War Diaries of the First World War and Image Search

War diaries—records held at Library and Archives (LAC)—are daily accounts of First World War units’ “actions in the field.” They provide the most complete, first-hand record of how and where individual units were deployed and the wartime experiences of their members.

A page from the war diaries of the 22nd Canadian Infantry Battalion

A page from the war diaries of the 22nd Canadian Infantry Battalion (MIKAN 2004664)

Searching War Diaries

To search the war diaries, use Image Search, a great, fast and easy way to view and consult these digitized records. Tips for searching specific diaries are available on our How to Search for War Diaries section; using keywords will also help you narrow down your search. For example, here are the search results for the diaries of the famous “Van Doos,” better known as the 22nd Battalion. We used the search terms war diaries 22nd battalion and selected “Textual material” in the “Type of material” drop-down menu.

Finding Related Materials

After consulting a unit’s diaries, redo the search you just performed, but this time leave out war diaries, and in the “Type of material” drop-down menu, select the default “All.” Here are the search results for the 22nd Battalion. Your results will still include the war diaries, but you will also see photographs, works of art and other documents related to your search term, provided that it appears in the title of these documents.

Enjoy searching and exploring the digitized materials that we have to offer!

Step back in time: Library and Archives Canada helps the National Gallery of Canada recreate a First World War exhibition experience

When Canadian troops joined the action on the western front, there were no official military photographers. The front line was unsafe for commercial photographers, and officers and men were not allowed to use personal cameras. As a result, there are no official photographic records of Canadian participation in early battles, such as the Second Battle of Ypres, in April 1915.

The Canadian War Records Office, established in January 1916, immediately recognized the importance of photography, both for keeping a lasting documentary record of the war and for boosting morale. The first official Canadian war photographer was appointed in April 1916. That same year, the first of several immensely popular exhibitions of official Canadian war photographs was unveiled at the Grafton Galleries, in central London.

Princess Christian among others viewing images at the Second Exhibition of Canadian Battle Pictures, Grafton Galleries, London, July 1917 (MIKAN 3394829)

Princess Christian among others viewing images at the Second Exhibition of Canadian Battle Pictures, Grafton Galleries, London, July 1917 (MIKAN 3394829)

Today, Library and Archives Canada’s (LAC) holdings include most of the negatives created by Canada’s official war photographers, preserved in their original glass plate format. These are some of the most poignant, horrifying, and yet compelling images in LAC’s photography collection.

The Great War, the Persuasive Power of Photography, a new exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada, curated by Ann Thomas, incorporates many of these negatives in the near-exact recreation of one entire room from the second Grafton Galleries exhibition, held in 1917. The room, which is designed to put the modern viewer in the shoes of a viewer from 1917, features a dramatic to-scale reproduction of a photograph of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, called the largest photograph ever made during its time. It also includes a cropped version of this photograph of Canadian troops after the battle.

Canadian troops en route to destination for a rest period after taking part in the capture of Vimy Ridge (MIKAN 3521924)

Canadian troops en route to destination for a rest period after taking part in the capture of Vimy Ridge (MIKAN 3521924)

View from inside the Grafton Galleries, London, at the Second Exhibition of Canadian Battle Pictures, July 1917 (MIKAN 3394834)

View from inside the Grafton Galleries, London, at the Second Exhibition of Canadian Battle Pictures, July 1917 (MIKAN 3394834)

Canada’s official war photographers:

  • Captain Henry Edward Knobel (April 1916 to August 1916)
  • William Ivor Castle (August 1916 to June 1917)
  • William Rider-Rider (June 1917 to December 1918)

See other images reproduced for the room or visit the exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada from June 27 to November 16, 2014.

From Enlistment to Burial Records: The Canadian Expeditionary Force in the First World War

Each year, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) receives countless questions on how to locate military services files, such as:

  • How do I find out more about a soldier (or a nursing sister) in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF)?
  • When and where did he enlist?
  • How old did the soldier say he was? (Many underage soldiers gave an earlier year of birth when they enlisted)

A great place to begin your research is on our Genealogy and Family History’s Military pages.

To help guide you through the process, our experts have put together the following explanations.

Attestation papers

Also known as “enlistment” documents, these records indicate the date and place of birth, the marital status and the name and address of the next of kin.

The Soldiers of the First World War database contains references to more than 600,000 people who served during that conflict. Most of the corresponding attestation (enlistment) papers can be viewed online, including those of the Nursing Sisters.

To learn more, consult our article “Canadians and the First World War: Discover our Collection”.

Service files

These records contain key documents such as record of service, casualty form, discharge certificate and medal card. It also provides the name or number of
the unit in which the individual served overseas.

Find more information in our articles “What You Will Find in a Canadian Military Service File” and “Understand the Abbreviations Commonly Found in Military Service Files”.

War diaries

The War Diaries are a daily account and historical record of a unit’s administration, operations and activities.

Consult the War Graves page for information on the burial location of a soldier who was killed in action.

If the soldier survived the war, the Veterans Death Cards give information such as the next of kin, burial location and date of death. The digitized images, which are in alphabetical order, can be navigated in sequential order.

For the soldier who was decorated, a nominal index to medal registers, citation cards and records of various military awards provides further information on many soldiers’ achievements.

Our article “War Diaries: Discover what individuals or military units did during the war” can also guide you with your research.

Published histories

For an easy-to-read overview of the unit’s activities, we recommend starting with “published histories.” These books are often called “regimental histories” and our article Published Histories: Discover what individuals or military units did during the war” will give you more information.

Thematic guides

The Guide to Sources Relating to Units of the Canadian Expeditionary Force
lists references to records and files that complement the research in First World War records. This thematic guide further describes the contribution of most units in the CEF.

Other past articles of interest this Remembrance Day:

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

Anniversary of the participation of military tanks in combat

Tanks first appeared for military use in September 1916 at the Battle of Flers-Courcelette in France. The First World War was at a pivotal point, since the Battle of the Somme had begun a few months earlier.

Developed in great secrecy over a number of years, the tanks did not, in general, inspire confidence from military authorities of the time. However, their trial in combat conditions in 1916 revealed their true potential. Well-known officers, such as American George S. Patton, were firm believers in the role of the tank; Patton was one of the first officers to command an armoured unit.

Tanks were heavy, slow, loud and could be easily located by the cloud of black smoke they spewed behind them. The first models were made of wood with metal frames; a full metal structure was quickly adopted, since it was fire resistant and shellproof.

The period between the two World Wars saw some major improvements to the tanks. When the Second World War began in 1939, the usefulness of tanks was no longer in doubt. Tanks became a common feature of any army. In 1941, Canada produced its first tank, the Cruiser, and its production continued during the entire conflict.

Canadian armoured units used numerous tank models during the Second World War, such as the Sherman, an American model.

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

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

  • A user asked when and where the Canadian tanks were used. LAC answered that the Canadian tank « Cruise » also called « Ram » was used for the training of Allied Forces in England from 1941 until mid-1944. This tank was not used for combat during the Second World War.

Veteran’s Death Cards: First World War

A new finding aid, previously only available to LAC staff, can help you find a veteran’s First World War personnel file: Veterans Death Cards: First World War.

For more information on recent announcements at LAC, visit “News.

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’s New? New Digitized Reels: War Graves Registers of the First World War

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is pleased to announce that you can now access 127,632 new images of war graves registers of the First World War on our website.

The volumes or registers form part of the series Accession RG 150, 1992-93/314, which holds records related to the death of service personnel from both the First and Second World Wars.

Discover these valuable resources with the Microform Digitization research tool, which allows you to browse page by page the Commonwealth War Graves Registers (volumes 39 to 144), also known as the Black Binders, and the Circumstances of Death Registers (volumes 145 to 238), also known as the Brown Binders.

As part of our commitment to provide Canadians everywhere with access to rich and varied holdings, LAC intends to continue digitizing other volumes from the same series in the near future.

For more information on recent announcements at LAC, visit “News”.

Canadians and the First World War: Discover our Collection

Did you know that there are several places on our website where you can find information about Canadians during the First World War? What pages to visit depends on what kind of information you are looking for. Below is a quick summary of frequently searched information.

Are you looking for:

  • Information about an individual soldier (for example, the soldier’s name, hometown, medical information and medals)?

If so, you will need the soldier’s service file. To locate this information, you may search a solider’s name and/or regimental number in our Soldiers of the First World War (Canadian Expeditionary Force) database . If you would like more information, please visit the Military page on our Genealogy and Family History website.

  • What battles a soldier or unit fought in?

This information is not in the service files of individual soldiers. You will need to look at a published history of the unit or at the unit’s war diary. To find a published history, search for the unit’s name in our Library Search database. To find a war diary, start with our Genealogy and Family History website.

  • Other information that Library and Archives Canada might hold on the First World War?

Start with our online exhibition, entitled Canada At War: A Guide to Library and Archives Canada’s Websites Recalling the Canadian War Experience.

  • A more detailed guide on researching Canadians in the First World War?

Legion Magazine published an article entitled “Researching War Veterans: 6 Steps to Discovery”. It is a step-by-step guide to researching veterans. Also of interest, may be a book entitled Canadians at War 1914–1919, A Research Guide to World War One Service Records, published in 2010 by Global Heritage Press.  Both publications were written by historian Glenn Wright.

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

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

  • Additional information about an article written by Glen Wright was provided. This article was published in Legion Magazine, September/October 2011, (vol. 86, no 5, pages 18-22).