James Edward Tait, VC

By John Morden

Today on the blog series commemorating Canadian Victoria Cross recipients, we remember Lieutenant James Edward Tait, who was awarded the Victoria Cross one hundred years ago, in August 1918, for his actions on the battlefield in France.

A black-and-white photograph of an officer wearing a Sam Brown belt, with his hands behind is back.

Lieutenant James Edward Tait, VC, undated (a006775)

Born on May 27, 1888, in Dumfries Scotland, James Edward Tait later immigrated to Winnipeg, Manitoba. Prior to the war, he was a civil engineer who was active in the 100th Winnipeg Grenadiers as militia. He also had prior military service, having served five years in the Imperial Yeomanry, four years in the Regimental Scouts and one year in a unnamed squadron. Tait enlisted in the 100th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force on January 22, 1916. He transferred to the 78th Battalion in the winter of 1917. He was wounded twice in 1917, on April 1 and September 16, and then again on April 21, 1918. On August 16, 1917, he was awarded the Military Cross.

A black-and-white photo showing a group of soldiers surrounding a recently captured enemy combatant.

German prisoner captured by the 78th Battalion during a night raid, May 1918 (a002628)

A handwritten description of the weather and events of the day.

War diary of the 78th Canadian Infantry Battalion for August 18, 1917, showing that James Edward Tait captured a German soldier. Tait is also mentioned in the war diary of September 17 (MIKAN 1883274)

Tait earned the Victoria Cross for his bravery on August 11, 1918. By this stage of the war, the Allies had begun the Hundred Days Offensive, their final push on the Western Front. On the first day of the Battle of Amiens, August 8, British and Canadian forces made massive gains in what German commanders later coined the “black day” of the German army. Over the next several days, German resistance stiffened. Tait’s unit came upon reorganized and strengthened German positions in France’s Beaucourt Wood. Here, the 78th was hampered by German machine gun fire. Tait continued to lead his men forward despite the shower of bullets. One German machine gun was still blunting the Canadian advance, so Tait charged the position himself, killed the German operating the position, and rallied his men. His actions are described in the London Gazette in September 1918:

“For most conspicuous bravery and initiative in attack. The advance having been checked by intense machine-gun fire, Lt. Tait rallied his company and led it forward with consummate skill and dash under a hail of bullets. A concealed machine-gun, however, continued to cause many casualties. Taking a rifle and bayonet, Lt. Tait dashed forward alone and killed the enemy gunner. Inspired by his example his men rushed the position, capturing twelve machine-guns and twenty prisoners. His valorous action cleared the way for his battalion to advance.”

Later that day, however, Tait was mortally wounded by a German shell. Nevertheless, he continued to give orders and rally his men until he died. Tait is buried in the Fouquescourt British Cemetery near the Somme, France. Today, Tait’s Victoria Cross is at the Glenbow Museum in Calgary.

Library and Archives of Canada holds the digitized service file of Lieutenant James Edward Tait.


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

Victoria Cross Recipients Alexander Picton Brereton, Frederick George Coppins, John Bernard Croak, Raphael Louis Zengel

By John Morden

Today we honour four Canadians who earned the Victoria Cross during the last campaign on the Western Front, known as the Hundred Days Offensive. They are Alexander Picton Brereton, Frederick George Coppins, John Bernard Croak and Raphael Louis Zengel.

Alexander Picton Brereton

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

Sergeant Alexander Picton Brereton, VC, 8th Battalion, undated (a006962)

Alexander Picton Brereton was born in Oak River, Manitoba, on November 13, 1892. Before enlisting in the 144th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force on January 31, 1916, Brereton worked as a barber and served in the militia. In April of 1917, he was transferred to the 8th Battalion. Brereton earned the Victoria Cross for his actions near Warvillers, France, on August 9, 1918. During an attack on German positions, Brereton and his men got caught in the open and were pinned down by heavy German machine-gun fire. With the most conspicuous bravery, realizing his unit faced certain destruction, Brereton single-handedly charged and captured a German machine-gun position. Brereton’s actions rallied his men to capture other German machine-gun nests. Brereton would survive the First World War and be discharged from the army on April 10, 1919. Brereton died on January 10, 1976, in Calgary, Alberta, where he was laid to rest in Elnora Cemetery.

Frederick George Coppins

A black-and-white photograph of a soldier in full uniform standing with his hands behind his back.

Sergeant Frederick George Coppins, VC, undated (a006765)

Born on October 25, 1889, in London, England, Frederick George Coppins served in the Royal West Kent Regiment before immigrating to Canada. Coppins enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force much earlier than other Canadian soldiers. He joined the 19th Alberta Dragoons on September 23, 1914. By the time of the final Allied drive to victory in the summer of 1918, Coppins was a hardened veteran. Coppins was promoted to Corporal and transferred to the 8th Battalion, the same unit as Brereton. Coppins earned the Victoria Cross on August 9, 1918. Much like Brereton, Coppins and his men were held up by German machine-gun fire. Realizing the situation at hand, Coppins gathered a handful of men to attack a German machine-gun post. During the attack, Coppins was wounded and the rest of the men were killed. Yet, Coppins persisted and captured the position, taking several enemy soldiers prisoner. Despite his wounds, Coppins stayed in the field of battle until the Canadian objectives were secured. Coppins would miraculously survive four years of service and be discharged from the army on April 30, 1919. He died on March 30, 1963, in Livermore, California, at the age of 73.

John Bernard Croak

A candid black-and-white photograph of a soldier standing outdoors.

Private John Bernard Croak, VC, undated Photo from Directorate of History and Heritage.

John Bernard Croak was born on May 18, 1892, in Little Bay, Newfoundland. He then moved with his family to Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. Before the outbreak of war in the summer of 1914, Croak worked as a labourer. Croak joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force on August 7, 1915, and was assigned to the 55th Battalion. In April of 1916, he was transferred to the 13th Battalion. Croak earned the Victoria Cross for his actions at the battle of Amiens on August 8, 1918. During the Canadian attack on that day, Croak became separated from his unit. He encountered a German machine position and, on his own, captured the entire gun crew. Although he was wounded later, he remained in the field. After reuniting with his unit, Croak came upon a position holding numerous German machine guns. In response to this threat, Croak, again on his own, charged the German position, soon to be followed by his comrades. The charge was successful, as they captured three machine guns and the German soldiers operating them. But Croak suffered severe wounds and died minutes later in an action that was “an inspiring example to all.” Croak’s final resting place is in Hangard Wood British Cemetery near the Somme in France.

 

Raphael Louis Zengel

A black-and-white bust photograph of a soldier wearing a light coloured non-commissioned officer (NCO) belt with bullets across his chest.

Sergeant Raphael Louis Zengel, VC, 5th Battalion, 1914 (a006796)

Born in Faribault, Minnesota, on November 11, 1894, Raphael Louis Zengel was one of several American-born Victoria Cross recipients. As a young boy he moved with his mother to Plunkett, Saskatchewan. Before the war, Zengel worked as a farm labourer. In December of 1914, shortly after the outbreak of hostilities, Zengel enlisted in the 45th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. He was later transferred to the 5th Battalion. On October 17, 1917, he was promoted to Sergeant.

Zengel earned the Victoria Cross on August 9, 1918, during the battle of Amiens. In that action, Zengel was leading his platoon in an attack when he noticed a gap had occurred on his flank. Under a hail of bullets from German machine-gun fire, Zengel charged ahead of his unit and captured the German machine-gun position. Later that day, a German shell knocked him unconscious. After coming to, Zengel continued to lead his men. His “work throughout the attack was excellent.” Though wounded in September, Zengel would live to see the end of the war on his 24th birthday and his discharge from the army on April 24, 1919. On February 27, 1977, at the age of 82, Zengel died in Errington, British Columbia.

Library and Archives Canada holds the digitized service files of Brereton, Coppins, Croak and Zengel.


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

Lieutenant Jean Brillant, Corporal Herman James Good, Corporal Harry Garnet Bedford Miner

By John Morden

Today, Honouring Canada’s Victoria Cross Recipients series remembers the first three soldiers to receive the Victoria Cross medal during Canada’s Hundred Days campaign: Jean Brillant, Herman James Good and Harry Garnet Bedford Miner.

Lieutenant Jean Brillant

A black-and-white photograph of a soldier in uniform looking straight at the camera. He is standing behind two other men in uniform whose faces are partially visible in the foreground. There is a tree in the background.

Lieutenant Jean (John) Brillant, VC, MC, June 1918 (c009271)

Born on March 15, 1890, in Assemetquaghan, Quebec, Lieutenant Jean Brillant served in the Canadian militia and as a telegraph operator before enlisting in the 189th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force on January 11, 1916. Brillant was later transferred to the 22nd French Canadian Battalion. In May 1918, Brillant successfully led a raid that earned him the Military Cross (MC). Early in the battle of Amiens, the first major action of the 100 days’ offensive, Brillant earned the Victoria Cross for his acts of heroism on August 8 to 9, 1918 outside Meharicourt, France. During this action, with his company pinned down by machine-gun fire, Brillant charged the position on his own and captured the German machine gun. Despite being wounded, he rallied two platoons, and together they captured another German machine-gun post. One hundred and fifty German soldiers were taken captive and 15 machine guns were seized. Brillant was wounded for a second time. When a German artillery piece was shelling Brillant’s units, he again led his men against the position and was wounded for a third time, eventually collapsing from exhaustion and loss of blood. Brillant would die of his wounds the next day, August 10, 1918. Read the description of his actions in the London Gazette. Brillant’s final resting place is in Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetary near the Sommes, France.

Corporal Herman James Good

A black-and-white photograph of a soldier in uniform looking straight at the camera and wearing a large beret.

Corporal Herman James Good, VC, undated (a006663)

Corporal Herman James Good was born on November 29, 1887 in Bathurst, New Brunswick. Prior to the First World War, Good was a farmer. He joined the 55th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force on June 29, 1915. Good was later transferred to the 13th Royal Highlanders of Canada Battalion on April 15, 1916. Despite suffering from shell shock, he would continue to serve until the end of the war. On August 8, 1918, Good earned the Victoria Cross for his actions on the first day of the battle of Amiens. During this action, Good’s unit had been stalled by three German machine guns. In response to this, Good charged the position of his own accord, killed several German soldiers and captured the rest. Later in the day, Good stumbled upon a German artillery battery. He, along with three other men, captured the gunners and artillery. Good would survive the war and live a long life afterward. He passed away at the age of 81 in his hometown of Bathurst on April 18, 1969.

Corporal Harry Garnet Bedford Miner

Black-and-white photograph of a solider in uniform sitting in a chair with his hands crossed and looking at the camera.

Corporal Harry Garnet Bedford Miner, VC, undated. Source Directorate of History and Heritage (http://www.cmp-cpm.forces.gc.ca/dhh-dhp/index-eng.asp)

Born on June 24, 1891 in Cedar Springs, Ontario, Corporal Harry Garnet Bedford Miner worked as a farmer prior to the outbreak of war in the summer of 1914. In November of 1915, Miner joined the 142nd Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. He was later transferred to the 58th Battalion and would serve in this unit for the remainder of his war. Miner won the French Croix de Guerre military medal in 1917 for his actions in a mission from Lens, France. Miner’s deeds on the battlefield on August 8, 1918 earned him the Victoria Cross. On this day, despite suffering a severe wound, Miner charged and captured a German machine-gun nest, killed the soldiers operating the position and began firing at the enemy. Later that day, with two comrades, he captured another German machine-gun position, as well as a bombing post. Unfortunately, Miner would die of his wounds later that day. Miner is buried in Crouy British Cemetery near the Somme, France.

Library and Archives Canada holds the complete service files for Lieutenant Jean Brillant, Corporal Herman James Good, and Corporal Harry Garnet Bedford Miner. Find your family member who fought in the First World War by searching the personnel records of the First World War database.


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

The road to peace: Canada’s Hundred Days

By Emily Monks-Leeson

After years of static trench warfare, the Allies’ Hundred Days Offensive, which took place over the final 100 days of the First World War, succeeded in breaking the trench line and returning the belligerents to warfare on open ground. A rapid series of Allied victories ultimately pushed the Germans out of France and behind the Hindenburg Line, leading to the Armistice of November 11, 1918.

Following the successful attack on Vimy Ridge, the Canadian Corps did not lose a significant offensive operation for the remainder of the First World War. Having earned their reputation as “shock troops”, they were put into the line in the most difficult battlefields. As British Prime Minister David Lloyd George later wrote in his memoirs, “Whenever the Germans found the Canadian Corps coming into the line they prepared for the worst.” True to form, during the period from August 8 to November 11, 1918, the four Canadian Divisions of roughly 100,000 men caused the defeat or retreat of 47 German divisions or one-quarter of Germany’s fighting forces on the Western Front. Canadians fought at Amiens, Arras, the Hindenburg Line, Canal du Nord, Bourlon Wood, Cambrai, Denain and Valenciennes. These battles, which were instrumental in the defeat of the German Army, came to be known as “Canada’s Hundred Days”. In the final month of the war, Canadian troops engaged retreating German forces in a running series of battles over 70 kilometres, ending at Mons, Belgium, on November 10 to 11, 1918. The location of this final battle was highly symbolic for the Allies, as it was at Mons that the British had fought the Germans for the first time on August 23, 1914.

A black-and-white photograph showing a large group of German soldiers milling around between a village and a river or canal. The buildings in the background are mostly destroyed.

German prisoners captured by Canadians after the Battle of Amiens, August 1918 (a002858)

While Canadian successes were widely acknowledged, they came at a high cost: in the final hundred days, Canada suffered fully 20 percent of their total battle-sustained casualties of the war. Both the loss of lives and the victories of battle in Canada’s Hundred Days are commemorated on the le Quesnel Memorial, the Dury Memorial and the Bourlon Wood Memorial. The Canadian liberation of Mons is marked by a plaque at the City Hall of Mons.

A black-and-white photograph of stretcher-bearers and medical personnel caring for wounded soldiers while other soldiers are standing around in the background.

The wounded arrive at a Canadian field dressing station, Battle of Amiens, August 1918 (a002930)

Thirty Canadian soldiers were awarded the Victoria Cross, the Commonwealth’s highest award for gallantry, during Canada’s Hundred Days. Library and Archives Canada’s Discover Blog series, First World War Centenary: Honouring Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients will remember each of them in the next 100 days, leading up to the armistice on November 11.


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 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.