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Banner: From Colony to Country: A Reader's Guide to Canadian Military History


Canadian Military History: An Overview
War of 1812
Rebellions of 1837 and 1838
Northwest Campaign
South African War
First World War
Second World War


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First World War
Troops and Traditions

Canadian Expeditionary Force:
Organization of the CEF and Its Units

The pre-war militia regiments became largely irrelevant to the organization of the CEF when, in 1914, Sir Sam Hughes decreed that the militia staff's mobilization plan not be followed and sent telegrams across the land urging volunteers to assemble at Valcartier, near Québec City. Although the militia regiments provided recruiting bases for units proceeding overseas, the ties between them and the numbered infantry battalions of the CEF were tenuous. After the war, the regiments perpetuated battalions to which they had contributed most. A list of these perpetuations is found in the Militia list and Defence forces list issued during the 1920s and 1930s. Meek's Over the top, a work originally intended for the cap-badge collector, graphically illustrates the origins and fate of the overseas battalions, both those which saw service in the field and the many more which were broken up for reinforcements.

Many units wrote their histories soon after the war and others published "picture books" before going overseas, which tell us much about their makeup. Many of these works are rare today. The stories of other battalions have been incorporated into the histories of the regiments that perpetuated them. Still other history projects foundered during the Great Depression and were only revived after the Second World War. Interest in these First World War battalions has revived, as indicated in the works by Bagley, Dancocks, Gagnon, McWilliams and others. Because the reader is likely to be interested in one specific unit only, a great many are listed below. They vary greatly in value, but all have something to offer the reader. Again, many of the earlier histories have become rare.

The 1914 mobilization did not cause the same break with pre-war organization for other arms and services as it did for the infantry. Thus, their contributions are better recorded within the general histories of the unit or branch. Volume 1 of Nicholson's history of the artillery provides an excellent history of the artillery's work during the war, and his Seventy years of service, listed in the Medicine section, provides an excellent history of the work of the Canadian Army Medical Corps.

There was little scope for cavalry within the Canadian Corps : the Canadian Cavalry Brigade fought within British formations throughout the war. Dragoon, Brereton Greenhous's centennial history of the Royal Canadian Dragoons contains a useful account of this brigade's actions.

* Canada. Dept. of Militia and Defence. -- The militia list. -- Ottawa : King's Printer, 1914-1929.

  • Title and frequency vary. After 1922, issued by the Dept. of National Defence. From 1930 titled : Defence forces list, Canada, but the content remained largely the same.

Canada. Ministry of Overseas Military Forces of Canada. -- Report of the Ministry : overseas military forces of Canada, 1918. -- London : H.M. Stationery Office, 1919. -- 533 p.

Love, David W. -- "A call to arms" : the organization and administration of Canada's military in World War One. -- Winnipeg : Bunker to Bunker Books, 1999. -- 349 p.

  • A very useful but uneven mass of organizational detail, much of it reprinted from official sources. It is marred by its crowded layout and sometimes poor quality of reproduction.

Meek, John F. -- Over the top : the Canadian infantry in the First World War. -- Orangeville, Ont. : Privately printed, 1971. -- 188 p.

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