CANADA AND WORLD WAR 1
This is a selection of free online resources about Canada and World War One (WW1) including soldiers’ letters and diaries, ebooks, films, official histories and much more.
The War Letters 1914-1918 series will include one book based on the letters of a Canadian soldier fighting during World War 1. It will be published in autumn of 2015. The resources listed are, therefore, just an initial choice. In the meantime, if you come across any resources that you think should be included please let me know.
One thing worth noting is that Canada, particularly through Library and Archives Canada, was at the forefront of the early digitisation of historic records. Sadly, the sites for many of these records have been ‘archived’– meaning while still currently available they are no longer properly maintained or upgraded. In time, as web standards change and improve, particularly with the widespread use of mobile devices, such sites will cease to be easily accessible or even available. Those interested in protesting about such neglect should write to Shelly Glover, Minister of Canadian Heritage, responsible for the Library and Archives. Min.Glover@pch.gc.ca
GENERAL / OFFICIAL DOCUMENTS / OFFICIAL HISTORIES / UNIT RECORDS / SERVICE RECORDS / LEGISLATION / EBOOKS / THESES / LETTERS / AUDIO / FILM / IMAGES
Veterans Affairs Canada has a good introductory overview of Canada’s role World War 1.
The Canadian War Museum also has a shorter introduction to WW1 along similar lines.
OFFICIAL DOCUMENTS [top]
The Canada Gazette is often referred to as the official newspaper of the government of Canada and is where all official announcements are made. All copies since 1841 have been digitised.
They can be searched by keyword, or by year. The site, while still working, is one of those that has been ‘archived’ and is therefore officially no ‘longer subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards.’
Historical Debates of the Parliament of Canada dating back to 1867 can all be freely searched and read online.
Minutes of Meetings of the Canadian Officers Training Corps from September 1914 to March 1918 are available online through the University of Manitoba special collections.
Official Yearbooks with government statistics for all years between 1867 and 1967 are freely available online. (This is another resource officially ‘archived’ and no longer kept up to current web standards.)
Yearbooks for the war years can be most easily found on the browse by year page.
OFFICIAL HISTORIES [top]
Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914-1919, by G.W.L. Nicholson is available as a free PDF (35 MB).
UNIT RECORDS [top]
The War Diaries of the Canadian Expeditionary Force have been digitised by the Library and Archives of Canada. They can be searched by unit or date.
The online help is an extremely useful guide to searching through the records.
A list of the units whose diaries are held is also invaluable.
(Yet again, all these web pages have simply been archived and are no longer updated or improved.)
The Guides to Sources Relating to Units of the Canadian Expeditionary Force are an indispensable series of guides to the material held by the Library and Archives of Canada for almost every unit of the CEF. They are available as a series of PDFs.
SERVICE RECORDS [top]
The Library and Archives of Canada holds the service records to over 600,000 Canadians enlisted during World War 1 (WW1). At the moment, these records are being digitised, and are expected to be completed by March 2015. The current neglect of previously digitised items such as the unit war diaries makes one wonder what future plans, if any, they have for the material.
The library has a useful, short guide to the records it holds.
Sample documents from a typical Canadian soldiers’ record have been archived on the site.
Circumstances of Death Registers for members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force have all been digitised and are free to view online. There is also a helpful guide on how to search the register.
Courts Martial records of the First World War are held by the Library and Archives of Canada for members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Although the full records aren’t available online, you can find details of name, unit, date and crime. Search the records.
The War Measures Act (1914), granting greater powers to the Canadian government during wartime, can be read in full online.
Canada in the Great World War was a series published between 1918 and 1921. The first two volumes were published while the war was still in progress. Comprised of chapters by different writers focusing on various aspects of the war, both at home and abroad, what the series lacks in historical perspective, it gains in immediacy and insight into thinking at the time. (Appendices in the different volumes deal with subjects which don’t neatly fit in the main narrative of events.)
Volume 1 deals with Canadian military history from 1608 to 1914.
Volume 2 starts with the preparations for war and ends in the spring of 1915.
Volume 3 takes events from early 1915 until the beginning of the Battle of the Somme in July 1916. The appendices includes an essay entitled ‘The Canadian Indians and the Great World War.’
Volume 4 covers the Battle of the Somme, Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele. Its appendices includes essays on Canada and the war at sea and Canadian prisoners of war in Germany.
Volume 5 starts in the winter of 1917–1918 and ends after the armistice. The appendices includes an essay on Canada and the war in the air.
Volume 6 is titled ‘Special Services, Heroic Deeds …’ and includes essays on Canadian women and the war and the Canadian Army Medical Corps.
It also contains the names of the Canadian officers commanding units overseas along with the decorations awarded to Canadians.
Canada And The Battle Of Vimy Ridge, 9-12 April 1917, 1992 (PDF Version, 7.2 MB) by Brereton Greenhous and Stephen J. Harris is an early, classic account of the battle which became synonymous with Canada.
Theses Canada, provided by Library and Archives Canada, provides free access to thousands of Ph.D theses produced in Canada and voluntarily deposited by individual institutions. There are many about various aspects of World War 1 (WW1).
The Canadian Letters and Images Project is a fantastic resource where ‘the Canadian war experience, from any war, is told through the letters and images of Canadians themselves.’ They have over one hundred collections of letters from World War 1 which have all been transcribed. The site is very well laid out and easy to use.
The Canadian Military Heritage Project has a smaller collection of World War 1 Letters but they also been transcribed.
Oral Histories of the First World War: Veterans 1914-1918 is a series of interviews with veterans of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, based on the ‘s radio broadcast In Flanders Fields. (Sadly yet another case of an archived and neglected resource.) It includes interviews about:
The War in the Air
Songs of the First World War, recorded at the time, can be listened to online as part of the Canadian historical sound recordings compiled by the Library and Archives of Canada.
Numerous Canadian documentary films from the First World War – along with accompanying notes – are tucked away in a hard to find and forgotten corner of the National Film Board of Canada site. The films include:
Scores of films showing Canadians in battle
Numerous films from behind the lines and after the armistice
(The films can be viewed in full screen as a pop-up by clicking ‘Plein écran’ in the corner of the viewer. They require an enabled flash player.)
The same part of the site also has a number of interesting essays about the Canadian Expeditionary Force’s film records.
In a more up-to-date part of their site they have a small number of more recent films about the war. These include:
Frontlines – ‘A tribute to the combatants in the First World War, this film traces the conflict through the war diary and private letters of five Canadian soldiers and a nurse.’
And We Knew How to Dance – a fifty-five minute documentary made in 1994 about the effect of World War 1 on women’s lives. It is based on interviews with twelve Canadian women, then aged 86 to 101, who recall their entry into what had been a male world of munitions factories and farm labour.
World War 1 Armistice is the title of collection of short films, mostly made in 2008, about different aspects of the war including the importance of religion and faith for Canadian soldiers and the role of nurses at the front.
In 1916, the Canadian born newspaper tycoon Sir Max Aitken (soon to be Lord Beaverbrook) set up a fund, the Canadian War Memorials Fund, to pay for artists to paint the war from a Canadian perspective. Most of those paintings are now held in the Canadian War Museum.
A selection of the paintings can be seen online.
An essay by Laura Brandon, Curator of War Art at the Canadian War Museum gives some background and context to the collection.
It is more than a little disconcerting on a bright Easter morning, on a quiet Passover weekend to realize that once again Canada is at war. The war resolution passed the Commons this week by a vote of 142 to 129. The Canadian Forces mission, begun last October, is now extended for another year.
Our last war, in Afghanistan, lasted 12 years. The kill count was 158 Canadian service men and women, one diplomat, one journalist and two civilian contractors. There are some 2,100 Afghanistan veterans trying to recover from combat and other non-battle injuries. In terms of treasure, the total bill to the country is $12 billion. This includes $8.4 billion for the mission itself and $447-million to take care of our veterans.
When the Iraq operation was announced, the government ministers and the prime minister made it clear that this was not a ground combat mission. Our forces were in Iraq as advisers to Iraqi and Kurdish forces only. We were assured that the six CF-18 jet fighters would bomb Islamic State targets only in Iraq.
As with the length of the mission, the scope of the mission has now changed. Canadian pilots will begin bombing IS targets inside Syria any day now. The government has formally disburdened itself of the argument that Canadians are only advisors. In fact of all the countries involved in the coalition against Islamic State, only Canada and the United States are conducting bombing missions. Which puts us firmly on the side of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, whose family has been slaughtering Syrians for decades and continues to do so.
We can't say we haven't been prepped to accept the current war. The prime minister and his ministers have been warning us for months, how Canada is under threat, under siege in the words of one minister. IS has declared open war on this country, we are told. We must mobilize to protect ourselves. Expect rationing and scrap metal drives any day now.
Our Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson recently told a group of diplomats that the Iraq, now Syria mission was a matter of moral clarity. But before you can have moral clarity, shouldn't you have intellectual clarity? For example, no one has explained to me in any satisfactory way, how bombing IS warriors in Iraq or Syria will prevent a terrorist from attacking the West Edmonton Mall? The polls suggest that the majority of Canadians support the new war initiative of the government. And in doing so, it will be hard for that majority to vote against a wartime prime minister in the October federal election.
War is the ultimate acknowledgement of collective failure. War means that we don't know how to confront evil by any means other than killing and dying. We should prepare ourselves for more solemn funeral corteges along the Highway of Heroes, more saluting the flag, more fear rhetoric, coupled to patriotic oratory.
And our television networks will continue to broadcast the sordid propaganda films of Islamic State.
We are now firmly entrenched in a sectarian war between Shia and Sunni Muslims in the bedlam that is the Middle East. Simple question: How do we get out?