A selection of records about D-Day and the Normandy Campaign, June 6 to August 30, 1944

By Alex Comber

With part 1 of this post, we marked the 75th anniversary of D-Day and commemorated Canada’s participation in the June 6, 1944, invasion of northwestern Europe, and the Normandy Campaign, which ended on August 30, 1944. In part 2, we explore some of the unique collections that Library and Archives Canada (LAC) holds about these events, and highlight some records that are the most accessible to our clients online. Through outreach activities, targeted and large-scale digitization, DigiLab and our new and Co-Lab initiatives, LAC is striving to make records more easily available.

A black-and-white image taken from moving film, showing soldiers exiting a landing craft.

A frame of Canadian Army Newsreel No. 33, which includes a sequence of film from the Canadian D-Day landings on June 6, 1944

LAC staff receive many reference requests about our collections of photos. Canadian Film and Photo Unit (CFPU) personnel went ashore 75 years ago, on D-Day, filming and photographing as they landed. During the Normandy Campaign, they continued to produce a visual record that showed more front-line operations than official photographers had been able to capture in previous conflicts. Film clips were incorporated into “Canadian Army Newsreels” for the audiences back home, with some clips, such as the D-Day sequence above, being used internationally.

Photographers attached to the army and navy used both black-and-white and colour cameras, and the ZK Army and CT Navy series group the magnificent colour images together.

A colour photograph showing an armoured vehicle with a large main gun.

A British Centaur close-support howitzer tank assisting Canadians during the Normandy Campaign (e010750628)

Some of the most iconic imagery of the Canadian military effort in Normandy was incorporated into the Army Numerical series; by the end of hostilities, this had grown to include more than 60,000 photographs. The print albums that were originally produced during the Second World War to handle reproduction requests can help in navigating this overwhelming amount of material. Researchers at our Ottawa location refer to these volumes as the “Red Albums,” because of their red covers. These albums allow visitors to flip through a day-by-day visual record of Canadian army activities from the Second World War. LAC has recently digitized print albums 74, 75, 76 and 77, which show events in France from June 6 until mid-August 1944.

A page of black-and-white photographs showing photos of landing craft, destroyed enemy beach defences, and villages and landing beaches.

A page from Army Numerical print album Volume 74 of 110, showing the immediate aftermath of the landings (e011217614)

LAC also holds an extensive collection of textual records related to the events of June–August 1944. One of the most important collections is the War Diaries of Canadian army units that participated in the campaign. Units overseas were required to keep a daily record, or “War Diary,” of their activities, for historical purposes. These usually summarized important events, training, preparations and operations. In the Second World War, unit war diaries also often included the names of soldiers who were killed or seriously injured. Officers added additional information, reports, campaign maps, unit newsletters and other important sources in appendices. Selected diaries are being digitized and made accessible through our online catalogue. One remarkable diary, loaded in two separate PDF scans under MIKAN 928089, is for the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, the first Canadian soldiers in action on D-Day, as part of “Operation Tonga,” the British 6th Airborne Division landings.

A colour digitized image of a typescript account of D-Day operations.

Daily entry for June 6, 1944, from the War Diary of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, detailing unit objectives for Operation Overlord (D-Day) (e011268052)

War diaries of command and headquarters units are also important sources because they provide a wider perspective on the successes or failures of military operations. These war diaries included documents sourced from the units under their command. Examples that are currently digitized include the Headquarters of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, from June and July 1944.

: A colour digitized image of a typescript account of D-Day operations.

War Diary daily entries for early June 1944, including the first section of a lengthy passage about operations on June 6, 1944 (e999919600)

LAC is also the repository for all Second World War personnel files of the Canadian Active Service Force (Overseas Canadian Army), Royal Canadian Navy and Royal Canadian Air Force. The service files of approximately 44,000 men and women who died while serving in these forces from 1939 to 1947 are open to the public. These records include the more than 5,000 files of those who died in operations during the Normandy Campaign. As the result of a partnership with Ancestry.ca, a portion of every open service file was digitized. This selection of documents was then loaded on Ancestry.ca, fully accessible to Canadians who register for a free account. To set up a free account and access these files on Ancestry.ca, see this information and instruction page on our website.

These records have great genealogical and historical value. As the following documents show, they continue to be relevant, and they can powerfully connect us to the men and women who served in the Second World War, and their families.

Medical document that shows a schematic view of upper and lower teeth, with annotations indicating missing teeth and dental work.

Private Ralph T. Ferns of Toronto went missing on August 14, 1944, during a friendly-fire incident. His unit, the Royal Regiment of Canada, was bombed by Allied aircraft as soldiers were moving up to take part in Operation Tractable, south of Caen. Sixty years later, near Haut Mesnil, France, skeletal remains were discovered. The Department of National Defence’s Casualty Identification Program staff were able to positively identify Private Ferns. The medical documents in his service file, including this dental history sheet, were important sources of information. Ferns was buried with full military honours at Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery in 2008, with his family in attendance

An official document written in French, dated July 1948, that responds to a family request to communicate with those caring for the grave of Private Alexis Albert, North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment.

Private Alexis Albert, serving with the North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment, was killed in action in France on June 11, 1944. Four years later, his father, Bruno Albert, living in Caraquet, New Brunswick, requested the address of the family that was tending his son’s grave at Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery in France, to thank them. The Director of War Service Records, Department of Veterans Affairs, provided this response, which helped to connect the grieving family in Canada with French citizens carefully maintaining the burial plot in Normandy.

These are only a few examples of LAC records related to the Canadian military effort in France from June 6 until the end of August 1944. Our Collection Search tool can locate many other invaluable sources to help our clients explore the planning and logistical efforts to sustain Canadian military operations in France, delve deeper into the events themselves, and discover personal stories of hardships, accomplishments, suffering and loss.

A black-and-white photograph showing many rows of Imperial War Graves Commission headstones, and a large Cross of Sacrifice.

Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, which includes the graves of 2,000 Canadian soldiers who died during the early phases of the Normandy Campaign (e011176110)


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

Top three genealogy questions

This article contains historical language and content that some may consider offensive, such as language used to refer to racial, ethnic and cultural groups. Please see our historical language advisory for more information.

We receive many interesting questions from our clients at the Library and Archives Canada Genealogy desk. Here are the top three questions asked:

Question 1. My grandfather came to Canada between 1905 and 1914. How do I find his passenger list entry?

First, search the name on one of the indexes available online. Try different spellings and birthdate variations if your initial search is not successful.

If that doesn’t work, there are other documents that indicate the year of immigration. Try census returns or the 1940 National Registration File. If you know the city where your ancestor settled, you may be able to narrow down the year of immigration by seeing when they appear in a city directory.

You can also try searching for other family members that came to Canada with him. Maybe the passenger list entry of his wife, “Esmerelda Jenkins”, might be easier to find than “John Jenkins” (names are for example only).

Question 2. My mother said that we have Indigenous heritage somewhere in our family. How do I prove that?

Complete your family tree. Don’t focus too much on finding the Indigenous link at this point. Pay close attention to information given on the census returns, especially the 1901 census.

All census returns will indicate the location where your ancestor resided, such as the town, village, major city or federal Indian reserve. Some census returns list ethnic origin, such as French, Irish, Indian, “Half-Breed”, “Scotch-Breed”, Algonquin or Mohawk. They can also list colour (“W” for White and “R” for “Red”) and first language/mother tongue, which may help your search.

Many of these terms are now considered offensive and are no longer in use today. Do not fixate on or limit yourself to modern terminology—your ancestor may have been identified under any number of labels depending on the period, location and circumstances.

Question 3. My grandfather served in the Second World War, but never spoke about it. How do I find out what he did?

Your first step in finding out details about your grandfather’s war experience is to apply to the Personnel Records Department for information from his file by filling out our Application for Military Service Information form. After you receive the available information from his Second World War service file, you can continue your research at regimental museums and by reading published regimental histories (some of which may be available in our library collection).

If you have a question that you would like to ask us, please drop by the Genealogy desk at 395 Wellington Street, in Ottawa or email us using our Genealogy Assistance Request form.

Looking for your Newfoundland Ancestors Who Served in the First World War?

Newfoundland was a Dominion of the British Empire when the First World War broke out. At the time, there was no formal military presence in Newfoundland, but the Government of Newfoundland went on a recruiting drive to provide a force for British service. Many Newfoundlanders also joined the war effort by joining the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) in Canada.

After Newfoundland joined confederation in 1949, the personnel records for the Royal Newfoundland Regiment and the Newfoundland Forestry Corps were transferred to the Government of Canada as these individuals became eligible for veterans’ benefits. Later, the files were microfilmed by Library and Archives Canada (LAC) and FamilySearch. The originals remain in LAC’s holdings.

Searching for Newfoundland service files

If you aren’t sure in which service your ancestor served or where he joined, you will need to look at both the CEF records using the Canadian soldiers of the First World War: 1914-1918 database for people from Newfoundland who enlisted in other parts of Canada and the general Archives Search for people who enlisted in Newfoundland regiments. For the latter group, enter the surname of the person, “Newfoundland” and RG38 in the keyword search. The results page will identify which microfilm reel you will need to order to consult the service record.

Meanwhile, the microfilms can be consulted onsite at LAC, through the Family History Centre or in the Newfoundland Provincial Archives at The Rooms in St. John’s. The latter has digitized some of the service files and these can be found in the Newfoundland Regiment and the Great War database.

LAC is presently digitizing all of the remaining 640,000 service files of the men and women who served in the First World War with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. The digitized service records will be made available on the website as they become available, but access restrictions may be in effect at times. Learn more about the digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Forces Service Files by consulting the Fact Sheet: Digitization of Canadian Expeditionary Force Service Files.

Expanded Version of the Service Files of the Second World War – War Dead, 1939-1947 Database

Library and Archives Canada recently launched an updated and expanded version of the Service Files of the Second World War – War Dead, 1939-1947 database. Researchers can now access more than 1000 digitized genealogy packs of service files for Canadian servicemen and servicewomen killed in action during the Second World War.

More search fields

The database, available on the Library and Archives website through the Military Heritage portal, can now be searched using an increased number of access fields. These include: first and last name of the enlisted person, service number, date and place of birth, date and place of enlistment. By using these search features, Canadian students participating in Lest We Forget, a national project that gives them the opportunity to research the life stories of Canadian servicemen and servicewomen, will be able to quickly identify service files related to their community.

What kind of information can I find in these records?

The digitized service files contain documents and correspondence pertaining to enlistment and appointment, training and qualifications, awards and medals, medical history, and wills and insurance. Researchers can expect to find records such as the Canadian Active Service Force attestation paper, a Record of Service with information on training and education before and during service, documents from the Department of National Defence Estates Branch, and grave registration and post-war exhumation reports.

More information on the Killed in Action database

Along with details of service, this database offers a window into the lives of those who served and the families they left behind. Throughout the Second World War (1939-1945), Canadian men and women served in great numbers with the Canadian Army, Royal Canadian Air Force, and Royal Canadian Navy. From a population of just over 11,000,000 in 1939, Canada saw more than 1,159,000 of its citizens enlist. The price of victory was high: approximately 45,000 Canadians and close to 1000 Newfoundlanders lost their lives during and immediately following the war. In addition to these, more than 55,000 servicemen were wounded and countless civilians experienced the suffering and loss brought about by war. While providing a valuable resource for research, the KIA database helps to tell the story of those who served, fought, and died in a war that stretched across the globe.

Understand the Abbreviations Commonly Found in Military Service Files

In previous posts, we’ve explained how to order Military Service files and we’ve even outlined what type of documents you are likely to find in them; but what happens once you begin reading a Military Service file and see abbreviations? You may recognize some abbreviations, such as “YMCA” (Young Men’s Christian Association), but others, such as “11thIFofC” or “YISMHRCAMC”, may prove to be somewhat puzzling.

Help Is at Hand

Understanding these abbreviations can be difficult, especially if you are unfamiliar with Canadian military history. For this reason, the Genealogy Services have transcribed over 6,000 abbreviations commonly found in these records and have added them to a list of abbreviations used in military service files. Using this list, you can search for the abbreviations in alphabetical order.

Understanding that “11thIFofC” stands for “11th Regiment (Irish Fusiliers of Canada)” or that “YISMHRCAMC” means “York Island Station Military Hospital Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps” will help you decipher the soldier’s life and provide you with a much better understanding of ranks, jobs, regiments and much more.

Questions or comments? We would love to hear from you!

What You Will Find in a Canadian Military Service File

As you may already know, military service files contain a wealth of information about soldiers, nursing sisters and chaplains. The files for the First World War have been reviewed and contain an average of 50 to 70 pages.  Later files however, such as the files for those who were killed-in-action during the Second World War, have not been reviewed by the Personnel Records Unit and might contain multiple copies of the same documents.  This is why these files are larger, and may contain up to 400 pages.

Do you really want to view all 400 pages, including duplicate copies?

Probably not. That is why Library and Archives Canada (LAC) created the “Genealogy Package”, which offers a selection of the most relevant documents in a file to help you discover the story of an individual during their service time.

You can read how to order the Genealogy Package in our online article “How to Order Military Records from the Personnel Records Unit”. However, in case you are wondering what kinds of documents are included in a Genealogy Package, we have included the following list outlining the most common documents for the army, the air force and the navy.

The Army

Attestation paper, dental record, discharge certificate, DVA counselling, interview report, medal card, medical record, occupational history form, part II orders, particulars of family, pay-related documents, personnel selection record, soldier qualification card, war bonds correspondence.

The Air Force

Dental record, discharge certificate, DVA counselling interview report, enlistment form, medal card, medical record, occupational history form, particulars of family, pay-related documents, personnel selection record, RCAF card/service card, war bonds correspondence.

The Navy

Dental record, DVA counselling interview report, enlistment form, medal card, medical record, occupational history form, particulars of family, pay-related documents, personnel selection record, record of service card, true certificate of service, verification form (medals), war bonds correspondence.

Are you interested in ordering a military service file? Did you know that you can help make a broader range of LAC holdings available to others? You can do this by choosing the PDF option (either the URL link by email or the CD) when you order a complete file—for example, a soldier’s file from the First World War. The images you request can then be repurposed for use on LAC’s website, whenever permissible. Help us build LAC’s digital collection; the URL link will save you money on shipping fees too.

Questions or comments? We would love to hear from you!

How to Order Military Records from the Personnel Records Unit

The Personnel Records Unit at Library and Archives Canada manages all Canadian military service files from 1919–1998 for Regular members, and until 2007 for Reserve members. These files have some access restrictions, which means that not everyone can view them because they are protected by the provisions of privacy legislation. Each file contains an individual’s personal information and details of employment history.

If you are interested in receiving your own or another individual’s record, please read and follow the steps in the Application for Military Service Information form. You must submit this form only if you wish to receive a military service file from 1919–1997, including those files of soldiers from the Second World War (not killed in action).

You can also request a Genealogy Package to receive military records of soldiers from the Second World War (killed in action). The package includes copies of selected documents from the file that highlight and summarize an individual’s service, including enlistment, units served, family details, etc. Your request must include the name, service number, archival reference and volume number, which you can find by searching the Second World War Service Files: Canadian Armed Forces War Dead database.

Requests for a Genealogy Package can be submitted online via the Genealogy Inquiry Form or by mail or fax to:

ATIP and Personnel Records Division
Library and Archives Canada
395 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON
K1A 0N4
Fax: 613-947-8456

Lastly, to order military records from the First World War, please consult our past blog post entitled “Canadians and the First World War”.

Questions, comments or feedback? We would love to hear from you!

Summary of comments received in French up to September 30th, 2013

Summary of comments received in French between April 1, 2014 and June 30, 2014

  • An elderly client requests some assistance looking for their father’s service file of the First World War.