D-Day and the Normandy Campaign, June 6 to August 30, 1944

By Alex Comber

A colour photograph showing a landing craft approaching the beach, with smoke coming from a village and barrage balloons overhead.

Infantry landing craft at D-Day, June 6, 1944. (e010777287)

On this day 75 years ago, Canadian soldiers, sailors, pilots and aircrew were fighting in France in one of the largest military operations in history. Operation Neptune, or “D-Day,” was the first phase in the overall ground operations in Normandy, code-named “Operation Overlord.” Soldiers of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division conducted an assault landing on a stretch of French coast, in the massive Allied effort to establish a new theatre of operations in Western Europe. Canadian units were tasked with creating a beachhead on a section of coast code-named Juno Beach. The assignment for Canadian forces was considered an honour, as the other four beaches, code-named “Utah,” “Omaha,” “Gold,” and “Sword,” were earmarked for landings by units of the powerful Allied members of the United States and Great Britain.

A black-and-white photograph of an officer briefing a small group of non-commissioned officers with a map of a village.

Lieutenant R.R. Smith briefing the non-commissioned officers of the Regina Rifles with a sketch of their objective, Courseulles-sur-Mer, France. (e011084119)

Senior Allied commanders and military planners at Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force had learned from previous operations, such as the failure at Dieppe two years before, and the successful landings in Sicily in July 1943. This effort to open a new front in the war would benefit from a coordinated approach between land, sea, and air forces, along with comprehensive planning, attention to logistics, a massive build-up of equipment and personnel, feints and decoys to keep the enemy guessing, and a steady flow of accurate intelligence about enemy strengths and dispositions.

An armada of naval vessels escorted the invasion forces across the English Channel, while the airspace was controlled by squadrons of Allied aircraft. A vast array of specialized landing craft transported personnel, tanks, and artillery. In the Canadian sector, craft deposited men and equipment near the villages of Courseulles-sur-Mer, Bernières-sur-Mer, and Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer.

A colour photograph showing soldiers, laden with arms and equipment, walking in shallow water towards a French village.

Canadian infantry going ashore at Bernières-sur-Mer in Normandy, France. (e010750646)

Tanks of the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade struggled ashore and began supporting the advancing infantry soldiers by firing on reinforced enemy positions, while some units of the Royal Canadian Artillery had already been bombarding enemy positions from their landing craft on the final approach. Hours earlier, paratroopers of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion had been dropped deep behind enemy lines as part of Operation Tonga, the airborne landings by the British 6th Airborne Division. Their mission was to destroy bridges, secure strongpoints, support a nearby attack by British paratroopers, and generally create chaos and hamper enemy efforts to counter-attack.

A black-and-white photograph showing a soldier in a paratrooper jump smock, holding a Sten sub-machine gun, sitting on a bicycle in a field.

Private Tom J. Phelan, 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, who was wounded at Le Mesnil on June 16, 1944, rides his airborne folding bicycle at the battalion’s reinforcement camp, England, 1944. (a204971)

A black-and-white photograph showing a column of soldiers marching up a street in a damaged village.

Infantrymen of Le Régiment de la Chaudière moving through Bernières-sur-Mer, France, June 6, 1944. (a131436)

The fighting on the ground was accompanied by more involvement from Canadians serving in other forces. Pilots and aircrew flying with many Royal Canadian Air Force and Royal Air Force squadrons provided air cover for the naval operation and ground fighting, patrolled the coasts, attacked enemy troops and armour, provided photo-reconnaissance, and served on bombing missions to support the landings.

A black-and-white photograph showing a group of RCAF personnel posing beside and on top of a fighter-bomber aircraft, fitted with a large bomb.

RCAF 440 Squadron members pose with a Hawker Typhoon in Normandy, France. (e010775786)

On D-Day, Royal Canadian Navy personnel served in more than 70 naval vessels (landing craft, destroyers bombarding the coast, and minesweepers clearing the way for the invasion forces). In early July, a naval Beach Commando unit went ashore to direct forces and maintain order on the invasion beaches.

A black-and-white photograph showing two rows of sailors in battle dress, front row crouching, with a damaged fortified concrete structure behind them.

Personnel of W-2 Party, Royal Canadian Navy Beach Commando “W” outside a German fortification in the Juno sector of the Normandy beachhead, France, July 20, 1944. (a180831)

The first Canadian boots on the ground in France would be joined by an entire army in mid-July. The First Canadian Army would become the largest formation of men and women in uniform in Canadian history. Bitter fighting continued as the Allied ground forces resisted counter-attacks and pushed inland. Canadian army units would gain objectives in operations at Carpiquet, around Caen, and advancing towards Falaise, but at great human cost.

Approximately 350 Canadian military personnel were killed during the D-Day landings. By the end of August, Canadian land, sea, and air forces had suffered about 5,000 fatalities as a result of operations in France, while many more were wounded. Operation Overlord closed in late August, as opposition crumbled in Normandy and surviving German units withdrew to regroup.

A black-and-white photograph showing a long column of German soldiers being directed by Allied soldiers along a beach, with vehicles, a sea wall, and a prominent house in the background.

German personnel captured on D-Day embarking for England. (a132474)

Check back on July 4th to read Part two of LAC’s 75th Anniversary of D-day series, which will explore some of the unique collections LAC holds about these events.


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

How archives can protect human rights

By R.L. Gabrielle Nishiguchi

When asked to name one of Canada’s fundamental democratic institutions, how many people would immediately say “Library and Archives Canada”? Yet, a nation’s archives preserves in perpetuity the evidence of how we are governed.

From the story of Japanese Canadian Redress, we can  learn how records held by Library and Archives Canada (LAC)—combined with crucial citizen activism making use of these records—have contributed to holding the federal government accountable for now universally condemned actions.

From silence to a movement

When the Second World War ended, devastated survivors buried their trauma out of necessity in order to focus on rebuilding their lives. Silence enveloped the Japanese Canadian community.

However, in the late 1970s and early 80s, at small, private, social gatherings where survivors felt safe to share their wartime experiences, a grassroots redress movement was born.

The Redress Agreement states that between 1941 and 1949, “Canadians of Japanese ancestry, the majority of whom were citizens, suffered unprecedented actions taken by the Government of Canada against their community.” These actions were disenfranchisement, detention in internment camps, confiscation and sale of private and community property, deportation, and restriction of movement, which continued until 1949. These actions were taken by the Government of Canada, influenced by discriminatory attitudes against an entire community based solely on the racial origin of its members.

A black-and-white photograph showing a Japanese-Canadian man, who is crouching, and four children in front of a store.

Sutekichi Miyagawa and his four children, Kazuko, Mitsuko, Michio and Yoshiko, in front of his grocery store, the Davie Confectionary, Vancouver, BC, March 1933 (a103544)

A black-and-white photograph showing twelve Japanese Canadians unloading a truck.

Arrival of Japanese Canadian internees at Slocan City, BC, 1942. Credit: Tak Toyata (c047396)

Citizen activism and declassified government documents

In 1981, Ann Gomer Sunahara researched newly declassified Government of Canada records made accessible by the then Public Archives of Canada. Sunahara’s book The Politics of Racism documented the virtually unquestioned, destructive decision-making with respect to the Japanese Canadian community of Prime Minister Mackenzie King, his Cabinet, and certain influential civil servants.

A black-and-white photograph of two men standing near a tall, iron gate. A London bobby (police officer) is visible behind them.

Rt. Hon. W.L. Mackenzie King (right) and Mr. Norman Robertson (left) attending the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference, London, England, May 1, 1944. It was during this time period that Norman Robertson, Under Secretary of State for External Affairs, and his special assistant Gordon Robertson (no relation) developed the plan which resulted in the deportation of 3,964 Japanese Canadians to Japan in 1946. (c015134)

The National Association of Japanese Canadians (NAJC), which came to represent the views of the community concerning redress, astutely recognized the critical importance of having access to government documents of the 1940s, which could serve as primary evidence of government wrongdoing.

On December 4, 1984, The New Canadian, a Japanese Canadian newspaper, reported that the NAJC had “spent months digging through government archives” to produce a report entitled Democracy Betrayed. The report’s executive summary stated: “The government claimed that the denial of the civil and human rights [of Japanese Canadians] was necessary because of security. [G]overnment documents show this claim to be completely false.”

Citizen activism and the records of the Office of the Custodian of Enemy Property

In 1942, all Japanese Canadians over the age of 15 were forced by the government to declare their financial assets to a representative from the federal Office of the Custodian of Enemy Property. Custodian “JP” forms containing a detailed listing of internee property formed the nucleus of 17,135 Japanese Canadian case files.

To further negotiations with the Canadian government to obtain an agreement, the NAJC needed a credible, verifiable estimate of the economic losses suffered by the Japanese Canadians. On May 16, 1985, the NAJC announced that the accounting firm Price Waterhouse had agreed to undertake such a study, which would culminate in the publication of Economic Losses of Japanese Canadians after 1941: a study.

Sampling Custodian records in 1985

A team of Ottawa researchers, primarily from the Japanese Canadian community, was engaged by Bob Elton of Price Waterhouse to statistically sample 15,630 surviving Custodian case files, held by the then Public Archives of Canada. These government case files contained personal information that was protected under the Privacy Act (RSC, 1985, cP-21). However, under 8(2)j of the Act, the files were made accessible to the team for what the Act deems “research and statistical purposes.”

On September 20, 1985, the Ottawa Citizen newspaper reported Art Miki, then president of the NAJC, saying that the “Custodian (case) files are the most valuable raw material for the economic loss study because they meticulously document each transaction whether it was the sale of a farm, or a fish[ing] boat, a house or a car.”

A black-and-white, head-and-shoulder photograph of Art Miki.

Art Miki, educator, human rights activist, and president of the National Association of Japanese Canadians (NAJC) from 1984 to 1992. Miki was chief strategist and negotiator during the Redress Campaign, which culminated on September 22, 1988, with the signing of the Japanese Canadian Redress Agreement between the NAJC and the Government of Canada. In 1991 he received the Order of Canada. Photographer Andrew Danson (e010944697)

Citizen activism: Molly and Akira Watanabe

In the final sampling, 1,482 case files were reviewed. It was grueling, painstaking work. Some researchers were unable to continue because of nausea and eyestrain induced by hours spent pouring over microform  images, some of very poor quality.

A superlative example of citizen activism is the dedication of Ottawa researchers Akira Watanabe, Chairman of the Ottawa Redress Committee, and his wife Molly. With several hundred files still unsampled, dwindling numbers of researchers and only four weeks remaining to do the work, the Watanabes went to Public Archives Canada after work for twenty evenings. Molly Watanabe died in 2007.

On May 8, 1986, the study was released to the public. Price Waterhouse estimated economic losses for the Japanese Canadian community at $443 million (in 1986 dollars).

Archival records alone do not protect human rights

Documents sitting in a cardboard box on a shelf, or microfilm sitting in cannister drawers, cannot protect human rights—people do. Japanese Canadian Redress showed Canadians that it takes dedicated activism to locate and use archival records.

Archival government and private records from the 1940s preserved by LAC and used by citizen activists were critical in building the Japanese Canadian case for Redress. By preserving the records that hold our government accountable in the face of injustice, LAC continues to be one of our country’s key fundamental democratic institutions.


R.L. Gabrielle Nishiguchi is an archivist in the Society, Employment, Indigenous and Governmental Affairs Section, Government Archives Division, at Library and Archives Canada.

A deportation ledger and the story of a Japanese Canadian deportee

By R.L. Gabrielle Nishiguchi

A black-and-white photograph of a group of women with a child standing in front of luggage and crates.

A group of Japanese Canadian deportees, who had been interned during the Second World War, waiting for a train to take them to a ship bound for Japan. Slocan City, British Columbia, 1946. Credit: Tak Toyota (c047398)

For just one evening, on September 20, 2018, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) will exhibit a bound, time-worn 1946 ledger with a blue cover. This small exhibit is part of “Revisiting Japanese Canadian Redress: Conference on the 30th Anniversary of the Agreement,” an event co-hosted by LAC and the Ottawa Japanese Community Association.

Why is this ledger so important? The pink pages, imprinted with fading purple Gestetner ink, show the names of 3,964 Japanese Canadians—among them almost 2,000 Canadian-born children—who were deported to war-ravaged Japan in 1946. The deportees represented about one fifth of some 20,000 Japanese Canadians who were forcibly removed from the West Coast in 1942. Each person’s entry includes the following information: registration number, date of birth, sex, marital status, national status, the place of departure, whether the person had signed the survey form (more about this below), and remarks such as “mental hospital,” “mentally unbalanced [and] unable to sign,” “New Denver Sanitorium,” “illeg[itimate],” “adopted,” “common law” and “Canadian Army.”

The word “Repatriates” is handwritten on the cover in fountain-pen ink. “Repatriation” is the expression used by the Canadian government to describe what scholarship and research have shown amounted to deportation. This term is often paired with the word “voluntary” (as we shall see, it was not). By definition, Canadian-born children whose only connection to Japan was their racial origin could not be “repatriated” to Japan.

Beside certain names are handwritten ballpoint and fountain-ink annotations. LAC has other copies of bound ledgers similar to the one on display, but what makes this particular copy so valuable are the handwritten annotations it contains. These annotations appear to be citations from statutes or Orders in Council (e.g., Privy Council Order 7356, December 15, 1945) that indicate how Canadian immigration officials would be able to prevent certain deportees from returning to Canada.

Recognizing the value and the historical significance of the ledger, LAC immediately scanned the pages to preserve the information they contained.

By doing so, LAC took steps to preserve the power of a name in our country’s memory. The names and information about the deportees bear silent but powerful witness to the suffering of those 3,964 men, women and children who ended up in a defeated and starving Japan and who were effectively barred from returning to Canada solely on the basis of their racial origin.

A black-and-white photograph of three men lifting a crate.

Three Japanese Canadian men, one of whom could be 42-year-old Ryuichi Hirahara (Registration Number 02553), loading a crate. Mr. Hirahara and his 40-year-old wife Kazu Hirahara (Registration Number 02554) were both Japanese nationals and interned in Slocan City, British Columbia. The shipping label is addressed to “Ryuichi Hirahara” at an address in Wakayama City, Japan. Mr. Hirahara requested that his belongings be held for him at the Wakayama Train Station, since he could not be sure that his ancestral home had survived the war. He did know that train stations would be among the first buildings to be rebuilt, since trains were critical to rebuilding Japan’s infrastructure. The Hiraharas were deported to Japan in 1946. Credit: Tak Toyota [Translation: Dr. Henry Shibata] (c047391)

The deportee: Henry Shibata

At the “Revisiting Japanese Canadian Redress” event on September 20, participants not only will be able to view the ledger, but also can meet 88-year-old Canadian-born Henry Shibata, who was deported to Japan in 1946 and whose name is inscribed in the ledger on display.

In the ledger, beside his name and the names of all six of his Canadian-born siblings, we find handwritten annotations (which appear to be statute citations). If these citations are indeed equivalent to the annotations referring to Privy Council Order 7356—the order that barred the return of any deported naturalized Japanese Canadians—then the Canadian government’s intention was to bar Henry and his siblings from returning to Canada.

A black-and-white photograph of two men standing in front of an iron gate, with a London police officer behind them to the left.

The Rt. Hon. W.L. Mackenzie King and Mr. Norman Robertson attending the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference, London, England, May 1, 1944. Around this time, Norman Robertson, Under Secretary of State for External Affairs, and his special assistant Gordon Robertson (no relation) developed the deportation plan approved by Prime Minister Mackenzie King. (c015134)

The survey that would change everything

In the spring of 1945, the government of Canada surveyed every Japanese Canadian 16 years or older, including those in internment camps and even patients being treated in a psychiatric hospital, and compelled each person to choose whether he or she would go to Japan or east of the Rockies. Signing a form—which was part of this massive survey—and choosing to go to Japan was treated as prima facie evidence of disloyalty to Canada by the federal government, and an automatic cause for segregation and deportation. This information was expressly not provided to the Japanese Canadians forced to make this life-altering choice.

They did not understand what they were signing: in effect, their application for deportation. In fact, several of the annotations in the ledger, written by a bureaucrat, even include the phrase “app[lication] for deportation.” The survey was conducted by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Japanese Canadians who had been interned in detention camps in the interior of British Columbia, who found themselves forced to work on Prairie sugar beet farms to keep their families together, who were forced to work in isolated road camps, or who had been interned in prisoner-of-war internment camps for protesting their separation from their wives and children, were discouraged and afraid for their futures. Many had survived three long years in internment camps, where they could not move beyond camp boundaries without a pass.

A black-and-white photograph of a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer seated at a table examining papers with many men around him

Royal Canadian Mounted Police constable checking documents of Japanese Canadians being forced to abandon their homes and go to internment camps, 1942. Credit: Tak Toyota (c047387)

A black-and-white photograph of rows of internment camp dwellings.

Internment camp for Japanese Canadians, Lemon Creek, British Columbia, June 1945. Credit: Jack Long (a142853)

Why did the deportees sign to go to Japan?

Pressure began with the community’s forced relocation from the West Coast in 1942. Then, starting in 1943, their property—held in trust by the federal Office of the Custodian of Enemy Property—had been auctioned off without their consent. Internees had been forced to live off the monies realized from these sales, essentially paying for their own internment. Moreover, internment camp supervisors were graded on how many signed forms they could obtain.

Those Japanese Canadians who ended up signing were the most vulnerable internees: persons with family trapped ‎in Japan, single-parent families and psychiatric patients (some of whom were too sick to sign). Some with limited English-language skills felt that they were too old or too destitute to start their lives over in typically hostile communities to the east. There were also some older Canadian-born children who felt compelled to accompany their aging or sick parents to Japan.

In the case of young Henry Shibata’s family, interned in Lemon Creek, British Columbia, parents Hatsuzo and Tomiko had family in Hiroshima and had not heard whether anyone had survived the atomic bomb. Henry’s father, Hatsuzo, also felt that his own lack of written English would make it next to impossible to start over at the age of 52 in Eastern Canada. With the birth of his child Hisashi in the Lemon Creek internment camp, Hatsuzo Shibata now had a wife and seven children to support.

During the “Revisiting Japanese Canadian Redress” event on September 20, the deportation ledger will be opened to page 394, the page with the Shibata family entry. At this event, Dr. Henry Shibata will see his name in this ledger for the very first time, 72 years after he sailed to Japan on the SS General Meigs. Now 88 years old and a renowned Canadian surgical oncologist, he will see the original ledger page recording his family’s deportation.

A black-and-white photograph of three men standing in front of a ship.

Japanese Canadians being deported to Japan after the Second World War on the United States Army Transport SS General Meigs at Canadian Pacific Railway Pier A in Vancouver, British Columbia. Left to right: Corporal R.A. Davidson, Royal Canadian Mounted Police; C.W. Fisher; T.B. Pickersgill, Commissioner of Japanese Placement, Department of Labour, June 16, 1946. (a119024)

Despite the brutal and unspeakable hardships endured by Henry and his family in Hiroshima—a city turned to cinders by the first atomic bomb—Henry managed to graduate from Hiroshima Medical School. Dr. Shibata returned to Canada in 1961, after spending four years in the United States studying to become a surgeon. Through his expertise, Dr. Shibata has helped save many Canadian lives. He retired as a Professor Emeritus of McGill University in 2015.

The above-mentioned ledger, with its annotations, was the practical means of barring the return of the deportees. A senior civil servant succinctly expressed the intention of the annotations. On May 4, 1950, Arthur MacNamara, the Deputy Minister of Labour, wrote to Humphrey Mitchell, the Minister of Labour: “The External Affairs Department seem inclined to agree that men who were born in Canada and who … were sent to Japan might now be allowed to come back. This seems to me a matter on which there should be masterly inactivity. Even in the case of men or women born in Canada it does seem to me that they should be ‘allowed to suffer for their sins.’ After all they chose to go to Japan; they were not compelled.” (RG27, Volume 661, File 23-2-18, Deputy Minister of Labour Arthur MacNamara to Minister of Labour Humphrey Mitchell)

Co-Lab challenge

LAC’s new crowdsourcing tool, Co-Lab, gives Canadians the chance to collaborate with LAC by using their personal computers. LAC plans to host the ledger images in a Co-Lab challenge in the coming months, but you can see these images right now using Collection SearchBeta.

Canadians who have been moved by the story of the deportations and who wish to help keep the names of the deportees alive will have the opportunity to collaborate with LAC and transcribe the 3,964 names and the associated information. LAC hopes that a searchable transcription of the ledger will enable reseachers to decipher the critical handwritten annotations and compile more statistical information on the deportees.

We cannot change history and prevent those deportations, but we can solve the mystery of the annotations. We can also make sure that each entry remains accessible to the deportees, their families and researchers around the world, so that all of us can experience the power of these names; so that we shall never forget the human suffering embodied in them or the talent and promise we prevented from enriching Canada.

In the meantime, LAC has compiled photographs of Japanese Canadian internment in a Co-Lab challenge and is seeking your help to write descriptions and add keywords that further contextualize these historic photographs and increase the “discoverability” of these records. Try the challenge now!

Know more about the Co-Lab tool and the Collection SearchBeta by reading this previous blog post: Introducing Co-Lab: your tool to collaborate on historical records

More on LAC’s website

Learn about the deportations, the internment camps in Canada and the Redress campaign, or consult our major collections, by visiting the Japanese Canadians web page.


R.L. Gabrielle Nishiguchi is an archivist in the Society, Employment, Indigenous and Governmental Affairs Section of the Government Archives Division at Library and Archives Canada.

“My darling dearest Jeanie” The Joseph Gaetz fonds

Web banner with the words: Premiere: New acquisitions at Library and Archives Canada showing a small picture of an otter fishing on the rightBy Katie Cholette

“My darling dearest Jeanie.” That’s how Joseph Gaetz began every one of the more than 530 letters he wrote to his fiancée, Jean McRae, during the Second World War. Stationed in England, France, Belgium, Holland and Germany during and after the Second World War, Joseph was, at times, desperately homesick. His deepest desire was for the war to be over so that he could return to Canada and marry his sweetheart. Between July 1943 and November 1945, Joseph wrote to Jean whenever he could, sometimes sending both an airmail and a regular letter in the same day. He also collected a number of souvenirs from German prisoners that he sent to Jean with his letters. In 2017, his three daughters, Cathy Gaetz-Brothen, Bonnie Gaetz-Simpson and Linda Gaetz-Roberts donated his letters and souvenirs to Library and Archives Canada.

A colour photograph of piles of letters, with one bundle held together by a red ribbon. Underneath them is a photograph of a young woman wearing a coat and stylish hat.

Letters addressed to Jean McRae of Turner Valley

A black-and-white photograph of a man in a military uniform with his arm around a young woman wearing a flowered dress standing in front of a clapboard house.

Joe and Jean on their first day of engagement. November 1, 1942, Turner Valley.

Joseph Gaetz was from the small community of Faith, Alberta. His parents were Russian immigrants and he grew up speaking English and German. On 13 May 1942, he attested in the Calgary Highlanders; five months later, he became engaged to Jean McRae of Turner Valley, Alberta. In early 1943, he shipped out to England with the Canadian Infantry Reinforcement Unit.

A black-and-white photograph of a group of 18 soldiers in uniform in a tilled field.

Royal Hamilton Light Infantry Scout Platoon.

In August 1944, Joe was sent into action in France with the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry; he would soon move into Belgium and Holland. When his superiors realized that he spoke German, Joe became an interpreter with their scout platoon, going on a number of expeditions behind enemy lines to bring back German prisoners. In one letter to Jean from late 1944, he wrote, “My officer and I went a mile into the Jerry lines one night and took 52 prisoners to a barn…That was quite an experience.” In another letter, he told Jean how odd it felt to be capturing Germans who had lived in Canada before the war. In still other letters, he talks about picking up a pistol (one of several he acquired during the war) from No Man’s Land. Joe also told Jean how he got nervous before every patrol but learned to walk silently to avoid detection. He attributed his ability to avoid injury or capture to the photo of Jean that he kept in his breast pocket. He called it his “lucky charm” and said that all the other men had some sort of talisman.

Joe’s ability to speak German allowed him to converse with the men they captured. Although Joe had no particular fondness for Germans, he did recognize their humanity and common plight. While guarding captured prisoners, or bringing them back to camp, Joe often talked with them. Sometimes he challenged their convictions—in one instance, he asked a group of prisoners if they thought Hitler was still a god. One young soldier, who surrendered, told Joe he was afraid he was going to be sent back to Germany after the war and shot for being a deserter. Joe told the young man not to worry; there wasn’t going to be a Germany after the war.

A colour photograph of a book opened at the first page. A pamphlet has been glued on the inside cover which has a photograph on one side and an ode to the women who stayed home entitled “For Honour and for Her!”

Joe’s Service Book showing the poem and photograph of Jeanie glued on the inside cover (e011202230)

Like many other soldiers, Joe kept a photo of his sweetheart tucked in the front of his Service Book, accompanied by a patriotic and moralistic poem entitled For Service and for Her! After inquiring about Jean’s health, he would reassure her that he was fine, tell her whether he had received her most recent letters, and then discuss the weather or some other inconsequential details. He followed these pleasantries with observations on military life—the routine chores he had to perform, what his accommodations were like, the food, who he’d met from back home, and so on.

Conditions at the front were often harsh, but Joe rarely complained. In fact, he joked about sleeping in trenches he’d dug himself and constructing makeshift chimneys from empty tin cans. Joe had a strong sense of personal duty; he refused to send anyone else in to do his job, and he went for seven months without a single day of leave. In one letter, he stoically told Jean about spending Christmas Day 1944 on duty in No Man’s Land.

Sometimes Joe and his fellow scouts were billeted with local families. Joe quickly picked up enough Flemish to be able to communicate with the people he came into contact with, and he writes how the locals would often invite the soldiers to dinner or offer to do their laundry. In his letters, he describes the little children he met, and he occasionally included photos of them in his letters home.

He came back to Canada on November 1945 and was discharged in Calgary, Alberta, on January 18, 1946, at the rank of Sergeant. He worked his way up to manager of the Fort Macleod lumberyard and he and Jean were finally married on June 21, 1948. They had three daughters before he died at the age of 41 of chronic hypertension. Cathy Gaetz-Brothen, the youngest of the girls was only one-year-old when her father died. The letters he wrote to her mother are especially important to her because they allowed her to get to know a father she had no memory of.

A black-and-white photograph of a man in uniform.

Joseph Gaetz in uniform (e011202231)

Joseph Gaetz didn’t have a particularly heroic war. He wasn’t a high-ranking commissioned officer leading a battalion; he didn’t singlehandedly storm any nests of German snipers. Instead he did what thousands of other Canadian soldiers did. He joined the army and fought alongside his fellow soldiers in the hope that he would one day come home to his sweetheart. Joe was one of the lucky ones.

Visit the exhibition Premiere: New acquisitions at Library and Archives Canada at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa. The exhibition, which runs until December 3, 2018, features our most recent acquisitions and celebrates the expertise of Library and Archives Canada’s acquisition specialists. A librarian or an archivist thoughtfully selected every one of the items in the exhibition and wrote the caption for the item that they chose. Admission is free.


Katie Cholette is an archivist in the Specialized Media section of Library and Archives Canada.

The 1940 National Registration File

Are you looking for a Canadian ancestor or someone who was living in Canada during the Second World War?  The National Registration was a result of the National Resources Mobilization Act, 1940, which enabled the government to identify military and labour resources that could be mobilized for the war effort.

Since most sources for that time period are still subject to access or privacy restrictions under Canadian legislation, Statistics Canada’s National Registration File of 1940 is an alternative to census records that can provide you with some answers. This very valuable source for genealogists and family historians is the result of the compulsory registration of all persons, 16 years of age or older, between 1940 and 1946.

If the person has been dead for more than 20 years, and you can provide proof of death, you can order a search of these Statistics Canada records. Please note that research fees apply.

If you cannot provide a copy of a death certificate, other types of documents indicating the date of death are accepted, such as obituary notices published in newspapers.

The registration included all persons who were 16 years of age or older, except for members of the armed forces and religious orders, or those confined to an institution. If a person died between 1940 and 1946, their questionnaire might have been destroyed. A different form was used for men than was used for women.

The questionnaires provide particulars such as address, age, date and place of birth, general health, and occupation. For immigrants, key details such as the year of arrival in Canada and their parents’ country of birth are given.

The questionnaires include the following details:

  • name;
  • address;
  • age;
  • date of birth;
  • marital status;
  • number of dependents;
  • place and country of birth of individual and his or her parents;
  • nationality;
  • year of entry into Canada (if an immigrant);
  • racial origin;
  • languages;
  • education;
  • general health;
  • occupation, employment status, farming or mechanical skills; and
  • previous military service.

There was a different form for males and females regarding questions about occupation, work history and military service. The records are arranged by electoral district; however, a soundex-format index exists.

Image of a blank form

Sample of questionnaire for men. Courtesy of Statistics Canada.

Image of a blank form

Sample of questionnaire for woman. Courtesy of Statistics Canada.

A similar national registration was undertaken during the First World War, in June 1918; however, those records have not survived.

What if the person is not listed in the 1940 registration?

As mentioned above, perhaps he or she served in the Royal Canadian Navy, the Royal Canadian Air Force or the Canadian Army. Our previous article, From Enlistment to Burial Records Part II: the Canadian Forces in the Second World War, describes how to search for individuals who served in the Canadian Forces.

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.

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”.