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.
“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
“And so another Armistice Day rolls around as the years go by, and today members of the VGC have cause to remember this day of days, realizing little that it is 27 years ago today since the cessation of hostilities in 1918. The meaning of this day has, of course, a special significance for VGC personnel and all veterans of the conflict of 1914-1918, but at the same time it was appreciated by all of us that the memories should be combined with thoughts of the younger generation who have given their lives in the present war. So it was with this in mind that we carried out the celebrations today… In the morning special services were held by the Camp Padre, H/Capt. L.L. Grant, who spoke of the solemn occasion of this date and paid tribute to the many lives lost by two generations of youth, all within the lifetime of members of the VGC. A special civilian choir was in attendance and lent aid to the choral side of the service.
At eleven o’clock, the hour of the “Cease Fire” in November 1918, all members of the Sgts’ Mess gathered together and a short service was held, with two minutes of silence, the playing of the “Flowers of the Forest” and “Last Post.” Sgt. Smith, Pipe-Major of No. 22 Coy Pipe Band, kindly consented to render the pipe selection, and L/Cpl. McGowan of #29 Coy sounded the bugle calls. Special dinner was served in the Messes and it was more or less a day of reminiscing among those who fought together in those days of 27 to 30 years ago.”
– Camp 133 War Diary, November 11, 1945
“They were the men of the Canadian Veterans’ Guards. Old soldiers who had not faded away but who have returned to serve with their sons.”
An appropriate video considering the 98th anniversary of Vimy Ridge on April 9. The Canadian Army Newsreels series was produced by the Canadian Army Film Unit during the war with the intention of showcasing the Canadian war effort to those back home. Albeit brief, the video shows some footage of the General Duty Company of the Veterans’ Guard of Canada, attached to the Canadian Military Headquarters in London, England.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all of my readers!
Here’s a particularly relevant piece from my collection, a Christmas card send from PoWs to one of their captors. This card is addressed to Sergeant-Major James Ogilvie Thomson, a member of the Veterans’ Guard who was employed as the camp quartermaster at Camp 133 in Lethbridge, Alberta. The PoW-produced card is signed by seven PoWs, all of whom were employed in the enclosure quartermaster office. In a somewhat rare scenario, Thomson and his former charges kept in touch after the war and I am fortunate to have a number of pieces of their correspondence.
“The white and glistening snow that has freshly fallen seems to be an omen reflecting the purity of our hearts and the purpose of aims. We who have given and offered out lives for a just cause and have again and would again now, pause to pay our homage and tribute to those who have the same ideals as we have and have shown what they, like us, are ready to offer their lives and youth to maintain the right of free men and man’s right to freedom.
A Service was held in the Recreation Hall and the Corps was represented in the Parade and Service held in Medicine Hat. Our indefatigable Padre officiating at both Services. The Sergeants Mess gave a dinner to which were invited Col. Ellwood and the Company Commanders, the Padre, Administrative Officers and Medical Officer. It is reliably reported that it was a dinner that only the Sergeants Mess know how to make successful.”
– War Diary of Internment Camp 132 – Medicine Hat, Alberta
November 11, 1944.
While most November 11 war diary entries from the Veterans’ Guard of Canada mention attending a Remembrance Day service, this one stood out. The men of the Veterans’ Guard continue to amaze me for, as the entry above suggests, this was their second war. Despite their experiences in the First World War, some 10,000 of the veterans re-enlisted after war broke out in 1939. Although they may not have been on the front lines, these men did their duty with pride.
Lest We Forget.