Sunday, 6 March 2011

Book Review: Canadians at War 1914-1919

The following is reproduced, with permission, from my review in Family Chronicle, March-April 2011 issue.

Canadians at War 1914 – 1919: A Research Guide to World War One Service Records
Glenn Wright
Global Heritage Press

ISBN 978–1–926797–45–8 (hard cover) $42.95Cdn
ISBN 978–1–926797–46–5 (softcover: coil–bound) $24.95Cdn

It’s a rare Canadian with any depth of family history in the country who had no relative who served during the Great War. Over 500,000 men and women volunteered; tens of thousands more were conscripted to serve in the Canadian Army. Over 450,000 served overseas; some 60,000 gave their lives; over 170,000 were wounded or disabled. They fought for the British Empire. What they won for Canada in numerous battles, especially the victory at Vimy Ridge, was a profound sense of national identity.

Although serving as Canadians many of these soldiers, mariners, airmen, nurses and chaplains, were recent immigrants from the United Kingdom. Substantial numbers crossed the border from the United States to enlist. Even people without Canadian roots can find themselves researching a relative who served with Canadian forces. That was my experience.

After introductory material this guide, written by Canadian historian and archivist Glenn Wright, draws on detailed knowledge of Library and Archives Canada records to explain the service files available for commissioned and non-commissioned officers, and other ranks. All too often researchers find an attestation paper for their relative online at the Library and Archives Canada website but are unaware that it is just the first document, a snapshot on enlistment. A more complete hardcopy service file is available giving information on their history through the war. When and on which ship did they go to Europe? Were they injured? What about their return? And most importantly, was there a transfer to another battalion or battalions?

Wright guides you in interpreting the various documents on the service file, and then directs you to and explains other sources, many also at Library and Archives Canada. Knowing the unit in which your person was actually serving, not just the one in which they first enlisted, leads to a variety of less explored resources such as war diaries and daily orders. They will help you pin down the details of service, sometimes on a day-by-day basis.

You will also find guidance on other records developed for particular circumstances such as prisoners of war, courts-martial, hospital admission and discharge records, pensions, honours and awards. The war dead are given special attention, notably the little-known Circumstances of Death Registers.

Separate sections are dedicated to the Royal Canadian Navy and Canadians who served with British forces including the large number of airmen. Wright makes particular note of the Imperial War Service Gratuity Records, additional payments made to Canadians who served with British forces and returned to Canada.

Rounding out the guide is a selected bibliography, list of Internet resources and archival repositories and other similar resources.

I was initially reluctant to review this volume as it acknowledges my assistance. On reading it I realized that in the 18 months that elapsed between my seeing very early text and publication it had changed and improved almost beyond recognition. What remained was the basic information on Canadian Expeditionary Force personnel records, and the easy writing style. Added are case studies, numerous examples of documents, and information on mariners, airmen, nurses and padres.

A minor irritation is some inconsistency on the way sections, chapters, sections and sub-sections are identified. Major sections would be better delineated if each started on the right hand page. Also, as is inevitable, new resources come along. Readers may want to refer to a new website that has surfaced since this valuable guide was completed.

There are several sources to order this guide online: Family Chronicle, Global Genealogy,


Ellen Thorne Morris said...

Your review has convinced me I need this source. My grandfather moved to NYC around 1900, but his cousins would have served. This book will help me learn about a completely new area.

Joan Miller (Luxegen) said...

Thanks for the review. It looks like a useful book.