How to read First World War Canadian Expeditionary Force service files
Library and Archives Canada holds the service files of those who served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the First World War (1914-1918).
These files are digitized in our Personnel Records of the First World War database.
There are many different types of documents in the personnel files. Use this page to help you interpret them.
1. How to read the record of service and casualty forms
These forms list a service member’s details of service. Most of the entries are taken from unit Part II Daily Orders. The orders are the administrative directives concerning the movement of individuals into and out of each unit for reasons such as:
- arrival in England and postings to training camps there
- movement to and from France or Belgium
- demobilization, departure and discharge
They also record details about:
- promotions or reductions in rank
- changes in financial or ration allowances
- punishment awarded for service offences
- illness and injuries
- wounded or killed in action
Each unit of the Canadian Expeditionary Force issued these daily orders. They are arranged by unit and date in Record Group (RG) 150, Series 1. However, each entry for an individual mentioned in the orders is also placed separately on his service record, with a reference to the corresponding order number (see remarks column in the first image). Since the information is duplicated in the person’s service file, there is no need to consult the daily orders in Series 1.
The columns on this these two forms are:
- Report date (first column)
- Date on which a specific report concerning the individual is received by a higher authority.
- Report from whom received (second column)
- Information about who is making the report.
- Record of promotions, reductions, transfers, casualties, etc. during active service; the authority to be quoted in each case (third column)
- Information about the individual which has been noted in the unit administrative orders.
- Place (fourth column)
- Place in which the action noted occurred
- Date (fifth column)
- Date on which the noted action took place. It should not be confused with the earlier date, which referred only to the report being made (first column)
- Remarks (sixth column)
- Reference to Part Il Order or other document in which the action is also recorded
Understanding the abbreviations and terminology
The terms taken on strength (TOS) or struck off strength (SOS) refer to the movement of personnel into and out of a unit. They are usually entered in pairs, recording the individual’s departure from one unit and entry into another, with the dates on which they occurred.
The term In the field means in France of Belgium.
2. How to read a Memorial Cross card
A Memorial Cross card was created when a member of the Canadian Expeditionary Force died while in service.
The first line provides the name of the service member, and their regimental number, rank and unit.
Understanding the abbreviations
- Medals & Decs: Name and address of the next-of-kin to which the service member’s medals and decorations are sent
- P. & S.: Memorial Plaque and Scroll. Issued to the next-of-kin as a commemoration of the service member’s sacrifice in the service of the King
- Mem. Cross: Memorial Cross issued to the mother and/or widow of the deceased service member (also seen as "Cross of Sacrifice")
The other dates on the card refer to when the scroll and plaque were sent to the next-of-kin. The handwritten date refers to when the medals and decorations were sent (M). The number (C28869) is the number of the Medal Roll on which the awards were registered in the soldier's name.
Definition of next-of-kin
The recipient of the award was the next-of-kin of the deceased at the time of the award was sent out.
The order of next-of-kin is as follows:
- eldest surviving son
- eldest surviving daughter
- eldest surviving brother, and so on, to the eldest surviving aunt on the mother's side
3. How to read a medal card
A medal card indicates the service medals the person was entitled to.
The sample medal card is from the service file of 718608, Frederic Charles Davies. He was killed in action March 4, 1918 on the Western Front. Davies received the British War Medal and the Victory Medal, but he was not eligible for the 1914-1915 Star.
- In the upper right corner, there is a capital B, with a check mark through it. The "B" denotes that Davies was awarded the British War Medal, and the check mark indicates that it was sent out.
- In the same corner is a capital V, also with a check mark. The "V" denotes he was awarded the Victory Medal, and the check mark indicates that it was sent out.
- There is no mark for the 1914-1915 Star, because he was not eligible since enlisted in 1916.
- If only one letter appears on the card, it means the person was awarded only one service medal.
- If Theatre of War reads England, the soldier was only eligible for the British War Medal.
- Soldiers who never left Canada were not eligible for any service awards, so there is no medal card in their service file.
- The medal cards only recorded service medals. They did not list other medals, awards and decorations such as:
- Military Medal or Military Cross
- Distinguished Service Order
- Those were entered on the individual's record of service and casualty forms, along with the number of the London Gazette in which it was published.