Geneanet > Resources > Blog > Genealogy News

The Canadian Expeditionary Force enlistments of WWI

Posted by Sean Daly on May 10, 2024
Canadian soldiers after the Battle of the Somme with the Canadian flag

Between 1914 and 1918, some 630,000 Canadians enlisted for military service, and 424,000 crossed the Atlantic to Europe to serve. Geneanet volunteers have indexed nearly half of this collection over the past five years!

The Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) was the army sent by Canada in support of the British Empire during the First World War. Composed of soldiers, nurses, and chaplains — but not including sailors of the the Royal Canadian Navy, or Canadian pilots in British air service, or men who served on the home front on the railways or as foresters — some 424,000 troops crossed the Atlantic out of the 620,000 who were recruited. Units arrived in the United Kingdom, the north of France, and Flanders, Belgium.

Over the past five years, Geneanet members have indexed this collection from Library and Archives Canada and today, 45% of the 960,268 images in 572 registers have already been indexed: first and last names, birthdate and place, occupation, and parents’ names (if present on the enlistment form — not all were alike). However, in the meantime, Library and Archives Canada has updated their collection with an index and included full personnel files in PDFs, not just the enlistment document images. These collections are now complementary!

Canada’s role in the Great War

As part of the British Empire during the war years, Canadians were expected to support the war effort. Canadian units were often organized with soldiers from the same province, which contributed to morale in difficult conditions such as the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Some battles, such as the victory of Vimy Ridge during the Battle of Arras in April 1917 when four divisions of the CEF together pushed Germans from high ground, have contributed to Canada’s national story: the site is now home to the Canadian National Vimy Memorial. This 1918 chart shows the organization of the CEF.

The Argylls were in the first wave during the battle of Vimy Ridge on April 9, 1917, the single bloodiest day of the war for the CEF with 7,707 casulaties. Source: The Argylls
Canadian troops were jubilant after winning the battle of Vimy Ridge in northern France. Photo: William Ivor Castle, April 1917, source Library and Archives Canada
The striking image was redrawn in a poster to raise funds for the war effort. Source: Archives Ontario

Full service records are now available at Library and Archives Canada

Have you found your Canadian ancestor in our collection? We invite you to search his family and given names at Library and Archives Canada. For every soldier indexed, after the first one or two enlistment images already at Geneanet, there is a PDF file with the full personnel record of the soldier — a gold mine for your genealogy!

World War I cemeteries have been photographed and indexed at Geneanet

Geneanet’s Save our Graves project, documenting cemeteries throughout Europe and elsewhere, has seen extensive work by volunteers in France and Belgium in war cemeteries where fallen Canadians are buried, with photos indexed by other Geneanet members. If your ancestor died during the war, you may find a photo of his gravestone. The weekend of May 24-26 is Save our Graves weekend, consider documenting a cemetery near you!

David Young of the Canadian Pioneers fell during the battle of the Somme in 1916 and is buried in Bapaume Post Military Cemetery. Photo uploaded by Geneanet member cl1949 and indexed by member bernie.

In Flanders Fields

During the Second Battle of Ypres in April 1915, a Canadian field surgeon who had worked to exhaustion for days on end learned of the death of a close friend. Dr. John McCrae wrote a poem which has resonated for over a century: In Flanders Fields. Written in French rondeau cinquain style — no doubt a reference to France, where the war was raging — the doctor’s abiding image is the field of red poppies. London magazine Punch printed the poem in December 1915 and it has been widely reprinted and recited ever since.

Dr. John McCrae was a field surgeon who lost a close friend during the Second Battle of Ypres in April 1915. His famous poem resonates to this day, as red poppies became the symbol of remembrance of the fallen during the Great War.
John McCrae’s poem inspired striking images during and after World War I. Overworked and sickly, the doctor succumbed to pneumonia on January 28, 1918 and is buried in Wimereux Cemetery, France. Source: Archives Ontario


Comment retrouver des noms de sa famille dans les archives présentées?

Answer from Geneanet: Vous pouvez chercher par nom, puis modifier la recherche en filtrant pour la collection. En français, vous avez une petite formulaire directe sur cette page :


Sheila London’s father, Carl Elliott Smith, was part of the Canadian Expeditionary Force in WW I and received both the Military Medal and the Military Cross for bravery.

See more

Log in to leave a comment. Sign In / Sign Up