One of the more popular emails I receive is from individuals wanting to know more about their relative’s service in the Second World War so I thought I’d write a short post explaining how to do so. Although my requests are usually for men who served in the Veterans’ Guard of Canada, this request will work for any individual who served in Second World War.
First off, what is a service file? A service file contains most of the information held by the Department of National Defence regarding a person’s service in the military. This can include attestation papers, pay records, medical records, and records showing where and when they served during the war (and after). From this, you will be able to determine which regiment they served in, the dates of their service, most of the places they served, etc. Unfortunately, these do not often contain any pictures although I have a file that included an identification card (quite rare in my experience).
Service records from the First World War and Second World War are held by Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa. Unlike service records from the First World War, which are available to the public and are in the process of being made online, service files from the Second World War remain restricted. While it takes a little more work to request WWII records, it is not difficult and it is usually worth effort. And it is free (minus the cost of a stamp)!
For WWII service files, there are some stipulations:
- If you are requesting the file of an individual still living, they need to provide written consent.
- If the individual has been deceased for less than twenty years, you need to provide proof of relationship and proof of death*.
- If the individual has been deceased for more than twenty years, you need to provide proof of death*.
*Proof of death can be a copy (do not send originals) of the death certificate, an obituary, funeral notice, or a photograph of a gravestone. Note: if the individual died while serving, you do not need to provide proof of death.
If you can provide a proof of death or written permission, you now need to download and print this form: WWII Service File (PDF)
The next step is to fill out as much information as possible. Do not worry if you can not fill out every step – usually a full name and their date/place of birth or death is sufficient. If you do have the service number (letter followed by a series of numbers), make sure to include it.
For members of the Veterans’ Guard of Canada, under “Branch of Service,” you can select “Army,” “Wartime,” and “Regular.” As for the documents you are requesting, I usually select “Other” and write “All available files.”
Once they have received your request, they usually send a confirmation letter. Unfortunately, it is sometimes a lengthy wait to receive the files. The waiting time varies but I have had to wait between two and ten months to receive a file.
If you have any questions about the application or questions about deciphering a service file when you receive it, don’t hesitate to ask in the comments below or send me an email.
One hundred years ago today, on April 12, 1917, my great-great uncle Private Ernest Albert Proven, succumbed to wounds received during the assault on Vimy Ridge three days prior. His brother, Lance Corporal (later Sergeant) Harry Proven survived the attack but was killed a year-and-a-half later, on September 29, 1918.
Today, I’m happy to announce that two lakes in Northern Manitoba have been named in their honour. Ernest Proven Lake and Harry Proven Lake are among thirteen lakes were named after Manitoban soldiers who died during the First World War. Coverage of the event, held on Monday at the Manitoba Legislative Building, is available by clicking here.
Ernest Proven Lake
Harry Proven Lake
I am extremely happy to have played a small part in remembering these two men and a special thanks goes out to Des Kappel for making this possible.
Camp 133 near Ozada, Alberta seems to have been among the most popular locations for Prisoners of War in Canada to paint during the Second World War. Situated on the Mortley Flats, the camp offered stunning views of the nearby Rocky Mountains and, despite living in tents during a wet summer and cold fall, was fondly remembered by former PoWs for its scenic location. Following one of my last posts about a painting of the Oazada, I’m here today showing another, albeit quite different, perspective of the camp. In contrast to the snow-covered scene painted by Siebein, this version shows a much warmer and greener depiction of Camp 133.
“K.G. Lager 133” (Kreigsgefangenen Lager 133) prominently features the barbed wire fences, floodlights, and guard towers that surrounded the camp. Twenty such guard towers surrounded the camp, with guards constantly keeping a watchful eye on the thousands of prisoners interned within. The single strand of barbed wire was a warning wire which PoWs were instructed not to cross unless they wished to risk being fired upon. The mountains once again dominate the background and I believe this is a view of the northwest area of the camp, quite possibly showing the same mountains seen in this imagery captured by Google Streetview. The reverse shows the painting was a gift from PoW August Pass to one of his barrack mates.
The artist appears to have signed his initials, “P.E.” but I have not been able to identify him. Going through the lists of PoWs interned at Ozada, I was able to come up with ten men with the initials P.E. Unfortunately, none of their pay records indicate them selling any artwork (though this does not rule any of them out) and as PoWs signed their pay records with their last name, I was not able to match the initials. However, I’ve included the names below in the hope that perhaps someone will be able to identify the artist.
- Peter Edenhofer
- Paul Eichstäder
- Paul Eggers
- Paul Enders
- Phillip Enders
- Paul Enke
- Peter Enkirch
- Paul Ermrich
- Paul Essner
- Paul Ewald
Hopefully I will be able to identify the artist but in the mean time, if you have any information about this artist or have paintings you would be willing to share, please get in touch!
For more paintings from Camp 133 (Ozada), click here.
Wishing a Happy New Year to all my readers!
In 1945, PoW Willi Nötel gave this Happy New Year card to his fellow PoW and friend Erich Neumann in Camp 132 at Medicine Hat, Alberta. Both the double-sided card and envelope are hand-made, presumably by Nötel, and note he even replicated the postal cancellation on the upper-right of the envelope.
I whipped this map up for a reader researching his father earlier today and thought I would share. The image shows the layout of the internment Camp at Farnham, Quebec overlaid on some modern satellite imagery from Google.
Camp A, as it was initially known, opened in October 1940 and initially held civilian internees and refugees from the United Kingdom. The camp closed temporarily in January 1942 but reopened in April and was used to hold Enemy Merchant Seamen (EMS). In late 1942, the EMS were transferred to Sherbrooke and replaced by German combatant officers and a smaller number of Other-Ranks, serving as the officers’ servants and orderlies. It once again closed briefly in June 1943 before re-opening again as an officers’ camp in September 1944. The camp then remained open until June 1946.
Like most of Canada’s internment camps, the buildings were salvaged and torn down, the barbed-wire fences removed, and the guard towers dismantled. Today, the site is occupied by a Water Treatment Station, a gas station and Tim Hortons, and a Fire Station. For those interested, here is a link to the location.
Captured in North Africa, Kurt Siebein was sent to Canada in September 1942. Likely disembarking in New York, after a long train journey, he and his fellow PoWs arrived at Camp 133 at Ozada, Alberta. A temporary tented camp at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Ozada held thousands of German PoWs while the new internment camp at Lethbridge was being constructed. While a scenic location for an internment camp, the camp was not without its problems. Life in tents during a particularly wet summer and then in the early months winter – the first Canadian winter for many of the PoWs – was far from ideal. However, by late November 1942, the new camp at Lethbridge was completed and the PoWs were transferred there by December.
An artist, Siebein painted this watercolour during his brief stay at Ozada. “K.G.-Lager Ozada 1942” (K.G.-Lager referring to Kriegsgefangenenlager, German for prisoner of war camp) shows life at Ozada in that final month before the transfer to lethbridge. A single PoW is visible, with the red circle on his jacket and the red stripe on his trousers marking him a PoW, walking his dog down a line of tents. A single guard tower and the Rocky Mountains feature prominently in the background.
This particular painting was sold or traded to Hans Gronenburg, a PoW from the Luftwaffe who arrived in Canada in 1940 and was transferred to Ozada in June 1942.
While I have yet to uncover more examples of Siebein’s paintings, it appears as though he continued painting throughout his internment in Canada. His pay record shows he sold a number of watercolour and oil paintings at art and craft sales in 1945, netting him $24.50, but this does not account for any sold or traded to his fellow PoWs. Siebein spent most of his time in Canada at Lethbrigde but spent the summer of 1946 employed on farmwork. He was transferred to Great Britain on November 24, 1946.
If anyone as any other examples of Siebein’s art or any other PoW art, please get in touch!
“A Remembrance Day Message”
“Twenty-seven years ago, at eleven o’clock, 11 Nov. 1918, the “Cease Fire” was sounded, thus bringing World War I to a victorious conclusion.
There was great joy and celebrations. Victory had been won! A armistice had been signed! Our enemies, we believed, decisively beaten. The drums of war were then to be laid aside for all time (at least many thought so then).
The personnel who had been spared were to return to their civilian occupations. They visualized a life of peace and happiness. Many were to return to hospital, broken in body, prematurely aged by service, yet thankful for life itself in spite of their physical handicaps.
As in previous war, the sacrifices were great. It had taken four and one half years of slugging with weapons and equipment that have since then found their way to the scrap pile, there to be turned into plowshares. They have served their purpose and it was the hop that never again would they be required.
The great battles in which this now obsolete equipment had been used were now but a living memory. We think of Vimy Ridge, Ste. Eloi, Ypres, The Somme, Courcette, Hill 70, Lens, Passchendaele, Amiens, Arras, Canal du Nord, Cambrai, Valenciennes, Mons, and many others, where over sixty thousand of Canada’s finest manhood met death – the inevitable result of war. This was their contribution that others might live to be free and have their being.
In 1919 what remained of Canada’s citizen Army returned home. Proud of the fact that they had made their contribution to free the world from tyranny, ready and anxious to take their part in the upbuilding of Canada. Hoping, in fact, convinced, that there would be no more wars.
The intervening years have been filled with disappointments for many. The scourge of war has left its mark. The battle to win the peace was, in many respects, more difficult than fighting itself. The Great Reaper, in His infinite mercy, has taken many Home, to rest with their comrades; their hopes and ambitions frustrated, but with a certain knowledge of a grateful country for their undaunted courage and faithfulness, even unto death, in a just a righteous cause.
Again in 1939 the Spectre of death and carnage was turned loose in Europe. That same ruthless enemy which was defeated in 1918 again showed his ugly head, and during the dark and disastrous days that followed when death, deceit, and treachery, were rampant, the Veterans of World War I, who were still medically fit, undaunted by refusals, persistently offered their services. They were ready for the fray. Thousands of them answered the “Call to Arms”. They knew too well the ruthless enemy had again to be put down, if we were to be free and escape the heel of the oppressor.
And now as we approach another Remembrance Day let us pause in silent memory for those who gave their all in World War I, together with those of their sons and daughters who carried through World War II the glorious traditions of their fathers, that we might have liberty. Let us think of Vimy, where, on the foreign soil of France, there stands of a memorial, emblematic of the self-sacrifice, endurance, courage, and faith, of those who…
‘In Flanders fields the poppies grow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place, and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead, short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up the quarrel with teh foe,
To you, from falling hands, we throw
The torch, be yours to hold it high;
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, tho’ poppies grow
In Flanders field.’
– Camp 133 War Diary, Appendix to Part I Orders, November 6 1945