How to Research a Member of the WW1 Canadian Expeditionary Force
Through Campaign Medals.

A Guide To Traditional & Online Sources compiled by Neil Burns OMSA #6975
with additional assistance from the Members of the CEF Study Group.

Contact Mr. Burns at:

Every British 1914-15 Star, British War Medal & Victory Medal issued to a Canadian Recipient has their Service Number,
Highest Rank Attained, Initial, Last Name & Unit first attached to upon arrival in France.
This information can be found on the reverse of the 1914-15 Star and on the rim of the British War & Victory Medals.
This is similar to the British custom regarding First World War Medals.

Attestation Papers:



Volunteers for the Canadian Expeditionary Force were questioned at the place of enlistment to complete the Attestation papers which included the recruit's name and address, next-of-kin, date and place of birth, occupation, previous military service, and distinguishing physical characteristics. Recruits were asked to sign their Attestation papers, indicating their willingness to serve overseas. By contrast, men who were drafted into the CEF under the provisions of the Military Service Act (1917) completed a far simpler form which included their name, date of recruitment, and compliance with requirements for registration.

This series consists of approximately 620,000 individual Attestation papers and Military Service Act Enlistment forms. They were completed in triplicate at the time of enrolment in the CEF. At least one copy of the Attestation papers or Enlistment form accompanied the CEF member overseas, where it was placed on the individual personnel file at the Ministry of the Overseas Military Forces of Canada in London.

Paper originals of the Attestation papers and Enlistment forms are described by the National Archives of Canada as RG 9, II B8, Vols. 1-1256.
260 Battalions were raised only 52 Battalions served on the Frontline.

Attestation Forms can be researched and viewed here:


Service Records:

o Full service records are not available online, but they can be ordered for a fee from the

Mail Address:
National Archives of Canada
Textual Records Reproduction Services
395 Wellington Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0N3
Fax: 613-995-6274
o Must provide payment method, easiest form: Credit Card, the Archives charge 40 cents (Canadian/copy)
o These contain medical and pay records and give a more detailed and personal history of the soldier including:
o What units served with overseas.

For more examples of documents in a Service File, check Brett Payne’s outstanding site
The CEF Paper Trail.



• Additional information on those who died in service can be found on the following sites:

The Canadian Virtual War Memorial.
o Searchable by Name and Year of Death only.
o Will provide unit, service number, date of death and allow you to digitally view their name in the Book of Remembrance as well as provide burial or commemorative information.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
o Searchable by Name, nationality, branch of service and date of death. Also provides burial/commemorative information and some next of kin information.

War Diaries:

o Most Unit War Diaries are available online.
o Since it is a digital scan, it is difficult to search but there is currently a project under way to transcribe the war diaries into searchable Word format by members of the CEF Study Group.
o Once you receive the soldier's service records you can track their service overseas tracing where they were S.O.S "Struck Off Strength" or left a unit and where they were T.O.S. "Taken on Strength" or assigned to another unit.
o Cross referencing the soldier’s service history with the dates in the War Diaries can give you a clearer outline of his service.
o The war diaries can be searched by unit and cover a specific block of time. By referencing the war diaries you can trace a soldier's service from rest billets to front line trenches. Unfortunately the diaries rarely mention anyone individually, except officers. The diaries normally list gallantry award recipients.


Further Research
o A great PDF file for download: Nicholson's Official History of Canada in the Great War is available as a PDF file.

o The CEF Study Group.
An online forum where students of the Canadian Expeditionary Force can exchange information, research tips, reference book checks etc.
With hundreds of members and thousands of posts, the forum has become a hub for serious students of the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

All images courtesy Neil Burns and Brett Payne.