War Diaries of the First World War

Painting : Dug Out on the Somme.

Dug Out on the Somme
by Mary Riter Hamilton
Library and Archives Canada,


From the start of the First World War, Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) units were required to maintain a daily account of their "Actions in the Field." This log was called a War Diary. This database contains the digitized War Diaries of CEF infantry, artillery and cavalry units, Brigade, Division and Corps commands and support units such as Railway and Forestry troops. The site also includes the War Diaries of several British units that served under Canadian command. For other British units, visit the website of the National Archives.

This site does not include documents relating to the Royal Canadian Navy or Canadians in flying corps, except for two pages from June 1916 for the Royal Flying Corps. In addition, units were only required to record their "Actions in the Field." Therefore, you will find very few Diaries for periods during which units mustered in Canada, shipped to Europe, or trained in England.

These are not personal diaries. War Diaries rarely record information about individual men. This is because War Diaries were never intended to document individual service and also due to the size of the unit to which a single War Diary referred. For example, Infantry Diaries were recorded by battalions, which consisted of approximately 1,000 men. Artillery Diaries were most often kept by brigades, which numbered about 4,000 men. Command-level diaries record tactical and strategic information. Once you have identified the unit in which you are interested, War Diaries provide the most complete first-hand record of how and where that unit was deployed and the wartime experiences of its individual members.

The information found in the War Diaries varies greatly, and is dependent on the ability of the junior officer responsible for writing the diary on a day-to-day basis. Because of this variation, one may find a detailed account of a battalion's involvement in a battle, a description of training exercises, or simply a sentence describing the weather.

How to Search for War Diaries

Use Advanced Archives Search to view the digitized war diaries for the Canadian Expeditionary Force (RG9-D-III-3).

  1. In the first "Any Keyword" field, use the drop-down list to choose "Finding Aid Number" and enter: 9-52.

  2. In the second "Any Keyword" field, select a term from the Keyword list provided below, or use a keyword such as 25th Battalion, or a more precise title such as "25th Canadian Infantry Battalion".

  3. In the "Type of material" field, select "Textual material"; in the "Online" field, choose Yes, and then click the "Submit" button. (You may also leave the "Type of material" to "All" in order to view references to other material related to your search criteria.)

  4. Each available title of War Diaries can contain hundreds of pages. When you have found a title that interests you, click on the "View all images" button found below the set of initial thumbnails.

  5. Move your cursor over the available thumbnails to view text which will allow you to navigate the series of images by date.

  6. Click the "Load more" button below the thumbnail to view more images from the same file. Loading all the images from the "View all" page first will allow you to scroll quickly through the entire series of images.

  7. Click on any image to see an expanded version of the image. A "Full size" link is available within the expanded version to view that specific image in its full size. A zoom tool (magnifying glass icon with a plus or minus sign) allows you to adjust the size of the display.

    In some cases, the zoom in is achieved by using the "Ctrl +" keys and zoom out by using the "Ctrl -" keys, but please consult your browser's help pages, as your instructions may differ.

  8. To view the full archival description of the documents, simply click on the title. The link provides additional information about the item, including archival control numbers, conditions of access, and dates.

Keyword list for Diaries

The following breakdown is meant to help the researcher understand the many different military units which made up the Canadian Expeditionary Force and which created the War Diaries. The following bolded words can be used as search keyword to access the War Diaries database. As well, the list contains actual military unit names, which can also be used in the Unit Name search.

The bolded words are, in some cases, keyword headings rather than the names of actual military units. Please note that various divisions or brigades may exist under each keyword heading. For example, Canadian Mounted Rifles includes 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles and 3rd Regiment Canadian Mounted Rifles. Typing in Canadian Mounted Rifles will bring up all related files.

  • Canadian Corps
    • Labour Commandment Canadian Corps
    • Canadian Corps Water Patrols
    • Canadian Corps Supply Column
    • Canadian Corps Troop Column
    • Canadian Corps Mechanical Transport Column
    • Canadian Ammunition Park
    • Chemical Advisor, Canadian Corps
    • Canadian Army Gymnastic Staff
    • Canadian Corps Infantry School
    • Camp Commandant, Canadian Corps
    • Canadian Corps Reinforcement Camp
    • Canadian Corps Infantry School
    • Canadian Army Pay Corps
    • Field Cashier
    • Postal Services Check
    • Paymaster
    • Royal Canadian Regiment
    • 1st Canadian Division
    • 2nd Canadian Division
    • 3rd Canadian Division
    • 4th Canadian Division
    • 5th Canadian Division
    • Headquarters
    • General Staff-Canadian Troops
    • Canadian Infantry Battalion
    • 1st-15th Canadian Infantry Brigade
    • Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry
    • Young Soldiers' Battalion Canadian Reserve
      • Canadian Reserve Infantry Brigade
      • Reserve Battalion
    • Cavalry
      • Canadian Cavalry
      • Canadian Light Horse
      • Alberta Dragoons
      • Lord Strathcona's Horse
      • Royal Canadian Dragoons
      • Fort Garry Horse
      • 2nd King Edward's Horse
    • Cyclist
      • 1st-4th Divisional Cyclist Company
      • Canadian Corps Cyclist Battalion
      • Canadian Reserve Cyclist Company
    • Canadian Mounted Rifles
    • Artillery
      • Royal Artillery
      • Canadian Divisional Artillery
      • Canadian Field Artillery
      • Royal Canadian Horse Artillery
      • Canadian Reserve Artillery
      • Canadian Garrison Artillery
      • Canadian Artillery Regimental Depot
      • Heavy Artillery
    • Canadian Siege Battery
    • Canadian Heavy Battery
    • Divisional Ammunition Column
      • 1st-5th Canadian Divisional Ammunition Column
    • Mortar
      • Canadian Divisional Trench Mortar Group
      • Canadian Light Mortar Battery
    • Canadian Anti-Aircraft Battery
    • Canadian Divisional Mechanical Transport Company
    • Machine Gun
      • Machine Gun Officers
      • Canadian Machine Gun Company
      • Canadian Machine Gun Battalion
      • Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade
      • Borden Motor Machine Gun Battery
      • Eaton Motor Machine Gun Battery
      • Yukon Motor Machine Gun Battery
      • Machine Gun Squadron
      • Canadian Machine Gun Corps Depot
    • Canadian Tank Battalion
    • Chief Engineer
    • Royal Engineers
    • Canadian Engineers
      • Canadian Anti-Aircraft Search Light Company
      • Tunneling Company
      • Army Troop Company
      • Tramway Company
      • Pontoon Bridging and Transport Unit
      • Canadian School of Military Engineering
      • Canadian Corps Wireless Section
      • Canadian Corps Survey Section
    • Pioneer Battalion
    • Canadian Labour
    • Entrenching Battalion
    • Signal
      • Canadian Signal Company
      • Canadian Cavalry Brigade Signal Troop
    • Engineer and Barrack Service
    • Canadian Railway
      • Overseas Railway Construction Corps
      • 58th Broad Gauge Railway Operating Company
      • Canadian Light Railway Operating Company
      • Progress Charts, Canadian Railway Troops
      • Canadian Bridging Company
    • Canadian Wagon Erecting Company
    • Canadian Employment Company
      • Canadian Area Employment Company
      • Canadian Divisional Employment Company
    • Canadian Forestry Corps
    • Canadian Divisional Train
    • Supply
      • Canadian Divisional Supply Column
      • Cavalry Divisional Supply Column
      • Railhead Supply Detachment
      • Depot Unit of Supply
    • Canadian Army Auxiliary Horse Transport
    • Canadian Field Bakery
    • Canadian Field Butchery
    • Canadian Corps Salvage Company
    • Canadian Army Service Corps
    • Medical
      • Deputy Director Medical Service
      • Assistant Director of Medical Services
      • Canadian Army Medical Corps
      • Medical Officer
    • Canadian Field Ambulance
    • Canadian Casualty Clearing Station
    • Canadian Hospital
      • Canadian Stationary Hospital
      • Canadian General Hospital
      • Canadian Field Hospital
      • Canadian Special Hospital
      • Canadian Convalescent Hospital
      • Canadian Red Cross Hospital
      • Granville Canadian Special Hospital
      • Westcliffe Eye and Ear Hospital
    • Canadian Sanitary Section
    • Medical Stores
    • Ambulance
      • Cavalry Brigade Motor Ambulance Workshop
      • 1st Divisional Ambulance Workshop
      • Canadian Field Ambulance
    • Canadian Laboratory
      • Canadian Dental Laboratory
    • Dental
      • Director of Dental Services
      • Senior Dental Officer
      • Canadian Army Dental Corps
      • Canadian Dental Laboratory
    • Veterinary
      • Veterinary Services
      • Veterinary Section
      • Canadian Veterinary Hospital
      • Canadian Corps Veterinary Evacuation Station
    • Regiment Depot
      • Central, Central Ontario, Western Ontario, Eastern Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Manitoba, Alberta, Saskatchewan, British Columbia.
    • Canadian General Depot
    • Regiment Depot Group
    • Canadian Remount Depot
    • Canadian Record Office
      • Visiting office
    • Ordnance Service
    • Canadian Ordnance Workshop Unit
    • Canadian Embarkation Camp
    • Canadian Concentration Camp
    • Canadian General Base Depot
    • Canadian Infantry Base Depot
    • School
      • Canadian School of Gunnery
      • Canadian School of Musketry
      • School of Physical Training and Bayonet
      • Canadian Signaling School
      • Canadian Trench Warfare School
      • Canadian Training School
    • Canadian Report Center
    • Canadian Military Police
    • Canadian Chaplain Services
    • Canadian War Graves
    • Estates and Legal Branch
    • Department of the General Auditor
    • Progress Charts
    • Report, Canadian Corps Operation, Vimy
    • MD (Military District)
  • British War Diaries:
    • Lahore Divisional Artillery
    • Lahore Divisional Ammunition
    • West Lancs Divisional Artillery
    • West Lancs Brigade
    • Royal Artillery
    • Reserve Divisional Ammunition Column
    • Reserve Divisional Trench Mortar Group
    • Trench Howitzer Battery
    • Royal Engineers
    • Royal Army Service Corps
    • Royal Army Medical Corps
    • 1st Army
    • 2nd Army
    • 4th Army
    • Reserve and Fifth Army
    • Cavalry Corps
      • 1st Corps
      • 2nd Corps
      • 3rd Corps
      • 4th Corps
      • 5th Corps
    • Lahore Division
    • 3rd Division
    • 4th Division
    • 5th Division
    • 11th Division
    • 20th Division
    • 24th Division
    • 28th Division
    • 27th Division
    • 50th Division
    • 55th Division
    • 80th Infantry Brigade
    • 9th Infantry Brigade
    • Royal Welsh Fusiliers
    • XVII Corps
    • XIV Corps
    • 1st Cavalry Division
    • 3rd Cavalry Division
    • Artillery Festubert
    • Infantry Givenchy
    • Second Army
    • St. Eloi
    • Guards Division
    • Royal Flying Corps
    • Sketches and Locations
    • Index to Edmonds Files
    • Colonel Duguid

 How to Interpret the Diaries

War Diaries were written by hand or typed on a standard legal-sized form that included columns headed: "Place," "Date," "Hour," "Summary of Events and Information" and "Remarks and References to Appendices." Although the form outlined what information to capture, every unit interpreted what constituted an "historical record" somewhat differently, meaning that the richness of information researchers can find in these Diaries varies greatly from unit to unit. These differences appear principally in the "Summary of Events and Information," the heading under which a narrative account of the unit's experiences was written. The information recorded in this column relied heavily on the writing style and ability of the person responsible for completing the Diary. In some Diaries, this column is a terse, point-form record of the most basic facts, while others contain lengthy, graphic and moving first-hand descriptions of life in the front lines and during trench warfare.

In addition to the War Diary form, units were required to attach copies of the administrative documents they received. These appendices include a variety of "General Orders" that regulated routine aspects of military life like rations, transfers, discipline and promotions. In preparation for an attack, units received detailed "Operation Orders," which outlined the unit's roles and objectives, as well as other essential information like maps, intelligence reports, artillery timetables and code names. Longer narratives of events and reports on operations may also be found as appendices to some War Diaries. Researchers should note that not all these appendices are found in each War Diary.

Why are the War Diaries Written only in English?

Although a number of Canadian Expeditionary Force units, most famously the 22nd Battalion, were composed of French-speaking officers and men, they operated within a Canadian and Imperial military hierarchy whose working language was English. The men in these units spoke French amongst themselves, but they used English when communicating with other units and with higher-level commanders. Similarly, the War Diaries of these French-speaking units were written in English because they were initially submitted to British authorities, and after 1916 to the Canadian War Records Office, which was based in London, England and operated in English.

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