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.
“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
The annual German Remembrance Day service will be held Sunday, November 13, 2016. This service takes place at Woodland Cemetery in Kitchener, Ontario (119 Arlington Boulevard) at 2:30 p.m.
The annual German Remembrance Day service will be held this coming Sunday, November 15, 2015. This service takes place at Woodland Cemetery in Kitchener, Ontario (119 Arlington Boulevard) at 2:30 p.m.
For more information, please visit the German Embassy’s website.
“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
The following newspaper article appeared in the April 12, 1950 issue of the Globe and Mail. Having first come across this a few years ago, it remains one of my favourite articles and I thought I would share. While these graves were relocated to Kitchener, Ontario in the 1970s, the article provides an interesting perspective only a few years following the departure of the last PoWs in Canada.
They are a long way from home.
The bodies of 17 German servicemen lie at rest in a small military cemetery on a snowy, windswept hill overlooking the Abitibi River a mile west of here. Through the uncertain tides of war, their destiny was death in a wild, rugged land, 4,000 miles from home.
Beneath their lonely graves the river winds down to the paper mill at Iroquois Falls, then onward toward James Bay. Little wisps of steam swirl upward from the swift water; otherwise the calm of the wilderness is unbroken. On the opposite bank the bushland sweeps unceasingly to the Arctic.
Buried in this remote forest plot are German soldiers, sailors and airmen who died during the Second World War at the Monteith prisoner-of-war camp 15 miles to the south. Of the hundreds of men imprisoned at the camp or employed in bush work across the north, only these 17 were left behind. Most of the 17 died from the after-effects of wounds received in battle.
Their resting place is enclosed by a birch fences. It was made by other prisoners who cared for the plot till they were sent back to Germany after the war. A birch archway, bearing the sign Ruhestatte Deutscher Kriegsgefangener gives entry to the area. Orderly rows of small spruce trees surround the plot.
The snow leading to the graves of these forgotten men was four feet deep and had been unbroken all winter when I arrived. The fence was engulfed almost completely and so was the line of wooden markers on the south side of the plot, for the winter wind from the north had swept a heavy drift across the hill.
The markers on the north side of the cemetery stood forth from the snow in a brave, pathetic little line. Sunlight struggled through the murky afternoon of late winter and fell upon the polished wood of their surfaces.
The memorials were remarkable; it was much as though one had stumbled into a tiny village cemetery in Germany, where the village wood-carver had wrought with loving care the plaques of the deceased.
Shouting their German identity defiantly to the alien wilderness, the markers were the work of some expert craftsman who had apparently been a prisoner at Monteith. Just who the artisan was is unknown. There is no record of his name, for the POW camp has long since been converted to Ontario’s northernmost jail… But it is unlikely there are half a dozen men in Canada today who could have done a similar job.
Each man’s name was carved in bold, authoritative lettering – Johann Wagner, Fritz Schröder*, Fritz Bochwoldt*, A. Hartwig… Beneath were the dates of birth and death but places of birth were not mentioned. A few of the men had been in their late thirties when they died, but most were in their early twenties.
Above each name was a symbol representing the branch of the German service in which each served. A galleon sweeping across a rifted ocean marked the sailors and U-boat men. A two-pronged arrow heading into a sunset was on the graves of the airmen. An infantryman’s helmet identified the graves of the soldiers.
Beneath the helmets on the soldier’s markers, swastikas were carved in the polished wood… But the hated symbol was just pathetic here.
I dug away the snow from one of the buried markers on the south side. Here Oberfeldwebel Friedrich Küttner* was buried. A remarkable carving of a sleeping soldier was exposed. I pushed back the snow and left the soldier sleeping.
The last of the German prisoners of war left Northern Ontario in 1946. During the war they composed a large portion of the workers in the forests. Men who showed and inclination to escape were kept in Monteith. Further north, near Hearst, a camp for incorrigibles was maintained.
There is a second Germany cemetery beside Highway 11, a mile and a half north of Kapuskasing. The men lying in it were prisoners of the First World War and were kept at what is now the Dominion Experimental Farm at Kapuskasing.
Care of both cemeteries is in the hands of the Canadian War Graves Commission.
Night was creeping up the slope from the river. You could no longer see the wisps of vapor rising from the water. The shadows lengthened across the hills on the far bank. With the night, there came a darkness which heralded spring.
As I went away I thought: These were our enemies. But the brotherhood of death has made them akin to our own Canadians lying in Europe. War is very bad, no matter which side you are on.
* – Corrected spelling