Searching for the Service Files of Soldiers of the First World War


You can find references to the service files of soldiers who served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in our database Soldiers of the First World War: 1914–1918.

However, it is sometimes difficult to find a soldier for several reasons:

  • His given name or surname may be written in a variety of ways
    The information in the indexes is what was written in the archival records, which were often written by hand. There may also be an error in the database. The database search engine may find words with the same root. For example, “Worth*” will lead to a search for “Worth”, “Worthing” and “Worthington.”
  • Several soldiers had the same name
    To identify your soldier, you need to check the attestation papers (enlistment forms) because they contain personal information about him.
  • He gave an incorrect date of birth
    To be able to enlist in the army during the First World War, a recruit had to be between the ages of 18 and 45.

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William Redver Stark: Restoring the Sketchbooks

Different approaches have been tried over the years for conserving sketchbooks or bound volumes. For a long time, the works were simply detached in order to remove the binding. Nowadays, the historical and archival value of the binding is widely recognized. Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is no exception in this regard, and conservation treatments are now designed to preserve the work in its entirety, including the binding.

In a previous article, we introduced you to the work of soldier William Redver Stark. The sketchbooks that are part of the William Redver Stark fonds were never repaired or preserved, and were beginning to show signs of wear:

  • Tears and holes
  • Pages detached, missing or in the wrong order
  • Broken binding threads
  • Covers weakly bound to pages or completely detached

The sketchbooks therefore are undergoing various conservation treatments, undertaken by a team of LAC’s highly specialized conservators in the field of book conservation and restoration. These conservators worked with the collection managers and archivists to respect the integrity of Stark’s work, and to give him his full moment of glory.

The drawings and watercolours in this collection are in very good condition. Some even look like they might have been completed only a few days ago. It should be noted that the sketchbooks remained closed for nearly a hundred years, and that the pages were rarely exposed to air or light. Thus, to study a Stark work is to travel through time, to see the work of an artist exactly as it was created a hundred years ago, during one of the most deadly and crucial wars of our time.

In sum, the restoration work done by LAC‘s conservation and restoration team will make it possible to stabilize the condition of the sketchbooks in order to ensure that they will withstand the ravages of time, and will allow future generations to have access to an important part of our history.

Example of a required restauration treatment: the adhesive tape must be removed.

Example of a required restauration treatment: the adhesive tape must be removed.
© Library and Archives Canada

Another example of a required restauration treatment : the cover must be sewn back on.

Another example of a required restauration treatment : the cover must be sewn back on.
© Library and Archives Canada

See Also:

Summary of comments received in French between July 1, 2014 and September 30, 2014

  • A reader from Wimereux (France) thanks LAC for its work on the restauration of William Stark’s sketchbooks. It turns out that William Stark was stationed in Wimereux and made a lot of sketches of the surroundings. The reader was able to identify some of the sketches and he is offering his work to LAC.

William Redver Stark, the Soldier and the Artist

Canada’s experience of the First World War was captured by officially commissioned artists such as A.Y. Jackson and David Milne from 1916 onwards through the Canadian War Memorials Fund. However, many other artists—amateur and professional—captured their experiences of the war while they were busy fighting, building roads, transporting goods or providing care to others, but still creating vivid imagery of the world around them.

The William Redver Stark fonds at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is a rare illustrated record of one of these undeclared artists’ lives in the military. Through 14 sketchbooks of remarkably well-preserved drawings and watercolours, we discover the life of a soldier through his eyes, which were closer to the action than those of his official counterparts, and which provide a more spontaneous, intimate perception of how day-to-day activities may have looked.

In these sketchbooks, we find images of soldiers at work and at rest, captured German prisoners and artillery, landscapes through which battalions moved, and sights at the London Zoo where Stark went while on leave. The illustrations serve as a rich and indispensable complement to the artist’s military file, to his battalion’s history, and to our visual understanding of a serviceman’s experience during the First World War.

William Redver Stark with cat. Courtesy of Veterans Affairs Canada.

The William Redver Stark fonds was donated to Library and Archives Canada in 2005 by his nephew, Douglas Mackenzie Davies and his family: his wife, Sheila Margaret Whittemore Davies, and their two sons, Kenneth Gordon Davies and Ian Whittemore Davies.

How to search the sketchbooks

All 14 sketchbooks of the William Redver Stark fonds have been individually described and digitized, making it easier to search for themes or types of scenes. For example, you can search the fonds for all images that contain bridges or construction.

To search the sketchbooks, go to the advanced archives search and in the drop-down menu under “Any Keyword,” enter either the archival reference number (R11307) or the MIKAN number (616998). If you want to narrow down your search even more, enter a keyword such as “bridges” in the second box.

Other related materials:

Be sure to read William Redver Stark: Restoring the Sketchbooks to learn more about the work done by LAC’s conservators to restore the sketchbooks.

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!