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

As of today, 450,355 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 7646 and last name Patterson.

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.

First World War photographs in private fonds at Library and Archives Canada

By Rebecca Murray

A.F. Duguid, an early Canadian military historian, noted as he researched the First World War in its aftermath, “It is remarkable how much of the most useful historical material is still held in private possession.” (Clio’s Warriors by Tim Cook, page 79)

The photographs of the Canadian War Records Office photographic collection (accession 1964-114) are illustrative of the life and work of soldiers during the First World War. As many of the photographs are digitized and available online, they are heavily used by researchers.

That said, many researchers come to Library and Archives Canada (LAC) wanting to see images of the conflict that aren’t part of the official government records. This is a great example of when our private holdings—archival documents donated to LAC by individuals or organizations—can serve as an excellent complement to government holdings by providing an alternative view of an historic event.

This blog post highlights three fonds within our holdings, but there are many more. Please note that the complete references are provided below (in italics) to allow researchers to easily order the material for consultation, as not all of the items are digitized.

W. L. Kidd collection, accession 1974-137

Extent: 405 photos

Content Description: Personnel and activities of No. 7 Canadian General Hospital, Etaples, France (KIDD, W. L. 1974-137 SC 0333); examples of various types of wounds suffered by Canadian soldiers during the First World War (KIDD, W.L. 1974-137 06221). (1916–1918)

Comments: Search using the keyword “1974-137” in Archives Search to see descriptions and digitized images for a portion of the collection.

A black and white photograph of a group of soldiers and nursing sisters in a tent.

“Nursing sisters attending to soldiers in the dressing tent at the No. 7 Canadian General Hospital” (1917). Credit: W.L. Kidd (MIKAN 3603386)

Margaret D. Cooke collection, accession 1989-248

Extent: 57 photos

Content Description: Canadian Army Medical Corps in England during the First World War, including 21st Battalion personnel; Saltwood Castle; soldiers at outdoor kitchen; Duchess of Connaught Red Cross Hospital at Cliveden, Taplon; No. 2 New Zealand Hospital at Walton-on-Thames; Moore Barrack, Shorncliffe, Kent; Mount Felix, Walton-on-Thames. War photographs: destroyed tank; trench; destroyed town (COOKE, MARGARET D. 1989-248 04147).

A black and white photograph of a woman in a nursing sister uniform with the cape, pin, hat and white gloves.

Nursing Sister Beatrice Baker, 1916 (MIKAN 3596850)

Anne E. Ross fonds, accessions 1982-174 and 1965-041

Extent: 1588 photographs

Content Description: Photographic material depicting […] activities and personnel of No. 3 Stationary Hospital, C.A.M.C., in Canada, England, and in the Mediterranean theatre of operations while based on the island of Lemmos, 1915–1917; photographs by E.R Owen of staff, patients, faculties, major events and visitors at the Duchess of Connaught’s Canadian Red Cross Hospital, Taplow, England, 1915–1916; photographs from the First World War (ROSS, ANNE E. 1982-174 05618, ROSS, ANNE E. 1965-041 05680A).

A black-and-white photograph of a group of four women sitting on deck chairs with blankets. Three of the sisters are wearing the dark overcoat while one is wearing a lighter coloured jacket. A soldier can be seen slightly in the middle of the group.

Nursing sisters sitting on deck of ship with a soldier (1916). Credit: Anne E. Ross (MIKAN 3195179)

If you’re interested in discovering these or other photographs held in private fonds at LAC, please contact us using our online form.


Rebecca Murray is a reference archivist in the Reference Services Division of Library and Archives Canada.

Air Marshal William Avery Bishop, VC

By Emily Monks-Leeson

The subject of today’s post in our blog series, First World War Centenary: Honouring Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients, is one of the best-known Canadians of the First World War: flying ace William “Billy” Bishop.

A black-and-white photograph of a military officer seated with his hands in his lap. He is wearing the characteristic Sam Browne belt, which is a wide leather belt with a narrower strap that passes diagonally across the body over the right shoulder.

Lieutenant-Colonel W.A. Bishop, VC, in Lieutenant Quinn’s studio, undated, London, England (MIKAN 3191874)

William Avery Bishop was a cadet in the Royal Military College of Canada when he enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force on September 30, 1914. After briefly serving in the trenches, Bishop transferred to the Royal Flying Corps. He received his wings in November 1916, and shot down a total of 12 planes in April 1917 alone, which won him the Military Cross and saw his promotion to Captain. By the end of the First World War, Billy Bishop had been promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel and was credited with 72 victories.

A black-and-white photograph of a man sitting in the open cockpit of an airplane looking at the viewer.

Captain W.A. Bishop, VC, Royal Flying Corps, August 1917. Photographer: William Rider-Rider (MIKAN 3191873)

Bishop was the first Canadian airman to be awarded the Victoria Cross for his single-handed attack on a German airfield near Cambrai, France, on June 2, 1917. According to his citation in The London Gazette:

Captain Bishop, who had been sent out to work independently, flew first of all to an enemy aerodrome; finding no machine about, he flew on to another aerodrome about three miles south-east, which was at least twelve miles the other side of the line. Seven machines, some with their engines running, were on the ground. He attacked these from about fifty feet, and a mechanic, who was starting one of the engines, was seen to fall. One of the machines got off the ground, but at a height of sixty feet Captain Bishop fired fifteen rounds into it at very close range, and it crashed to the ground.

A second machine got off the ground, into which he fired thirty rounds at 150 yards range, and it fell into a tree.

Two more machines then rose from the aerodrome. One of these he engaged at the height of 1,000 feet, emptying the rest of his drum of ammunition. This machine crashed 300 yards from the aerodrome, after which Captain Bishop emptied a whole drum into the fourth hostile machine, and then flew back to his station (The London Gazette, no. 30228, Saturday, 11 August, 1917).

Air Marshal William Avery Bishop died on September 11, 1956 in Palm Beach, Florida. He is interred in the Bishop family plot in Greenwood Cemetery in Owen Sound, Ontario.

Library and Archives Canada holds the CEF service file of William Avery Bishop.

Related Resources


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 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.

Beyond Vimy: The Rise of Air Power, Part 2

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.Library and Archives Canada is releasing its latest podcast episode, “Beyond Vimy: The Rise of Air Power, Part 2”.

April 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the attack and capture of Vimy Ridge, when all four divisions of the Canadian Corps worked together for the first time. During the First World War, over 25,000 Canadians served with the British Flying Service as pilots, observers and mechanics, and even though the Battle of Vimy Ridge is better known as a ground offensive, many of the preparations for the assault on Vimy took place in the air. In Part 2 of this episode, we sit down with Bill Rawling, historian and author of the book Surviving Trench Warfare, and Hugh Halliday, author and retired curator at the Canadian War Museum, to discuss the role Canada and her allies played in the air over Vimy Ridge and Arras in April 1917, a month known as “Bloody April.”
A black-and-white photograph of a biplane with two aviators in the cockpits: one is piloting and the other is at the machine gun.

A Curtiss JN-4 gun installation, pilot’s gunnery, Royal Flying Corps, Canada, School of Aerial Gunnery at Camp Borden, Ontario, 1917 (MIKAN 3404272)

To view images associated with this podcast, here’s a direct link to our Flickr album.

Subscribe with RSS, iTunes or Google Play to automatically receive new episodes.

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

Grist for the Mill – Poems on war, labour and progress

By Kelly Anne Griffin

Alex Gibson was an immigrant, a veteran of the First World War, a mill worker and a poet. His experiences are reflected in Grist for the Mill, a book of poetry that he self-published in 1959. A copy of this book was discovered during the processing of the archival records of the Canadian Paperworkers Union.

Gibson was born in 1893 in Scotland, and he immigrated to Canada around 1913. He enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force in the 10th Field Ambulance Battalion. Many of the poems in his book deal with the challenges of adjusting to the often routine life of working in a paper mill after surviving the horrors of war. Many young Canadian men faced similar challenges when they returned from the war in Europe.

He contemplates the struggles of returning soldiers in “What Shall It Be”:

What shall it be when victory’s won
And our men come marching home;

Shall it mean the same as it always means –
The broken lives and the shattered dreams

And a desolate land to roam?

[…]

Answer ye men of the shop and rail –
The mill and the mine – the sea and the mail,

For answer it ye shall?
(pp. 90–92)

A black-and-white photograph showing a crowded war scene: wounded soldiers are on stretchers while soldiers mill around, with destroyed buildings in the background.

The 10th Field Ambulance Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force at the Battle of Amiens in August 1918. Gibson served in the field, caring for the wounded after battle. This devastating experience underlies his poetry. (MIKAN 3397051)

Gibson worked in the pulp and paper industry for over 38 years and was passionate about labour issues. He served in several important roles within the Canadian Paperworkers Union during his career. He even ran for federal office in the riding of Port Arthur in 1935 and 1940 for the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation. This party, a predecessor of the New Democratic Party, was dedicated to progressive social and labour issues. Gibson’s socialist stance is clear in nearly all of the poems in the book, which provides an informative first-hand account of working-class struggles. The plight of the worker and the need for workers to come together in a strong brotherhood are recurring themes. In “Hoboes and Heroes,” he writes about the class of society that could be called the working poor:

He said that every place he went
He found that there were thousands such as he;
Who, with the last of all their money spent
Were forced to beg for charity.

[…]

And as he spoke I sensed the bitter note.
Of dark despair, the utter lack of hope.
(pp. 77–80)

Working for over three decades in a factory, and being active in union activities, Gibson was acutely aware of the hardships and struggles in a production mill. These come up frequently in his writings. Days were long, pay was poor and conditions were not as regulated as they are today. He continually tried to improve this situation through his work with the union. The vivid picture he paints of what life was like for these men shows his empathy for his fellow workers. In the book’s dedication, he writes:

To ye who toil in the murk;
To ye who swine in the drift

Making an epic of work,
Single or double shift.

Knowing you as I do;
Living the life you live,

This is my gift to you,
All that I have to give.
(p. 3)

A black-and-white photograph of a man leaning over a grinder machine holding a plank of wood in his hands.

Worker in a pulp and paper mill operating a grinder machine. Gibson’s poetry often describes the monotonous and dangerous conditions in mills and the effects on workers. Photo taken by Harry Foster (MIKAN 3196845)

Most of Gibson’s poems cover issues relating to labour and social injustices in Canada, but some provide glimpses into important moments in history. “A Constitutional Crisis” relates the abdication of Edward VIII to wed twice-divorced Wallis Simpson, a huge scandal at the time. “A Note to the Hon. Minister of Justice” is about the jailing of Tim Buck, a leader in the labour movement. Buck’s imprisonment at Kingston Penitentiary caused much public outcry, especially among labourers like Gibson.

This collection of poems, though written primarily about personal conflicts and workers’ struggles, has an underlying tone of hope. Many of Gibson’s poems are still relevant for Canadian readers today. This is one reason why Grist for the Mill is a true treasure in the collection of Library and Archives Canada.

The Battle of Vimy Ridge – war art

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.By Katie Cholette

The Battle of Vimy Ridge captured the imagination of professional and amateur artists alike. Some of these artists served in uniform and participated in the battle. Other artists were not present, but painted the battlefields after the fact or from imagination. In a variety of styles and media, male and female artists, both Canadian- and British-born, responded to a number of aspects of the battle: the heroism of the soldiers, the massive number of casualties, the widespread destruction of buildings and the devastation of the natural landscape.

A colour lithograph of a desolate landscape showing a large crater in the middle of which is a cross drawn out with white stones. At the top and the bottom of the crater are two other stone crosses: one Roman and the other Celtic. Barbed wire circles the crater and stumps of bombed trees can be seen in the distance.

A Mine Crater – A Cemetery in the Old “No Man’s Land” on Vimy Ridge, 1917, a lithograph by Frederick Thwaites Bush (Library and Archives Canada – MIKAN 4014020)

British-born Canadian soldier Frederick Thwaites Bush created some of the most evocative images of the battle. Trained as an architect before the war, Bush served as a lieutenant with the 29th Battalion and the Canadian Engineers. While in Belgium and France he sketched a number of sites, including Ypres, Passchendaele and Vimy Ridge. Based on a pencil sketch done on site, Bush’s colour lithograph of the mine crater and gravesite set within a degraded landscape captures the feeling of desolation and loss.

An etching of a group of soldiers around a canon being pulled by a team of horses, with the shell of a destroyed farmhouse in the background.

Berthonval Farm by Lieutenant C.H. Barraud, c. 1917–1918 (Library and Archives Canada – MIKAN 4936627)

Lieutenant Cyril Henry Barraud worked as an artist and commercial illustrator prior to the First World War. Born in England, Barraud emigrated to Canada in 1913, and when war broke out he attested in the Winnipeg Grenadiers. He was sent overseas in August 1915 with the 43rd Battalion, and in November 1917 was appointed an official war artist. During his time in France and Belgium, Barraud sketched along the front. Based on these sketches, he later created many etchings for the Canadian War Memorials Fund. Images such as Berthonval Farm are typical of his carefully-composed style and combine war-damaged buildings with romanticized idyllic landscapes. This work was part of the Canadian War Memorials Exhibition held in London in 1919.

A watercolour of a broken brick and concrete wall scattered over a little hill with broken trees behind it and airplanes flying overhead.

Wrecked German Strongpoint During Battle of Vimy, 1917 by Reuben Alvin Jukes, 1917 (Library and Archives Canada – MIKAN 3838519)

Reuben Alvin Jukes (Jucksch) was born in Hanover, Ontario. Listing his occupation as an artist, he attested in the 20th Canadian Battalion in 1914 and was sent to train in England. Jukes was sent to the front in January 1916. Although he was not an official war artist, a lenient commanding officer allowed him time to paint scenes while at the front. Due to an episode of what was then called shell shock, he was not present at the Battle of Vimy Ridge; however, he returned to active service in May 1917. He subsequently painted a number of highly detailed, almost surreal watercolours, such as Wrecked German Strongpoint During Battle of Vimy, 1917, depicting the aftermath of the battle.

A colour painting of several crosses festooned with flowers in the middle of a gaping stone wall. Behind is a brown structure and the sky is blue with white clouds.

Gun Emplacements, Farbus Wood, Vimy Ridge by Mary Riter Hamilton, 1919 (Library and Archives Canada – MIKAN 2836031)

Some of the most expressive paintings of Vimy Ridge were produced by Canadian-born professional artist Mary Riter Hamilton. Although Hamilton was unsuccessful in her attempts to be appointed as an official war artist, she was commissioned by The War Amputations Club of British Columbia to provide images for The Gold Stripe, a veterans’ magazine. Hamilton was anxious to paint the sites where so many men died before any reconstructive efforts were undertaken, and left for Europe shortly after the war ended. She painted in Europe from 1919 until 1922 and produced over 300 works, including Gun Emplacements, Farbus Wood, Vimy Ridge and Petit Vimy and Vimy Village from the Lens – Arras Road. In both of these works, Hamilton’s spontaneous and loose handling of paint combined with a light palette demonstrate a sense of optimism despite the circumstances. Hamilton refused to sell her war paintings. Hoping that they would benefit the men who fought and their families, she exhibited them several times in fundraising exhibitions. In 1926 she donated 227 paintings, drawings and prints to the Public Archives of Canada (now Library and Archives Canada).

A colour painting of a road lined with broken trees leading down to a town. In the distance can be seen other villages and hills.

Petit Vimy and Vimy Village from the Lens – Arras Road by Mary Riter Hamilton, 1919 (Library and Archives Canada – MIKAN 2836011)

A colour painting of a group of soldiers charging forth, in various poses of throwing grenades. Others are moving forward with guns and bayonets, while others lay on the ground, dead. The colours of the painting are very light pastels and the soldiers are painted with great delicacy.

Cede Nullis, the Bombers of the 8th Canadian Infantry on Vimy Ridge, 9th April 1917 by Lady Elizabeth Southerden Butler, 1918 (Library and Archives Canada – MIKAN 2883480)

The Battle of Vimy Ridge captured the imagination of another professional female artist—Lady Elizabeth Southerden Butler. Lady Butler (née Elizabeth Thompson) was an academically-trained English artist who specialized in realistically rendered paintings of battlefield warfare. In the late 19th century she gained popularity from her romanticized, heroic depictions of the Crimean and Napoleonic wars. Stylistically similar to her earlier works, Cede Nullis, the Bombers of the 8th Canadian Infantry on Vimy Ridge, 9th April 1917 depicts the 8th Canadian Infantry (part of the Canadian 3rd Division) on the day that the Canadians took the ridge. The watercolour was painted while she was living in Ireland, and was exhibited in May 1919 in London. The work was acquired at auction in 1989.

The victory at the Battle of Vimy Ridge was one of the most important moments in Canadian history. Immortalized in art, the bravery of the soldiers and the sacrifices of the battle have become integral parts of our national mythology.

Biography

Katie Cholette has a BA (Hons.) in Art History, an MA in Canadian Art History and a PhD in Canadian Studies. She has previously worked as the Curator of Acquisitions and Research at the Portrait Gallery of Canada, held two Research Fellowships in Canadian Art at the National Gallery of Canada, and taught courses in Art History, Canadian Studies and the Humanities for the past 14 years at Carleton University. She has also worked on a number of freelance curatorial and research projects and is on the editorial board of the Underhill Review.

This blog was developed under a collaborative agreement between Library and Archives Canada and The National Archives.

The Battle of Vimy Ridge – memorialization

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.By Andrew Horrall

In the days following the battle of Vimy Ridge, newspaper headlines throughout the allied countries proclaimed that Canada’s soldiers had captured an objective that had long-seemed impossible. Families of those in uniform greeted the news with excitement and worry; as one father wrote to his son who had fought at Vimy: “The press are giving the Canucks great praise. They certainly had the place of honour, but according to the casualties, they are paying a price for it.” Over 10,000 Canadians had been killed or wounded.

An immense sense of pride about this all-Canadian victory was felt by those who had fought at Vimy, their families, and civilians. The battle almost immediately became a symbol of Canada’s emerging nationhood. The battle’s first anniversary was marked with fundraising drives, and by the end of the war many Canadians believed that France was planning to give Vimy Ridge to Canada in grateful tribute to this military triumph. Over the following years, the battle’s anniversary was marked by banquets, concerts, and church services on what was known as “Vimy Ridge Sunday.” Towns, streets, parks, businesses, and lakes throughout the country, as well as a mountain and quite a few babies were named for the battle, becoming ever-present reminders of what Canadians had achieved in 1917.

A colour photograph of a group of people on horseback by a river with a mountain peak in the background. One is dressed in “cowboy” attire and appears to be leading a family on a trail.

Vimy Peak, Alberta, 1961. (Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN 4314396)

A map titled, “Canadian Battle Exploit, Memorial Site. Hill 145.”

Map of the proposed site of the Vimy memorial, undated. (The National Archives, WO 32-5861)

Amid this widespread commemoration, in October 1921, the federal government chose Toronto sculptor Walter Allward to design the Canadian National Vimy Memorial that now commands Vimy Ridge’s highest and most important feature, situated on land given to Canada by France. Over the next 15 years, the ground was cleared of unexploded shells, bombs and grenades and landscaped, a system of trenches was preserved and the memorial was erected.

A black-and-white photograph of a dramatic view of a larger-than-life sculpture from the Vimy Memorial, a man in mourning with his foot resting on a sword. In the background are side panels bearing the names of Canadian dead.

One of the statues on the Vimy Memorial. (Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN 3329415)

A typewritten letter reading: His Majesty’s Minister at Paris presents his compliments to His Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and has the honour to report that the “Journal Officiel” for June 29th contains the text of a law promulgating the agreement concluded on December 5th, 1922 between the French Government and His Majesty’s Government in Canada concerning the cession to the Government of Canada of the use and free disposal of 100 hectares of land on the Vimy Plateau destined for the laying out of a park and the erection of a monument to the memory of Canadian soldiers fallen on the field of honour in France in the course of the war, 1914–1918.

Letter confirming the transfer of land in France to the Canadian Government, June 30, 1927. (The National Archives, FO 371/12638)

In the late 1920s, veterans groups began planning a pilgrimage of those who had fought at Vimy and their next of kin to ensure that a large Canadian contingent would attend the memorial’s dedication ceremony. In July 1936, over six thousand pilgrims boarded five specially chartered ocean liners in Montréal. Pilgrims were given distinctive berets and badges and told that they were Canada’s ambassadors to Europe. For many British-born pilgrims, the voyage was also an opportunity to visit their families, which had been one of the allures of joining the Canadian Expeditionary Force two decades earlier.

Among the pilgrims was Charlotte Wood, who had immigrated to Alberta from Chatham, Kent, England in 1904. Eleven of her sons and step-sons had served in uniform. Five of them had been killed, including Peter Percy Wood who had died near Vimy Ridge shortly after the battle. He has no known grave and is among more than 11,000 Canadians declared missing and presumed dead in France, and whose names are inscribed on the memorial. Mrs. Wood was the first Silver Cross Mother, a woman chosen annually to represent all Canadian mothers who have lost children in the service of the country. The Japanese-Canadian community also sent two representatives to commemorate the members of the community who had served during the war.

A black-and-white photograph of a woman saluting wearing a beret and coat with many medals pinned upon it.

Charlotte Wood at the Vimy Ridge Memorial, July 26, 1936. (Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN 3224323)

The pilgrims first disembarked in Antwerp, Belgium where they boarded buses that carried them past First World War battlefields and cemeteries to Vimy Ridge. The memorial was dedicated by King Edward VIII on July 26, 1936 before a huge crowd of pilgrims, veterans from many nations, military personnel and dignitaries. The King was very popular in Canada and even owned a ranch in Alberta. The pilgrims then sailed to London where they laid wreaths at the Cenotaph in Whitehall. These veterans were now in London as the representatives of a country that had gained significant autonomy since the war. The pilgrimage concluded in Paris where wreaths were laid at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

A black-and-white photograph of a large crowd lined on the sidewalk of street while a cenotaph ceremony is taking place in the centre with soldiers in formation in front of a large white cenotaph.

Vimy pilgrims at the Cenotaph, Whitehall, London, July 29, 1936. (Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN 4939444)

In 1940, the Vimy Memorial’s Canadian caretaker was captured by German forces as they overran northeastern France at the start of the Second World War. Rumours abounded throughout the war that the memorial had been damaged or destroyed. On September 11, 1944, Lieutenant-General Harry Crerar, who had fought in the battle of Vimy Ridge and now commanded the First Canadian Army, made a highly publicized visit to this symbol of national military strength. Photographs of his visit proved that the newly liberated memorial was in remarkably good condition, thanks in large part to Paul and Alice Piroson, a Belgian couple who had looked after it throughout the war.

A colour photograph of man standing in front of a large stone structure. Two people are on the left side of the photograph, one is in uniform and mostly cut off and the other is wearing a vest, sweater and beret.

Lieutenant-General H.D.G. Crerar and Paul Piroson at the Vimy Memorial, September 11, 1944. (Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN 4233251)

Paul Piroson continued working at Vimy after the war. When he retired in 1965, Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson personally invited the Pirosons to make their first visit to Canada. They toured the country in 1967, being honoured at a series of events that marked the battle’s fiftieth anniversary.

A colour photograph of a bugler in Highland uniform in front of the Vimy Ridge memorial.

View of Vimy Memorial, undated. (Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN 4234839)

The men who fought at Vimy Ridge believed it was the moment when they became Canadian and in which the nation was born. The idea grew over the years, and today the battle symbolizes Canadian service and sacrifice in all wars. The name “Vimy” is invoked in many military commemorative projects, while thousands of people from Canada and elsewhere visit the memorial each year to learn what Canadians achieved there in 1917.

Biography

Andrew Horrall is an archivist in charge of military records and an historian of English music hall. He holds a PhD in History from the University of Cambridge.

This blog was developed under a collaborative agreement between Library and Archives Canada and The National Archives.

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.