lawder Wilkinson of the 7th Battalion, Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, British Expeditionary Force, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions on the Somme battlefields one hundred years ago today on July 5, 1916.

Lieutenant Wilkinson was born in Shropshire, England, and immigrated with his family to Canada prior to the First World War. On September 23, 1914, he enlisted with the 16th Battalion, Canadian Scottish, Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF), later transferring to the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, to serve as a Gunnery Officer. It was with this unit that Wilkinson found himself fighting in the Battle of the Somme.

A black-and-white photograph of a young man wearing a cap and uniform and gazing beyond the photographer.

Lieutenant Thomas Orde Lawder Wilkinson, VC, undated (AMICUS 2715209)

Four days after the most devastating single day in the history of the British forces, Wilkinson and two other men were fighting their way to a forward machine gun, recently abandoned by a retreating party of British soldiers. On their own they succeeded in holding up advancing German soldiers until another unit was able to reach and reinforce them. Later that day, Lieutenant Wilkinson reached several men of different units trapped at a wall of earth over which German troops were throwing bombs. His citation in the London Gazette recounts how:

With great pluck and promptness [Wilkinson] mounted a machine gun on the top of the parapet and dispersed the enemy bombers. Subsequently he made two most gallant attempts to bring in a wounded man, but at the second attempt he was shot through the heart just before reaching the man. Throughout the day he set a magnificent example of courage and self-sacrifice (London Gazette, 26 September 1916).

A black-and-white photograph of four soldiers carrying a stretcher with a shrouded body on it through a devastated landscape.

Bringing in the Dead on the Somme Battlefields, July 1916, Canadian War Records Office (MIKAN 3520928)

The body of Lieutenant Thomas Orde Lawder Wilkinson was never recovered. He is commemorated on the British Memorial to the Missing at Thiepval, France.

Library and Archives Canada holds the CEF service file for Lieutenant Thomas Orde Lawder Wilkinson.

Newfoundland and the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme

Among the most infamous battles of the First World War and the most emblematic of its horrific slaughter, the Battle of the Somme began on July 1, 1916.

A black-and-white photograph of a pastoral landscape.

General view of the battlefield looking towards Contalmaison (Battle of the Somme). July, 1916 (MIKAN 3520937)

The attack was launched along a 30-kilometre front in northern France. Initially planned by the Allies as a French-British assault, it was intended to divert German forces from their ongoing siege at Verdun. The expectation was that an eight-day preliminary artillery bombardment would destroy the German wire and the forward German lines, allowing advancing forces to simply walk in and take possession of the territory. The artillery, however, failed to destroy either of these targets and at 7:30 a.m. on July 1, 1916, when the bombardment lifted, German infantry emerged from their bunkers to aim their machine guns at the gaps in the otherwise intact wire. An estimated 60,000 British and Allied troops, including close to 800 Newfoundlanders, were killed or wounded on that one day alone. The Battle of the Somme lasted until November 18, 1916. Only 12 kilometres of ground were gained, with 420,000 British, 200,000 French, and 500,000 German casualties.

A black-and-white photograph of a devastated forest, only a few tree trunks are left standing

Scene in Maple Copse (Battle of the Somme). July, 1916 (MIKAN 3520908)

Continue reading

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

As of today, 297,013 of 640,000 files are available online via our Soldiers of the First World War: 1914–1918 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 5003 and Karpuk.

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.