Canadian Expeditionary Force (2) Corps Troops

Canadian Expeditionary Force, Corps Troops

The primary aim of this five-part series is to aid in the identification of CEF badges held in the collections of the York Sunbury Historical Society (YSHS) Fredericton Region Museum (FRM), and the New Brunswick Military History Museum (NBMHM) where the author serves as a volunteer.

Second Battle of Ypres, 22 April to 25 May 1915, painting by Richard Jack (Wikipedia)

The Great War

For Canada, the First World War (aka the Great War), began on 4 August 1914, when Britain's ultimatum to Germany to withdraw from Belgium expired. The British Empire, including Canada, allied with Serbia, Russia and France was at war with the German and Austro-Hungarian empires.

Although Canada only had very small navy, a small professional army of about 3,000 soldiers, and a variety of part-time militia units, the Canadian government immediately volunteered to support Britain with its men, women and national resources to help fight the war. Canada's initial offer included the provision of the 1st Canadian Division that was immediately accepted by the British government. The Division was raised in rapid order, and sailed to Britain in October 1914. While the 1st Division was being formed, the Canadian government offered to form and send a 2nd Division to the Imperial government.  This offer was also immediately accepted, and in due course the 2nd Division sailed for England in the spring of 1915.  Both of these divisions were in the front lines on the Western Front in 1915.

The 3rd Canadian Division was formed late in 1915 from Canadian elements in the UK which had been raised and sent overseas to reinforce been fully formed before they sailed to Britain. The 3rd Canadian Division included the permanent force Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR). (The RCR had been serving on garrison duty on the Island of Bermuda since August 1914). Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) were also part of this contingent. (The PPCLI was a privately financed battalion raised in Canada in 1914 from mainly expatriate British Servicemen who had previously having served in the British Army, reinforced by Canadian volunteers.)

At the end of 1915 a 3rd Division was formed from Canadian units in England, based on reinforcements that had been raised and sent overseas.  The 3rd Division included soldiers from the permanent force, the Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR), that had served on garrison duty on Bermuda from August of 1914 and the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI), a privately financed unit raised in Canada. As the 3rd Division was being raised, a Canadian Corps was formed to co-ordinate operations. A 4th Division was raised in Canada in 1916, and in turn, sailed to England in the fall of 1916. At the same, time a 4th Division was being raised from troops already in England. When the 4th Division arrived from Canada, it was renumbered as the 5th Division. Mounting casualties at the front made it necessary to break it up in order to supply reinforcements to the remaining four divisions. The 4th Division proceeded to France in early 1917. (Chris Brooker, Canadian Encyclopedia, Director of History and Heritage files, and Library and Archives Canada files)

(Canadian War Museum Photo)

Officers and men of the CEF, summer 1916.

Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF)

The CEF was the entire overseas force fielded by Canada during the First World War. The Canadians who enlisted between 1914 and 1918 were mostly volunteers, serving as soldiers, nurses, doctors, and forestry and railway crews. Of the 630,000 Canadians who enlisted for military service, 424,000 went overseas as part of the CEF. Of the 234,000 Canadian casualties during the war, nearly 61,000 were killed.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3395561)

A Canadian Observation and Advanced Listening Post located 30 metres from the German Lines. September 1916.

The Canadian Corps was formed from the Canadian Expeditionary Force in September 1915 after the arrival of the 2nd Canadian Division in France. The corps was expanded by the addition of the 3rd Canadian Division in December 1915 and the 4th Canadian Division in August 1916. The organization of a 5th Canadian Division began in February 1917 but it was still not fully formed when it was broken up in February 1918 and its men were reallocated to reinforce the other four divisions.

The Canadian Corps that fought on the Western Front was the CEF’s largest formation and its principal combat element, but not its only one. Other units in the CEF served outside the Corps, including the Canadian Cavalry Brigade, forestry and railway units, and various medical hospitals.

Canada’s first fighting division in Europe, comprised mainly of troops from the First Contingent who had sailed in fall 1914, served as an individual division under British command. The growing size and complexity of Canadian forces overseas led in September 1915 to the creation of the Canadian Corps, an operational and administrative grouping of most Canadian fighting units and their supporting services. At first commanded by British Lieutenant-General Sir E.A.H. Alderson and, from May 1916 to June 1917, by British Lieutenant-General Sir Julian Byng, the Corps grew from an initial establishment of two divisions with approximately 35,000 troops to a powerful striking force of four divisions with 100,000 troops by early 1917. (Canadian War Museum)


Royal Canadian Dragoons

Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians)

Fort Garry Horse

Canadian Light Horse

Royal North West Mounted Police Squadron


Royal Canadian Horse Artillery Brigade

8th Army Brigade CFA

24th Field Battery

30th Field Battery

32nd Field Battery

43rd Howitzer Battery

8th Army Brigade Ammunition Column

"E" Anti-Aircraft Battery

Canadian Corps Heavy Artillery

1st Brigade Canadian Garrison Artillery

1st Siege Battery

3rd Siege Battery

7th Siege Battery

9th Siege Battery

2nd Brigade Canadian Garrison Artillery

1st Heavy Battery

2nd Heavy Battery

2nd Siege Battery

4th Siege Battery

5th Siege Battery

6th Siege Battery

3rd Brigade Canadian Garrison Artillery

8th Siege Battery

10th Siege Battery organized at Shorncliffe in May 1917 from personnel of Reserve Artillery. Depot Commanded by Lieutenant G. B. Wetmore. Arrived in France 18 October 1917. Personnel absorbed into 4th, 6th and 7th Canadian Siege Batteries.

11th Siege Battery

12th Siege Battery

5th Divisional Artillery

13th Brigade Canadian Field Artillery

52nd Field Battery

53rd Field Battery

55th Field Battery

51st Howitzer Battery

14th Brigade Canadian Field Artillery

60th Field Battery

61st Field Battery

66th Field Battery

58th Howitzer Battery

5th Division Ammunition Column

Medical Corps

Nos. 1 to 3 General Hospitals

Nos. 6 to 8 General Hospitals

No. 2 Stationary Hospital

No. 3 Stationary Hospital

Nos. 7 to 10 Stationary Hospitals

Forestry Corps Hospitals

Nos. 1 to 4 Casualty Clearing Stations

No. 7 (Cavalry) Field Ambulance

No. 14 Field Ambulance

Dental Corps

Canadian Ordnance Corps

Railway Troops

Canadian Overseas Railway Construction Corps

1st to 13th Battalions


1st to 4th Infantry Works Companies

5th to 9th Area Employment Companies


Canadian Corps Cyclist Battalion

Corps Signal Company

Corps Reinforcement Camp

Corps Schools

Forestry Companies


Canadian Corps Clerks

Canadian Corps Siege Park (Clerks)

Distinguishing Patches of the units of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Source: Official History of the Canadian Army in the First World War: Canadian Expeditionary Force 1914-1919

Plans for the introduction of identifying coloured formation patches were made in August 1916. The colours initially selected for the three divisions in the field were red for the 1st Division, blue for the 2nd Division and white for the 3rd Division. These patches were introduced in September 1916. Initially being worn sewn on the back 1-inch below the collar. Within days of being introduced the colour of the 3rd Division was changed from white to black and later to grey. The units of the 2nd Division were given permission to move these to the sleeves within days. Presumably the other divisions also moved the patches from the back to the sleeves in the fall of 1916. The initial colour selected for the formation patches of the 4th Division which arrived in France in August 1916 was yellow but 4th Division formation patches were not adopted until 2 April 1917 these being green in colour and 1 ¾ by 3 ¾ inches in size. All Divisional signs were later formalized at 3 x 2-inches. In May 1917, after the battle of Vimy Ridge, the colour of the 3rd Divisions patches was changed from black to French-grey.

In addition to the rectangular colored divisional signs, the three infantry brigades within each division were also assigned identifying colours, these being green for the first brigade, red for the second, and blue for the third. Each of the four battalions within an infantry brigade were identified by an identifying geometric shape. This being a circle for the first battalion (a symbol with a single side), the second battalion a half or demi-circle (a two sided figure), the third battalion by a triangle (three sides), and the fourth battalion a square (four sides), a simple and elegant way of identifying soldiers of any unit.

By 1918 the wearing of formation patches had become formalized and encompassed almost all units in France. Brigade Headquarters personnel were identified by green red or blue 3 x ½ inch ‘bars’ worn over the divisional sign. The 5th Division formation patches were Garnet (Deep wine red) in colour and worn without brigade distinctions. Authorized Officers patterns were embroidered with an angular gold ‘bullion’ wire letter ‘C’ inset with five bars. It is known that the divisional sign was painted in white on all vehicles and examples are found painted in white on the steel ‘Brodie‘ helmet. (Chris Brooker)

Canadian Corps Headquarters, General Officer Commanding: Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur W.  Currie.

When Lieutenant-General Sir Julian Byng was promoted to a higher command during the summer of 1917, he was succeeded by General Sir Arthur Currie, the commander of the 1st Division, giving the corps its first Canadian commander. Currie was able to reconcile the desire for national independence with the need for Allied integration. He resisted pressure to replace all British officers in high-ranking positions, retaining those who were successful until they could be replaced by trained and experienced Canadians. British staff officers made up a considerable part of the Corps – although by 1917, 7 of 12 infantry brigades were commanded by Canadians trained during the war, British regulars were the staff officers of the divisions and British officers held two-thirds of senior appointments across the infantry, artillery and Corps headquarters with only four of the most senior appointments being Canadian. Among the British officers were Alan Brooke (at the time a major of the Royal Artillery who planned the artillery barrages for Vimy Ridge and later) and William Ironside. Both became Field Marshals and held the position of Chief of the Imperial General Staff. (Alchetron)

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3212819)

Lieutenant-General Edwin Alfred Hervey Alderson, KCB,(1859-1927), Commander First Canadian Division (1914-15), Commander Canadian Army Corps (1915-16), Inspector-General, Canadian forces (1916-18).

The British and Canadian governments found no Canadian general qualified to command the First Contingent. Instead, Lieutenant-General E.A.H. Alderson, an experienced British officer who had commanded Canadian soldiers in the South African War, received the post. Alderson would guide the Canadians well through the first year and a half of war, but had difficulty fending off political interference from Ottawa.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3217368)

A Canadian Lance Corporal being awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) by Lieutenant-General E.A.H. Alderson, near Loker, Belgium, on 9 March 1916.

The majority of soldiers of the Canadian Corps were British-born until near the end of the war, when the number of those of Canadian birth who had enlisted rose to 51 percent. They were mostly volunteers, as conscription was not implemented until near the end of the war in 1917. Ultimately, only 24,132 conscripts made it to France before 11 November 1918. In the later stages of the war the Canadian Corps was regarded by friend and foe alike as one of the most effective Allied military formations on the Western Front.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3397919)

German guns inspected by Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur W. Currie, Amiens, France, in August 1918.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3362396)

LGen Sir Arthur W. Currie being decorated by General Orth of the Belgian Army, in January 1918. From June 1917, the Canadians were led by Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur Currie, a Canadian militia officer who rose during the war from command of a brigade to command of the entire Corps. Currie, who remained in command until 1919, is widely considered one of the war’s most capable generals.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3194438)

A Canadian speaking to a German prisoner, October 1916.

Canadians were spared the early battles of the Somme in the summer of 1916, though a separate force, the 1st Newfoundland Regiment, was annihilated at Beaumont Hamel on the disastrous first day of 1 July. When Canadians entered the battle on 30 August, their experience helped toward limited gains, though at high cost. By the end of the battle the Canadian Corps had reached its full strength of four divisions.

The Canadian Cavalry Brigade also served in France; the Canadian Railway Troops served on the Western Front and provided a bridge-building unit for the Middle East; and the Canadian Forestry Corps cut timber in Britain and France for the Allied war effort. Other specialized units also operated in the Caspian Sea area, in northern Russia and eastern Siberia. The overall peak strength of the CEF was 388,038, in July 1918. Thousands of Canadians also served during the war in the British flying services, in the Royal Navy and the Royal Canadian Navy and in other Allied units, but these were not part of the CEF.


Canadians volunteered in large numbers for the CEF through 1914 and 1915. By late 1916, however, recruitment had slowed to a trickle, partly due to growing awareness about the horrors of trench warfare and the slaughter on the Western Front. In 1917, as Canadian casualties mounted, and the need for reinforcements increased, the Canadian government introduced calling up younger civilian men via the authority of the Military Service Act.

Conscription was wildly unpopular among some Canadians, especially in Quebec, but it was supported elsewhere. It deeply divided the country The Military Service Act was also inconsistently applied. Ultimately, about 100,000 men were conscripted, only 27,000 of whom were sent overseas. Of those, 24,132 served at the front. These conscripts (“MSA men”) were vital to the war effort in the final months of the conflict. With 48 battalions of infantry in the CEF, each with roughly 1000 men, the 24,000-plus conscripts represented a boost of about 500 men per battalion in the final battles of the war.


Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, Senior Officer of the British Armies, 10 December 1915 to 1 January 1920.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3404917)

Sir Douglas Haig congratulating Canadians,  Battle of Amiens, August, 1918.

Vimy Ridge

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3521906)

Large Naval Gun in action supporting Canadians in assault on Vimy Ridge, April 1917.

The Canadian Corps captured Vimy Ridge in April, 1917, in a daring attack that was a turning point in the war, and as Currie called it, "the grandest day the Corps ever had". During the German Spring Offensive of the spring and summer of 1918, the Canadian Corps supported British and French soldiers while they held the Germans back. Between August 8 and 11, 1918, the corps spearheaded the offensive during the Battle of Amiens. Here a significant defeat was inflicted on the Germans, causing the German commander-in-chief, General Erich Ludendorff, to call August 8 "the black day of the German army." This battle marked the start of the period of the war referred to as "Canada's Hundred Days". After Amiens, the Canadian Corps continued to lead the vanguard of an Allied push that ultimately ended on 11 November 1918 at Mons where the British Empire had first met in conflict with Imperial German forces in 1914. (Alchetron)

(Wikipedia ID: HD-SN-99-02150)

German General Headquarters, General Paul von Hindenburg, Kaiser Wilhelm II, General Erich Ludendorff, January 1917.

Canadian Corps General Staff: Brigadier-General P.P.  de B Radcliffe.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3404773)

Lieutenant-General Sir Julian Byng, General Officer Commanding the Canadian Corps, 29 May 1916 to 8 June  1917, with Brigadier-General J.G. Farmer, CMG, and Brigadier-General P.P. de B Radcliffe, DSO, May 1917.

Although the Canadian Corps was within and under the command of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), there was considerable political pressure in Canada, especially following the Battle of the Somme, in 1916, to have the corps fight as a single unit rather than have the divisions spread out through the whole army. The corps was commanded by Lieutenant-General Sir E.A.H. Alderson, until 1916. Political considerations caused command to be passed to Lieutenant-General Sir Julian Byng.

Deputy Adjutant and Quarter-Master-General: Brigadier-General J.G. Farmer.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3219264)

General Officer Commanding Royal Artillery: Brigadier-General E.W.B. Morrison, November 1917.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3404976)

BGen W.B. Lindsay, 5th from the left, inspecting a monorail car. July 1918.

Chief Engineer: Brigadier-General W.B. Lindsay, later Major General William Bethune Lindsay, CB, CMG, DSO (3 October 1880 – 27 June 1933)

Canadian Headquarters UK

The Canadian Trench Warfare School

Divisional Troops

The soldiers of the four divisions and their supporting troops learned to work together and could pool resources to improve combat effectiveness. This cohesion and stability, jealously guarded by most senior Canadian military and political figures, bred a sense of identity and pride in national accomplishment among both soldiers and civilians.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3519870)

1st Canadian Division: Major-General, later Lieutenant-General Archibald Cameron MacDonnell, KCB, CMG, DSO, VD. He is shown here as a Brigadier-General with his staff in the 5th Infantry Brigade in July 1916.

(Author Photo)

Memorial plaque held in the New Brunswick Military History Museum.

1914-1918. To commemorate the valour of the men who went out with his majesty's forces of land and sea and air to fight in the great war for honour and freedom, and to perpetuate the memory of the following gallant units going out from New Brunswick.1914-1918.

8th Battery, Canadian Field Artillery, 12th Battery, Canadian Field Artillery, 19th Battery, Canadian Field Artillery, 23rd Battery, Canadian Field Artillery, 24th Battery, Canadian Field Artillery, 36th Battery, Canadian Field Artillery, 58th Battery, Canadian Field Artillery, 65th Depot Battery, Canadian Field Artillery, 1st Heavy battery, 2nd Heavy Battery, No. 1 Siege Battery, No. 4 Siege Battery, No. 6 Siege Battery, No. 9 Siege Battery, Two Sections and part of 3rd 1st Division Ammunition Column, Headquarters and No. 1 Section, 2nd Division Ammunition Column, No. 1 Section, 3rd Division Ammunition Column, 6th Canadian Mounted Rifles, 2 Squadrons, 12th Battalion, 26th Battalion, 55th Battalion, 140th Battalion, 145th Battalion, 165th Battalion, 236th Battalion, 44th Active Militia, Drafts, 62nd Active Militia, Drafts, Machine Gun Draft, Headquarters 2nd Division Train, No. 5 Company, Canadian Army Service Corps, No. 16 Field Ambulance, Canadian Railway Troops, No. 1 New Brunswick Forestry Corps, No. 2 New Brunswick Forestry Corps, Corps of Guides, Signal Company, 1 Section, Army Medical Corps, Canadian Army Service Corps, Canadian Army Dental Corps, Drafts of Engineers to St. Johns, Quebec, Drafts of Canadian Army Veterinary Corps to St. Johns, Quebec, and additional Drafts.Erected as a grateful tribute by the St. John Canadian Women's Club

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