Finding my grandfather’s WWI records

This post appeared earlier on One Writers Voice

Some time ago, I posted a piece written by a friend of mine, Michael Kirk, on how to research your connections to WWI. Mike describes the steps in a straightforward fashion and also provides other information sources and websites. I followed his steps and received my grandfather’s file in less than three weeks – good to know that our government is efficient at some things.

When I first looked through his papers, I was disappointed as so many pages dealt with pay records and expenses. Closer examination offered a glimpse into how the military machine operated and a tiny hint about my grandfather as a soldier.

Aug 30, 1915                         Medical exam and fills in enlistment papers

Oct 21, 1915                           Attestation papers signed – formal enlistment date

Dec 20, 1915                         Forms signed by Officer Commanding

Clearly it takes a long time to get processed and trained.

Jan 1, 1916                            Assigned to Canadian Engineers Division Signals Co, 2nd contingent, as Sapper

A sapper is either a soldier who digs trenches or a private in the Engineers. Since Grandpa was in Signals he would be considered a private. In either case, a lowly occupation.

May 20, 1916                        Drafted to France

May 29, 1916                        Disembarked at Havre, part of 57 Motor Airline Section

Nine months from Toronto to France. He trained first in Toronto then in England. At the rate that soldiers were dying this seems a very lengthy training and conditioning period. My understanding is that the Motor Airline Section was responsible for establishing and operating communications wiring strung along poles in the air rather than cable buried underground. According to one account in the Vimy area alone Canadian Signals established 152 miles of airline routes averaging ten pairs per route, or 3,040 miles of open wire.

Feb 16, 1917                         Transferred to HQ section

Being in HQ meant more exposure to battle planning and strategy. This would have been in the lead up to Vimy Ridge.

June 17, 1917                        Promoted to Lance Corporal

I like to imagine that my grandfather distinguished himself at Vimy Ridge and hence was promoted not long after that successful battle.

Sept 11, 1917                        on leave in UK for ten days

The first mention of any leave taken in more than a year of war. Such a gruelling pace.

Feb 1, 1918                             Reprimanded for disobedience (apparently he presented an expired pass to military police)

If you knew my grandfather you would know that this error would not have been intentional.

May 1, 1918                          Promoted to 2nd Corporal

This would have occurred during the Spring Offensive, Germany’s last major push against the Allies.

Aug 31, 1918                         on leave  for fifteen or sixteen days

After the Amiens offensive which resulted in German retreat behind the Hindenburg line.

Apr 12, 1919                         14 day LOA from CCHQ Sig Corps

My grandfather remained in Europe with the Army of Occupation. CCHQ is Canadian Corps Headquarters.

May 11, 1919                        Proceed to England

May 13, 1919                        Located in Witley (used as a training camp and a camp for those waiting to return to Canada)

June 6, 1919                         Depart for Canada

June 16, 1919                       Discharged

Once I discovered the war diaries for my grandfather’s unit, I found a treasure trove of information with day by day accounts of significant work, weather reports, cryptic comments about recent ‘scraps’ – a euphemism for battles and other actions – casualty lists, maps and various statistics marking the progress of war. A few of these diary entries appear in Unravelled, a novel I’ve written about a WWI soldier and the life he lives after the war.

With time and creativity you can find your own treasure trove.

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