Family Genealogy and Military Files

Usually, I don’t have any problem deciding where to start my Remembrance Day posts.  And this year, I found myself wondering why more people don’t have similar posts – I mean presumably, there are quite a few of my FB friends with grandparents and or great uncles and aunts that were of the WWII-serving generation.

After some thought, the obvious reasons hit me like a ton of bricks.  Firstly, this generation of men and women is notorious for not talking about their war experiences.  They are far too modest about their bravery and willingness to serve.  I know my grandpas kinda just shrug their shoulders as if it was no big deal or it was just something had to be done.  The other reality that I over looked; many of you may have lost your grandparents when you were young and not in a position to just ask them about their experiences.  This is where I am reminded of how spoiled I am…. I’m 37 years old and I still have three of my four grandparents.

My Gpa Mike lived to be 84… and it was only when he was 80 that, with the help of my mom, I finally spoke to him about his experiences during WWII.  By this time, his older brothers, also veterans of WWII, my uncles Bill and Jack had passed away.  I was 26 and my curiosity was at an all time high! As some of you know, this curiosity very much drove my decision to focus on modern history (1910-1950) during uni where I studied the social and military histories of the World Wars.  It was also the inspiration behind my decision to go to Italy when I was 25 (and again when I was 27, 29 and 31!!) – because the one thing we all knew was that Gpa served in Italy and even though he was there during a World War, he still spoke so highly of the country and the people.

I am fortunate to have had several amazing conversations with my grandfather about his time in the war.  The conversations were a result of my having made a request to get a copy of his military records.  At first, he was skeptical. He had been told in the 1980s that a heap of military records were lost in a big fire.  Unable to “prove” his service record, he would be denied benefits from the Dept of Veteran Affairs for over a decade (overall, a rather disgusting story in terms of shit-treatment of WWII vets, but I will save that for another time!).  After some persistence on my part, he agreed to humor me by signing some forms.  Within a few short weeks, Gpa called my mom to say that much to his shock, a giant package with his files had arrived.

When my mom and I went over to go through the files with him, we weren’t too sure what to expect.  He had read through everything first and gave us the “coles notes” version before handing me over everything.  Of interest to him, was a copy of a letter from a family friend who had expressed concern at Gpa’s whereabouts – in short, he was considered MIA for a short time, but it was only because of his transfer from the Royal Canadian Artillery (RCA) to the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps (RCASC).  But he didn’t know that he had been technically MIA, and he thought that was kind of cool to see a copy of the handwritten letter in his file.

Having received this file sparked a chain reaction of exciting events. We were able to get some basic information on Uncle Jack that included his enlistment and discharge information. There is an interesting story behind Uncle Bill’s file too… in the end, I don’t have his file yet… but in the near future I hope to get a copy of it.  Since Gpa’s passing, I have developed an amazing relationship with his little brother, the only surviving Brown brother, my great uncle Earl Allen, whom we affectionately call Uncle Jimmy.  We sent away to get his file some years ago, but more important than the file, we write to each other and he has shared countless stories that I didn’t get the chance to hear from my grandpa. I’ve also had the pleasure of helping my cousin get her dad’s file and several friends get their grandfather’s file.

All of this has me thinking…. Do you have a great grandparent, uncle or aunt that served in the First World War? Or a grandparent or great uncle or aunt that served in the Second World War? If you do, chances are you wish you knew more about their service.  Perhaps you think you lost your chance because you have lost your loved one.  If this is the case, I want to share with you that you can find out more.  You will need to do a little bit of work to track down some basic genealogy for your family, but there is hope.

So to those of you in the boat of knowing you have a relative that served in one of the World Wars, this is for you!  I promise you will NOT be disappointed.  And it is never too late to learn something about your family.  Think about the future generations of your family.  We owe out loved ones that have gave so much to ensure that their sacrifices are remembered for generations to come.  We always say “lest we forget.”  It is biased because I consider myself an amateur historian, but I truly believe history repeats itself.  With this in mind, I sign off by saying a heartfelt “lest we forget.”

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This information is specific to service in the Canadian Armed Forces, but if you have grandparents that served with another country investigate!! I think you will be pleased to find out that other countries have resources that can help you learn more.

  • For Canadian military files, the National Archives of Canada is the gold mine of resources and information: http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/genealogy/022-909-e.html
  • Service related to World War I: most of these veterans have been deceased for so long that per the privacy act, their files are a matter of public record.  WWI: http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/databases/cef/index-e.html
  • Similarly, for veterans of WWII that died in service, because of how many years have passed, their files are a matter of public record.http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/databases/war-dead/index-e.html
  • Also, for both World Wars and the Korean War – if your loved one died in service, be sure to check out the Canadian Virtual War Memorial.  It will give you cemetery information down to the plot where a headstone appears for your family member:http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/collections/virtualmem
  • And finally, if your loved one served in WWII and died in “civilian life”:http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/genealogy/022-909.007-e.html.  If your loved one is still alive, you can have them sign the form and receive their FULL military file.  If they have been deceased for less than 10 years, you can make a request for their file, but under the Privacy Act, some portions of the file will be classified.  After your loved one has been deceased for 10 years or more, you are able to get their full military record.  Make sure to note on the file that you would like their “complete military personnel file including medical and dental records.”Image
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