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War Diaries

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Are the Diaries Written Only in English?

Although a number of Canadian Expeditionary Force units, most famously the 22nd Battalion, were composed of French-speaking officers and men, they operated within a Canadian and Imperial military hierarchy whose working language was English. The men in these units spoke French amongst themselves, but they used English when communicating with other units and with higher-level commanders. Similarly, the War Diaries of these French-speaking units were written in English because they were initially submitted to British authorities, and after 1916, to the Canadian War Records Office, which was based in London, England, and operated in English.

The Newfoundland Regiment at the Somme, July 1, 1916

"The enemy's fire was effective from the outset, but the heaviest casualties occurred on passing through the gaps in our front wire, where the men were mown down in heaps."

Newfoundland Regiment War Diary, July 1, 1916. MG 40 G1.

At 7:30 a.m. on July 1, 1916, a week-long bombardment of German positions on the Somme came to an end. Then, the first of 60,000 men began advancing into "No Man's Land" along the British 4th Army's 24-kilometre front. Many German defenders had survived the bombardment and soon began raking this area with machine-gun, artillery and rifle fire. Despite this, the British attacks continued. At 9:05 a.m., the Newfoundland Regiment members of the British Expeditionary Force advanced near the village of Beaumont Hamel. To reach the enemy's trenches they had to cross as much as 800 metres of open ground. Each man carried more than 25 kilograms of food, supplies and ammunition. Few survived for long in "No Man's Land." Shortly after 10:00 a.m., the British attack was called off. Despite some initial successes, the day's objectives had not been achieved.

The date July 1, 1916, has come to symbolize the horrors of trench warfare. On that morning, the Newfoundland Regiment suffered 684 casualties, of whom 310 had been killed. Total British losses for the day were 57,470 men.

The Canadian Expeditionary Force missed the carnage of July 1; however, CEF units would begin to be deployed on the Somme in August 1916.

* War Diaries of the Newfoundland Regiment will be available soon.

Abbreviations A-C

War Diaries contain many military abbreviations and acronyms, the most common of which are explained below. Researchers should note that while these are the most common abbreviations, they may have varied slightly from unit to unit. See also the section "Military Ranks and Their Abbreviations".

- A -

a/ - Acting Rank (i.e. a/Adj)

AA - Anti-Aircraft

AA&QMG - Assistant Adjutant and Quartermaster General

Act - Acting Rank

ADC - Aide de Camp

Adj - Adjutant

ADMS - Assistant Director of Medical Services

ADS - Advanced Dressing Station

Ammn Col - Ammunition Column

ANZAC - Australian and New Zealand Army Corps

- B -

Battn - Battalion

Bde - Brigade

BEF - British Expeditionary Force

BHQ - Brigade Headquarters

Bn - Battalion

Bty - Battery

- C -

CADC - Canadian Army Dental Corps

CAMC - Canadian Army Medical Corps

CAN - Canadian

CAOC - Canadian Army Ordnance Corps

CASC - Canadian Army Service Corps

Cav - Cavalry

CB - Companion of the Oder of the Bath

CCCS - Canadian Casualty Clearing Station

CCS - Casualty Clearing Station

Cdn - Canadian

CE - Canadian Engineers

CEF - Canadian Expeditionary Force

CFA - Canadian Field Artillery

CGA - Canadian Garrison Artillery

Chap - Chaplain

CIB - Canadian Infantry Brigade

C-in-C - Commander-in-Chief

CMGC - Canadian Machine Gun Corps

CMH - Canadian Military Hospital

CMMG - Canadian Motor Machine Gun Corps

CMR - Canadian Mounted Rifles

CO - Commanding Officer

Comd - Commander

Coy - Company

CPC - Canadian Postal Corps

CRT - Canadian Railway Troops

CWRO - Canadian War Records Office

- D -

DAG - Deputy Adjutant General

DAP - Divisional Aid Post

DA&QMG - Deputy Adjutant and Quartermaster General

DCM - Distinguished Conduct Medal

DADMS - Deputy Assistant Director of Medical Services

DDMS - Deputy Director of Medical Services

DGMS - Director General Medical Services

Died of W - Died of Wounds

D(iv)HQ - Divisional Headquarters

Div(nl) - Division(al)

DMS - Director of Medical Services

DOW - Died of Wounds

DRO - Divisional Routine Order

DRS - District Recruiting Services

DSO - Distinguished Service Order

- E -

Engrs - Engineers

- F -

Fd Amb - Field Ambulance

- G -

GCMG - Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George

Gen - General

GHQ - General Headquarters

GO - General Order

GOC (in C) - General Officer Commanding (in Chief)

GSO - General Staff Officer

GSW - Gun Shot Wound

- H -

Hdqrs - Headquarters

HE - High Explosive

Hon - Honorary or Honourable

Hosp - Hospital

HQ - Headquarters

HRH - His Royal Highness

- I -

i/c - In Charge

Inf - Infantry

Inf Batt - Infantry Battalion

- K -

KCB - Knight Commander of the Bath

KCMG - Knight Commander of Saint Michael and Saint George

- L -

LG - Lewis Gun

LG Limbers - Lewis Gun Limbers

- M -

MC - Military Cross

MD - Military District

MDS - Main Dressing Station

MG - Machine Gun

MH - Military Hospital

MM - Military Medal

MMG - Motor Machine Gun

MO - Medical Officer

MVO - Member of the Royal Victorian Order

- N -

NCO - Non-Commissioned Officer

NF - Neutralising Fire

- O -

OBE - Officer of the Oder of the British Empire

OC - Officer Commanding

OMFC - Overseas Military Forces of Canada

OO - Operational Order

OP - Observation Post

OR - Other Ranks

- P -

PPCLI - Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry

- Q -

QM - Quartermaster

- R -

RA - Royal Artillery

RAMC - Royal Army Medical Corps

RAP - Regimental Aid Post

RCA - Royal Canadian Artillery

RE - Royal Engineers

Reinf - Reinforcement(s)

RFA - Royal Field Artillery (British)

RO - Routine Order

- S -

SAA - Small Arms Ammunition

Shr.W - Shrapnel Wound

SOS - Struck off Strength

Stat Hosp - Stationery Hospital

Surg-gen - Surgeon General

SW - Shrapnel Wound

- T -

TM - Trench Mortar

TOS - Taken on Strength

- U -

UK - United Kingdom

- V -

VC - Victoria Cross

- W -

W - Wounded

WD - War Diary

Wd - Wound(ed)

WO - War Office (British)

Glossary of Military Terms A-C

Artillery

Large calibre guns, often transported on wheeled carriages called limbers and which could be used against air or ground targets. "Artillery" also referred to the corps of soldiers who manned these guns.

Barrage

An artillery tactic that came into wide use during the First World War, in which guns were fired during a ground assault. Most famous was the "creeping barrage" in which shells were aimed just ahead of advancing ground forces. The barrage would move forward, or "creep," at a predetermined pace, allowing the infantry to reach the enemy's front lines just as the shells ceased falling.

Battalion

An infantry unit commanded by a lieutenant colonel and comprising approximately 1,000 men. Battalions were the basic unit for raising and training men for the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Recruiting officers enlisted men for a battalion in areas ranging from a single city, to a county or, in the west, large portions of a province. Many of the 260 battalions raised for the CEF served together, while others - generally those with higher numbers - were broken up in England and used to reinforce existing front-line units. Many of the battalions raised between 1914 and 1918 are perpetuated by modern Canadian Army regiments.

Battery

An artillery unit commanded by a major and composed of four or six guns or mortars of various sizes.

Billet

Temporary accommodation for soldiers while in the field. Billets might be close to the front lines, in buildings that were either partially ruined or intact.

Bivouac

To camp out overnight while in the field, often without tents or shelter of any kind.

Bomb

Small, hand-held explosive device that was thrown at the enemy. Later called a hand grenade.

Bombing Party

A small group of men whose task was to advance close enough to enemy trenches and defensive positions in order to throw bombs into them.

Bombardment

An artillery tactic in which shells were fired continuously - often for several days - on enemy targets before the commencement of a ground attack.

Brigade

An army unit commanded by a brigadier-general and comprising approximately 4,000 men divided into four battalions and including engineers, signals, medical, mortar and machine gun units.

Canadian Corps

The 1st and 2nd Divisions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force were brought together as the Canadian Corps in France in September 1915. Troops in England and Canada continued to be referred to as the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Eventually 3rd, 4th and 5th Divisions were added to the Canadian Corps, though the last of these was never deployed in France.

Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF)

The fighting force that the Government of Canada began raising at the start of the First World War in August 1914. The first CEF troops sailed for England in October 1914 and were in action on the Continent in early 1915. By September 1915, the CEF had become so large that the Canadian Corps was formed as a more appropriate organisational structure. In all, more than 600,000 officers and men served with the CEF between 1914 and 1919.

Canadian War Records Office (CWRO)

The CWRO was established in London, England in January 1915 by Sir Max Aitken, later Lord Beaverbrook. The CWRO had a mandate to document, and publicise Canada's military contribution to the war. From 1916 the CWRO was responsible for collecting, cataloguing and storing the Canadian Expeditionary Force War Diaries.

Casualties

Soldiers wounded, killed, missing or taken prisoner during combat. Many of the men reported missing would subsequently have been declared dead, while others would be found to have been taken prisoner. The bodies of thousands of CEF members have never been recovered and they remain "missing" to this day.

Casualty Clearing Station, (CCS)

A medical unit commanded by a major or lieutenant colonel. Wounded men were evacuated from the battlefield to a dressing station. From there the most gravely wounded were shipped to a CCS, located farther away from the front. At the CCS, casualties were given more extensive treatment before being transported to a variety of types of hospitals.

Cavalry

Soldiers who fought on horseback. During the First World War many cavalry units replaced their horses with modern mechanised transportation.

Company

An infantry unit commanded by a captain or major and comprising approximately 200 men divided into four platoons.

Corps

A military unit commanded by a lieutenant general and comprising as many as 120,000 men.

Court Martial

Court convened to try an infraction of military law. Crimes ranging from petty theft to murder and desertion were tried in courts martial during the First World War.

Division

An army unit commanded by a major general and comprising approximately 20,000 men.

Draft

A large group of soldiers, often new recruits, who were assigned to reinforce an existing unit.

Dugout

An underground shelter, often reinforced with concrete, most commonly built in or near the front line trenches. Soldiers sheltered in dugouts during artillery bombardments and barrages.

Engineers

Soldiers responsible for construction, fortification, bridging, tunnelling and other similar duties.

Field Ambulance

A medical unit commanded by a lieutenant colonel and comprising approximately 200 men. Field Ambulances transported the wounded from Dressing Stations or Regimental Aid Posts, to Casualty Clearing Stations located further behind the front lines.

Gas

Any of a number of noxious or deadly airborne chemical compounds that were used as weapons during the First World War. Gas would either be carried by the wind over No Man's Land and into enemy trenches, or fired in specially designed artillery shells, often in preparation for a ground assault.

Gas Alarm

A signal warning troops that a gas attack was underway. Men would put on their gas masks as soon as the gas alarm sounded.

General Hospital

A medical unit commanded by a lieutenant colonel and comprising doctors, nursing sisters and orderlies. Stationary hospitals had fairly permanent locations throughout France, Britain and Canada. They were the medical units at which the wounded and sick received the most comprehensive and long-term care. Similar to a Stationary Hospital.

Gun

General term referring to the large-calibre weapons, often transported on carriages called limbers, that were fired by the artillery.

Howitzer

An artillery weapon which fired shells in an almost horizontal trajectory, making it very effective at close range.

Infantry

Foot soldiers who are generally armed with rifles, pistols and other hand-held weapons and who make up the largest portion of an army.

Jumping-off Point

During an assault, the place from which a particular unit was to begin advancing towards the enemy.

Limber

Wheeled carriage on which an artillery gun was affixed. Limbers were generally pulled by teams of horses.

Medical Corps

Branch of the military which was responsible for soldiers' overall health and for treating the wounded.

Mine

Underground chamber tunnelled from the front line under No Man's Land and as close as possible to enemy fortifications. The chamber would be packed with explosives and detonated at the start of a large ground attack.

Ministry of the Overseas Military Forces of Canada (OMFC)

Branch of the federal government established in London, England in November 1916. The OMFC directed Canadian forces in the United Kingdom, and liaised between the Canadian Corps, the federal government in Ottawa and British authorities. Abolished in July 1920.

Mortar

An artillery weapon that fires projectiles almost directly skyward. The steep arc of mortar shells means that they can be aimed to come down inside enemy defensive positions.

Mounted Rifles

Cavalry units equipped with rifles that had originally been organised during the Boer War of 1899-1901.

No Man's Land

The area between the allied and enemy trenches. So called because nobody was supposed to be able to survive in this territory because it was swept constantly by machine gun and sniper fire.

Orders

Name given to a number of different types of written instructions issued to units under the authority of a commanding officer. Orders issued under a variety of titles outlined administrative, supply, manpower, disciplinary and other routine tasks. "Operational Orders" identified a particular unit's roles, responsibilities and objectives in up-coming military actions. Orders of various kinds make up the bulk of the appendices attached to War Diaries.

Platoon

An infantry unit commanded by a lieutenant and comprising 50 men.

Raid

Attack with a specific objective carried out by a small party of men, often conducted at night. The CEF raided enemy trenches regularly in order to harass the enemy and gather information about their defences and strength. A raiding party would withdraw after achieving its objectives.

Relief

To take over the responsibilities of a military unit. For instance, when a unit was ordered to go into the front line trench, they did so by "relieving" or replacing the unit that was already there.

Reports

Name given to a number of different documents compiled by units, often for the information of higher authorities. Reports documented a cross section of military life, from a unit's encounters with the enemy, to meteorological data. Reports were frequently appended to War Diaries.

Round

A single piece of artillery, rifle or pistol ammunition.

Runner

Because telephone and radio communications systems were unreliable during the First World War, messages, reports and orders were often carried by human runners. The speed at which a runner could take a message and return with the reply was often critical to the success of a battle.

Sap

A trench projecting out into No Man's Land at right angles to the front line. Saps allowed small parties of men to get close to the enemy without being detected so that they could raid, observe or snipe.

Sapper(s)

A name by which the engineers were commonly known. Not pejorative.

Section

An infantry unit led by a corporal and comprising 11 men.

Shrapnel

An artillery shell filled with small metal projectiles which scattered through the air at detonation. Designed to kill infantry.

Signals

Soldiers responsible for maintaining communications, at bases and in the field. During the First World War, signals troops transmitted messages by telephone, heliograph, semaphore and runner.

Small Arms

Weapons carried into battle by individual infantry soldiers, including pistols, rifles and machine guns.

Snipers

Expert marksmen equipped with rifles. Snipers worked alone or in small groups in the front lines, targeting enemy soldiers who could be seen momentarily in trenches and rear areas. Snipers continually harassed men in trenches and rear areas, making it difficult for soldiers to move around freely.

Stationary Hospital

A medical unit commanded by a lieutenant colonel and comprising doctors, nursing sisters and orderlies. Stationary hospitals had fairly permanent locations throughout France, Britain and Canada. They were the medical units at which the wounded and sick received the most comprehensive and long-term care. Similar to a General Hospital.

Strength

The total number of officers and men in a particular unit at any one time.

Struck off Strength

When a soldier ceased to be a member of a particular unit, either because of injury, death or transfer, he was said to have been "struck off strength."

Taken on Strength

When a soldier joined a particular unit he was said to have been "taken on strength."

Trench Raid

See Raid.

Trenches

The series of long, deep ditches in which men sheltered and lived and which characterised the First World War. The classic trench system comprised three parallel trenches. Closest to the enemy was the front-line or fire trench. The fire trench was separated from No Man's Land by rows of sandbags and barbed wire. Several hundred yards behind was the support trench, whose occupants could rush to the fire trench in the event of a surprise attack. Farthest to the rear was a reserve trench. Between the allied and enemy front-line trenches was No Man's Land. Many trenches were given the names of familiar hometown streets. Capturing enemy trenches was a very common objective in battles.

Wire, Barbed Wire

Front-line trenches were often protected by coils of barbed wire that prevented the enemy from entering the trench easily. Before a battle, the artillery would often be responsible for shelling the enemy wire in order to blow holes through which ground troops could pass. During trench raids, small sections of the enemy's wire would be cut open with hand-held clippers.

Zero Hour

In military planning, the time at which a raid, assault or attack was supposed to begin.

Slang

During the First World War, soldiers developed an extensive slang vocabulary that they used to communicate with one another. Typically, unfamiliar French and Flemish place names were anglicised, so that "Ypres" became "Wipers." Similarly, trenches were given names like "Regina" or "Piccadilly Circus" to remind men of home. The enemy was known by a number of derisive names such as Boche or Fritz, while various weapons were given humorous names. A number of published dictionaries explain First World War slang.

Some of the more common forms of slang that you may find in War Diaries include:

5.9 - a type of artillery shell

Ack Ack - anti-aircraft artillery

Blighty - Britain, or a wound that required evacuation to Britain

Boche - a pejorative name for the Germans

Coal Box - a type of artillery shell

Egg Bomb - a type of hand-held bomb

Fritz - a pejorative name for the Germans

Hun - a pejorative name for the Germans

Jack Johnson - a type of artillery shell

Sausage - a type of artillery shell

Whizz Bang - a type of artillery shell

Wooly Bear - a type of artillery shell

Military Ranks and Their Abbreviations

The basic military hierarchy, in ascending order:

Other Ranks

Pte - private (infantry)

Gnr - gunner (artillery)

Bomb - bombardier (artillery)

Cpl - corporal

Lcpl - lance-corporal

Sgt - sergeant

Msgt - master sergeant

WO - warrant officer

Commissioned Officers

2nd lt - sub-lieutenant

Lieut - lieutenant

Capt - captain

Maj - major

Lt-Col - lieutenant-colonel

Col - colonel

Brig - brigadier-general

Maj-gen - major-general

Lieut-gen - lieutenant-general

I am looking for information about the actions for which someone was awarded the Victoria Cross (VC), Distinguished Service Order (DSO), Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM), Military Cross (MC), Military Medal (MM), or was Mentioned in Despatches (MID).

Generally, there is little specific information about these awards in the War Diaries, because decorations were normally granted long after the action for which they were awarded. Without a copy of the citation for the award, it is difficult to know the date on which the actions took place. This date is needed in order to search the War Diaries. However, numerous published sources list those decorated for gallantry and may include citations.

Abbink, Harry, and Cindy Abbink.The Military Medal: Canadian Recipients, 1916-1922. Calgary: Alison Pub. Co., ca.1987.

Bishop, William Arthur, Our Bravest and Our Best: The Stories of Canada's Victoria Cross Winners. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1995.

Riddle, David K, and Donald G. Mitchell. The Distinguished Service Order to the Canadian Expeditionary Force and Canadians in the Royal Naval Air Service, Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force, 1915-1920. Winnipeg: Kirkby-Marlton Press, ca. 1991.

Riddle, David K, and Donald G. Mitchell. The Military Cross Awarded to the Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1915-1921. Winnipeg: Kirkby-Marlton Press, 1991.

Swettenham, John. Valiant Men; Canada's Victoria Cross and George Cross Winners. Toronto: Hakkert, 1973.

I am looking for a particular person.

War Diaries are not personal diaries. However, if you know the unit to which a particular person belonged, you can use the War Diaries to trace how and where he or she served. In some instances you may find individuals identified by name in War Dairies, but this is not true in all cases.

Why are there no French-language War Diaries?

Though a number of Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF ) units, most famously the 22nd Battalion, were composed of French-speaking officers and men, they operated within a Canadian and Imperial military hierarchy whose working language was English. The men in these units spoke French amongst themselves, but they used English when communicating with other units and with higher-level commanders. Similarly, the War Diaries of these French-speaking units were written in English because they were initially submitted to British authorities, and after 1916, to the Canadian War Records Office, which was based in London, England and operated in English.

I cannot find the War Diary of a particular unit.

Not all of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF ) War Diaries held by Library and Archives Canada have been digitized for this project. The vast majority of War Diaries have been digitized and we plan to add those of the remaining units in the future. In the meantime, microfilm copies of all the CEF War Diaries held by Library and Archives Canada are available at our Ottawa location, or through the inter-library loans department of your local library.

Can I print the War Diaries on this site and are they subject to copyright restrictions? Reproduction of archival material is subject to the terms and conditions of the Copyright Act. The War Diaries remain under crown copyright, however, they can be freely reproduced for academic and personal research and use, but not for commercial or revenue-generating uses.

In the case of commercial or revenue-generating uses, researchers are responsible for obtaining permission to publish or use any copyrighted materials. It is recommended that researchers consult the Copyright Act and seek legal advice where questions regarding the interpretation of copyright arise. It is not the role of Library and Archives Canada to interpret the Copyright Act for researchers, and researchers must accept responsibility for determining any copyright obligations. Researchers should allow adequate lead time for researching ownership and obtaining permission to copy or publish. You may consult the Copyright Act online at: http://laws.justice.gc.ca/en/C-42/index.html

How did battles get their names and dates?

Names for the Canadian battles of the First World War were standardized in 1921 by the Battles Nomenclature Committee. This committee was appointed by British authorities and included three Canadian representatives. Generally, battles were named after nearby towns or geographical features. The Committee used military records to determine the official dates for each battle. To learn more about this committee through Library and Archives Canada, consult file RG 24 volume 447, file 54-21-1-201.

Why are some personal names followed by a series of numbers?

At enlistment, every man, apart from commissioned officers, was assigned an individual regimental number. This was the principal means by which the Army identified a particular soldier and which distinguished him from all other men with the same name in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF ). More than 600,000 men served in the CEF between 1914 and 1919 and so keeping track of them accurately was a tremendous administrative challenge. For instance, more than 500 men named John Smith served in the CEF. Without individual regimental numbers, it would have been difficult for administrators to tell them apart. Regimental numbers identified each person in much the same way as an individual Social Insurance Number identifies people today. Officers were not assigned regimental numbers and were identified only by name and rank. Similarly, very few nursing sisters received individual regimental numbers. They too were identified only by name and rank.

Why don't all War Diaries look the same or contain the same type of information?

Every Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) unit interpreted the requirement to compile a War Diary somewhat differently. For instance, though the majority of units typed their diaries, some were written by hand. The extent of the information compiled and the number of appendices included also varied from diary to diary. The Canadian War Records Office instructed units in how to write their War Diaries in an attempt to standardize them, but this was only partially successful.

Why are there so few diaries for the periods during which units were in Canada or Britain?

Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF ) units were only required to keep War Diaries while they were at the front. Nevertheless, some units also kept diaries while in Britain.

How do I know the meaning of acronyms and abbreviations?

The glossaries for this site explain the most commonly occurring acronyms and abbreviations used in the War Diaries.

Does Library and Archives Canada hold any other First World War records?

Library and Archives Canada holds the world's most comprehensive collection of First World War records. These records document everything from the organization and deployment of individual fighting and support units, to the highest levels of command. Especially important are the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF ) military service files, which are the basic records of an individual's wartime service. A portion of each CEF member's military service file is being digitized. You can search these records on Library and Archives Canada Web site at www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/military-heritage/first-world-war/first-world-war-1914-1918-cef/Pages/canadian-expeditionary-force.aspx. A substantial collection of private papers, diaries and journals written by members of the CEF is also held by Library and Archives Canada. These textual records are complemented by extensive photographic, film and art collections from the war.