620,000 Canadian First World War records go online ahead of centenary

By Rosemary Collins, 10 August 2018 - 1:20pm

Libraries and Archives Canada has completed its digitisation of army personnel files ahead of the Armistice centenary

Canadian Expeditionary Force
Members of the 1st Canadian expeditionary Force training on Salisbury Plain, November 1914 (Credit: Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Getty Images)

All Canadian army personnel records from the First World War have been digitised and made freely available online as the nation prepares to commemorate the centenary of the war's end.

Libraries and Archives Canada (LAC) announced the successful digitisation of 620,000 files, its largest digitisation project to date, on 8 August 2018, the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Hundred Days Offensive which led to the Allied victory.

LAC began working on the files in 2013 and has now completed a searchable database of over 30 million digitised images, including casualty or medal forms, pay books, passports, and personal photos and correspondence.

They are all available to search and download in PDF form for free via a database on the LAC's website.

The database includes the files of soldiers, nurses and chaplains from the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

They deal with enlistment, training, medical and dental history, hospitalization, discipline, pay, medal entitlements and discharge or notification of death and contain an average of 25 to 75 pages, with smaller files for personnel who joined later in the war.

The database also contains files on rejected volunteers and members of the Non-Permanent Active Militia, Royal Newfoundland Regiment and Newfoundland Forestry Corps.

It does not include records for the Royal Canadian Navy, or for Canadians who served in the British forces or local militias.

However, the database holds files for Canadians who applied for a gratuity after serving with the British Imperial Forces, although these do not contain details about their activities during the war.

The original files will now be stored permanently in climate-controlled vaults at the LAC Preservation Centre in Gatineau, Quebec.

To help preserve them, LAC asks that researchers use the digital version and will limit access to the original documents.

The database contains the military files for a number of notable Canadians, including two consecutive prime ministers, John Diefenbaker and Lester B. Pearson.

Diefenbaker was commissioned as a lieutenant in the 196th (Western Universities) Battalion but never saw action, while Pearson served in the Canadian Army Medical Corps before transferring to the Royal Flying Corps.

In addition, LAC has created 100 Stories, an online memorial which tells the stories of 100 Canadians' involvement in the war, including army and medical personnel, conscientious objectors and Charlotte Wood, who became the first recipient of the National Memorial (Silver) Cross after losing five of her sons and stepsons in the war.

 

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