Personnel Records of the First World War

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What’s Included in the Database

This database combines references to various First World War personnel records. Over the next few years, digitized versions of all of the files will be added to the database references. At present, the database includes digitized files for many individuals of the Canadian Expeditionary Force and the Royal Newfoundland Regiment and Newfoundland Forestry Corps (courtesy of the Rooms Provincial Archives). Newly digitized CEF files are added to the references every two weeks.

This database includes names indexed from the following First World War personnel records:

Files of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF): Soldiers, Nurses and Chaplains (RG150)

The files of Canadian Expeditionary Force members (CEF), which include those of soldiers, nurses and chaplains, consist of documents dealing with enlistment, training, medical and dental history, hospitalization, discipline, pay, medal entitlements and discharge or notification of death. The files contain an average of 25 to 75 pages, with the smaller files typically being those of personnel who were drafted or who enlisted later in the war.

The following can be of help in interpreting some of the documents found within a service file:

  • More information about the CEF, the service files and the attestation papers

    Records of the Canadian Expeditionary Force - First World War

    The First World War, fought between 1914 and 1918, was the first of the great world-wide conflicts of the twentieth century, pitting the 'Central Powers' of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey and smaller allies against the 'Entente', notably the British Empire, France Russia, Italy, Japan, the United States, and their allies.

    Shortly after the British declaration of war in August 1914, Canada offered an initial contingent of 25,000 for service overseas. A second contingent was offered in the autumn of 1914. The 1st Canadian Division was formed from units of the first contingent in January 1915, and was fighting in France the following month. In September 1915, the Canadian Corps was formed, incorporating the 1st and 2nd Canadian Divisions, and the Canadian Cavalry Brigade. Further contingents and reinforcement drafts continued to be sent overseas. At the time of the Armistice in November 1918, the Canadian Corps had expanded to include four infantry divisions and corps units. Other Canadian units, including some artillery batteries, engineering companies, and railway and forestry troops, served directly under British command in France and Belgium. Still other units, responsible for administrative support, training, forestry and medical care, served in England. The Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF), as the army raised during the First World War was designated, grew in the course of the conflict to 619,636, of whom 424,589 served in Europe.

    The Ministry of Militia and Defence (whose records are described by Library and Archives Canada as Record Group [RG] 9), the predecessor of the Department of National Defence today, was responsible for the recruitment, preliminary training and dispatch overseas of recruits for the CEF.

    The Ministry of the Overseas Military Forces of Canada (whose records are described by Library and Archives Canada as RG 150) was created by an Order-in-Council dated October 28, 1916 (P.C. 2651) to oversee the administration of the CEF. The Ministry functioned as the liaison between the Canadian government and the British government, the War Office and British General Headquarters. It had broad responsibility for all matters connected with the administration of the CEF. Whereas the CEF was placed under the control of the British military authorities for operational purposes, responsibility for all other matters (including finance, logistics, training and reinforcement) fell to the Ministry of the Overseas Military Forces of Canada.

    With the end of conflict in Europe, the repatriation of the CEF, and the final settlement of financial arrangements with the British, the Ministry of the Overseas Military Forces of Canada ceased to exist on 8 June 1920 (P.C. 1705, July 26, 1920).

    Attestation Papers and Enlistment Forms

    Volunteers for the Canadian Expeditionary Force were questioned at the place of enlistment to complete the two-sided Attestation papers which included the recruit's name and address, next-of-kin, date and place of birth, occupation, previous military service, and distinguishing physical characteristics. Recruits were asked to sign their Attestation papers, indicating their willingness to serve overseas. By contrast, men who were drafted into the CEF under the provisions of the Military Service Act (1917) completed a far simpler one-sided form which included their name, date of recruitment, and compliance with requirements for registration. Officers completed a one-sided form called the Officers' Declaration Paper.

    The attestation papers were completed in triplicate. A copy can be found in most service files, with the exception of the files of some of those who ended up not serving. Another set of the attestation papers was bound in registers and is part of the records of the Department of Militia and Defence (RG 9, II B8, volumes 1 to 654). In an earlier digitization project, those registers were scanned and the images were linked to the database entries. Some of the registers are incomplete, or pages were missed, so some database entries do not include a scanned image from the attestation register. Where there is a linked image, it may not be exactly the same as the copy found in the service file.

Files of CEF volunteers who were rejected at Valcartier (RG9-II-B-13)

Shortly after the British declaration of war in August 1914, Canada offered an initial contingent of twenty-five thousand men for service overseas. This first contingent of men was gathered at a camp in Valcartier, Quebec, prior to being sent overseas. These are the files of the volunteers who were rejected for service at that camp. Most files contain only an attestation paper. In the case of those rejected on medical grounds, the reason is recorded on the attestation paper.

Non-Permanent Active Militia Files (RG 9 II-B-7)

During the First World War, units of the Non-Permanent Active Militia (NPAM) were called on to perform a variety of military tasks in Canada, notably to guard strategic sites such as armouries, bridges and canals. The files include a variety of documents dealing with enlistment, medical and dental history, hospitalization, discipline, pay, discharge and subsequent correspondence relating to the individual's eligibility for war service gratuities and other service-related issues.

The same attestation form was sometimes used for the NPAM as for the CEF. Therefore, many of the NPAM attestation papers have “Canadian Expeditionary Force” or, “Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force” indicated at the top of the form. This does not mean that the individual was enlisting with the CEF.

Files do not usually contain more than 20 pages, with many only containing a few documents.

Files of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment and Newfoundland Forestry Corps (RG38-A-2-e)

Shortly after the outbreak of the First World War, the Colony of Newfoundland offered to raise an armed force on Great Britain's behalf. In total, over 6,000 men enlisted in the Newfoundland Regiment during the First World War. Typically the files consist of attestation papers, medical examination forms, conduct sheets, movement cards, pay documents, medical forms, casualty related forms and correspondence to and from the Department of Militia in St. John’s. Most of these files contain over 100 pages. 

Additional information about Newfoundland’s role in the First World War, as well as detailed descriptions of the types of documents included in the files, can be found on the introductory page of the Newfoundland Regiment and The Great War database on the website of the Rooms Provincial Archives in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

Imperial War Service Gratuity Files (RG9 II-F-10)

Canadian residents who served in the British Imperial Forces were entitled to a gratuity for service overseas during the First World War. The amount was contingent on rank and length and place of service. These case files contain forms and correspondence. They indicate name, regimental number, unit, beneficiary name and address, and establish proof of service in an Imperial unit. They also indicate with which unit the individual served, such as a British regiment, Royal Air Force, Royal Navy, but contain few details about their activities during the war. Most of the documents relate to the payment of  the gratuity. These files contain, on average, between 20 and 50 pages. 

The files are digitized on www.ancestry.ca, a subscription website, available free at many public libraries.

Records relating to the service of members of the British Forces are in the custody of the National Archives in England.

Personnel Records not included in the Database

This database does not include references for those who served with the Royal Canadian Navy, the British Army, Royal Air Force, Royal Flying Corps or Royal Navy. For information about accessing those records and others not included in the database, please consult our First World War page.

Note that many individuals served in Canada with local militia units. There are no files for those individuals.

See also Armed Forces of other countries.

How to Access the Records or Obtain Copies

Over the next few years, Library and Archives Canada will be digitizing all of the files included in this database. If a file has been digitized, a PDF link will be included in the reference found in the database.

The database currently includes digitized files for some of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) and Royal Newfoundland Regiment files.

Newly digitized CEF files are added to the database every two weeks, and every month we publish a progress report on the blog. For more information on the CEF digitization project, please consult the Fact Sheet: Digitization of Canadian Expeditionary Force Service Files.

The PDF link to the Royal Newfoundland Regiment personnel files is an external link that leads to the digitized images in the Newfoundland Regiment and the Great War database on the website of the Rooms Provincial Archives in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Those digitized files are not the complete personnel files. They are selected documents taken from the file, intended to summarize the soldier’s service.  Many of the complete files are available on microfilm and can be accessed online. Alternatively, they can also be viewed on site at Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa. Please see below for additional information.

Records with a PDF link

If a record has a PDF link, click on the link to access the digitized version of the record. You can choose to open the file or save it to your computer or mobile device.

Records on microfilm

Some references to Royal Newfoundland Regiment service files will include a microfilm reel number (e.g. T-18172). Copies of complete service files are on those microfilms. Our microfilm reels with the prefixes C, H and T are being digitized on our partner website Héritage, where the digitized reels can be viewed free of charge. Enter the reel number in the search box. If the reel is digitized, click on the reel title (Royal Newfoundland Regiment service files) to see the images. You can browse through the page images; the content (text and file titles) is not searchable.

If a reel has not yet been digitized, you can ask to have it digitized by using our online order form. There is no charge for asking to have a reel digitized.

Ordering copies of records not yet digitized

To access files that have not yet been digitized, you can choose to either order copies of the file or access the file on site in Ottawa.

For prices of copies, see Price List and Service Standards -- Regular Copies. On the online order form, be sure to include the complete reference as it appears in the database.

Example:
WARREN, ALBERT EDWARD
Regimental number: 141801 (or rank if the individual was an officer)
Reference: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 10103-18

Note that some CEF files may not be available for copying because they are being prepared for digitization. If that is the case, our Reprography section will advise you accordingly.

Visit LAC and view the records on site

You can also choose to visit Library and Archives Canada and view the records on site. Note that unless the records are on microfilm, you will need to order the material in advance of your visit.

To help preserve the fragile originals, once a CEF file has been digitized, the original paper file will not be available for on-site consultation.

Search Tips

General Search Tips

  • On the database search screen, you can search by surname, given names and/or regimental number. You do not need to enter a search term in every field.
  • You can select whether you want to search all of the included record groups (RG) or just one. For example, if you want to search only Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) files, uncheck the boxes for the other record groups. The default is to search all of the record groups.
  • Don’t forget to use the asterisk symbol (*) as a wildcard, which replaces several characters and provides results regardless of spelling. Type Fran* for Frank, Francis, François, Franz, Francisco.
  • Try searching with and without a middle name, or using only the initial for the first name.
  • Spelling variations of names were common in that time period. Try variations such as McEwan for MacEwan.
  • Only a small percentage of the database entries include the additional fields found under “Show Advanced Search Options” on the search screen. If you enter a search term in one of those fields, and that information is not in the database entry, you will get no results.
  • On the search results page, you can sort your results alphabetically by a particular column by clicking on that column’s heading. For example, the default is for the search results to appear alphabetically by the reference column, but if you want to order the results alphabetically by name, click on that column heading. You can click on the column header a second time to re-order the results from ascending to descending order.
  • You can also filter your search results. On the search results page, type in a word in the “Filter” field to narrow the results to only those which include that word. For example, if you type “1895” in the “Filter” field, this will narrow your results to those that include 1895 anywhere in the reference, such as date of birth or regimental number.
  • If there are multiple entries for the name you are researching and the files have not yet been digitized, you may not be able to determine the correct file reference. You can use these sources to find out the regimental number to help you narrow your search:

CEF Helpful Facts

  • Officers did not have regimental numbers unless they had first enlisted as a private, corporal or non-commissioned officer.
  • At the beginning of the war, a number of units were allotted regimental numbers with alphabetic prefixes, the most common being “A.” Later, these prefixes were changed to numbers for consistency across the CEF. For instance, the prefix “A” became a 4 (e.g. A34555 became 434555).
  • Before unique blocks of regimental numbers were assigned, some units were using the same numbers, so you may find the same regimental number assigned to more than one person.
  • The name in the database may not match the name on the attestation paper or elsewhere in the service file. A personnel file was kept in an envelope with the individual’s name and regimental number or rank indicated on it. The original CEF index was produced from the information on the outside of each envelope, so variations in spelling could occur.
  • Paper originals of the service files are described by Library and Archives Canada as RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Boxes 1 to 10,686. Files for individuals with the names Neils Aabel to Stanley Adair were moved from that accession to permanent volumes, so their references are RG 150 and volume number (no accession number or box number).
  • Sometimes men gave a false year of birth if they were underage or were considered too old to join.Others may have enlisted under another name if they had been previously rejected (e.g. for medical reasons). In the early part of the war, married men needed their wife’s permission to volunteer for the CEF, so some used an alias. The American government did not allow its citizens to join the army of another country, so American volunteers sometimes used a false name and place of birth.

Other Resources

For additional information about these resources, published sources, virtual exhibitions and other links, please visit our First World War page.

Credits

We wish to acknowledge the participation of the Provincial Archives Division, The Rooms Corporation of Newfoundland and Labrador, for the links to their Digitized Personnel Files.

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