What’s in a Canadian WWII Military Personnel File?

This post is geared towards those wondering what sort of records are included in the WWII military personnel files.  At first glance, the most exciting papers may seem like the attestation (enlistment) page and the the discharge page. These two items give a very good, overall snap shot of your loved one’s military service.  For example, the attestation papers include: date and place of enlistment, religion, martial status, next of kin.  The discharge papers summarize total days of service with a breakdown of service by theatre and how much the veteran was paid for their service.  If the veteran was given any other allowances for clothing or furniture, this is also noted.

The personnel files also include lengthy dental and medical records.

My favourite part of the files are called the “statement of service.” These are the most difficult to read because they are hand written and chock-full of abbreviations.  I have attached a copy of one of these pages from my Gpa Mike’s file.  You will note the abbreviations TOS and SOS in the left hand columns – these refere to Taken On Strength (TOS) and Struck Off Strength (SOS).  These are administrative shorthands used throughout the military files that simply siginfy when an individual officialy became the responsibility of that unit or ceased to be their responsibility.

This page has a ton of valuable information.   Starting from the top.  I have a photo of my grandfather with his dad and younger brother, taken on Queen Street West in Toronto on the day he left for the UK.  The first entry says SOS CASF (overseas) on embarkment at Halifax on 14 Mar 42.   CASF stands for Canadian Army Special Forces Active Service Force. The next line tells us that Gpa Mike was taken on stength (TOS) and transfered overseas on March 15, 1942 and disembarked (arrived and got off the boat!) at Gourock, UK – actually in Scotland – on March 23, 1942.  Upon arrival in Gourock, he was then TOS by the Third Canadian Artillery Reinforcement Unit which is indicated as ” 3 CARU” in the unit column.  Other lines show a leave to Paris, France for five days and Gpa’s Mike’s eventual post to the Royal Canadian Artillery’s (RCA) 2nd light anti aircraft regiment, troop “C.” It takes hours and hours to “translate” all this information.

For me, an invaluable book has been the Official history of the Canadian Army in the Second World War, Vol II The Canadians in Italy, 1943-1945.   It is out of print but you can still find used copies at book stores.  The author is GWL Nicholson.  Another stellar source is the Official History of the Canadian Army in the Second World War, Vol I Six Years of Warby CP Stacey.  These are both official documents from Canada’s Dpearment of National Defence.  Check out this link for more details: http://www.cmp-cpm.forces.gc.ca/dhh-dhp/his/oh-ho/index-eng.asp

To say that going through a WWII personel file is overwhelming is an understatement.  But it is also a treasure hunt, a puzzle of sorts, of the most exciting kind.

A few words of warning when requesting a military personnel file.

  1. The more information you have on the individual the better.  In addition to full legal name, you will want a date of birth, name of the person’s father and mother (including her maiden name).  If you have your loved one’s military personnel number, you will be making the job for the folks at the National Archives in Ottawa a little easier – it will also help quicken the overall process.
  2. Requests for files re: veterans that passed away more than 20 years tend to be filled at quicker a quicker pace because the archivists don’t have to vet and strip files of personal information per the Privacy Act (or FIPPA).
  3. On years that mark the big annis for D-Day and VE Day, there will be a surge in veteran file requests… 2014 and 2015 mark the 70th anni of D-Day and VE Day respectively… So if these years also happen to mark a 10-year anni of the passing of your veteran loved one, expect very long waits for your files. I can practically confirm that the wait is, without doubt, worth it!
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