One of the more popular emails I receive is from individuals wanting to know more about their relative’s service in the Second World War so I thought I’d write a short post explaining how to do so. Although my requests are usually for men who served in the Veterans’ Guard of Canada, this request will work for any individual who served in Second World War.
First off, what is a service file? A service file contains most of the information held by the Department of National Defence regarding a person’s service in the military. This can include attestation papers, pay records, medical records, and records showing where and when they served during the war (and after). From this, you will be able to determine which regiment they served in, the dates of their service, most of the places they served, etc. Unfortunately, these do not often contain any pictures although I have a file that included an identification card (quite rare in my experience).
Service records from the First World War and Second World War are held by Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa. Unlike service records from the First World War, which are available to the public and are in the process of being made online, service files from the Second World War remain restricted. While it takes a little more work to request WWII records, it is not difficult and it is usually worth effort. And it is free (minus the cost of a stamp)!
For WWII service files, there are some stipulations:
- If you are requesting the file of an individual still living, they need to provide written consent.
- If the individual has been deceased for less than twenty years, you need to provide proof of relationship and proof of death*.
- If the individual has been deceased for more than twenty years, you need to provide proof of death*.
*Proof of death can be a copy (do not send originals) of the death certificate, an obituary, funeral notice, or a photograph of a gravestone. Note: if the individual died while serving, you do not need to provide proof of death.
If you can provide a proof of death or written permission, you now need to download and print this form: WWII Service File (PDF)
The next step is to fill out as much information as possible. Do not worry if you can not fill out every step – usually a full name and their date/place of birth or death is sufficient. If you do have the service number (letter followed by a series of numbers), make sure to include it.
For members of the Veterans’ Guard of Canada, under “Branch of Service,” you can select “Army,” “Wartime,” and “Regular.” As for the documents you are requesting, I usually select “Other” and write “All available files.”
Once they have received your request, they usually send a confirmation letter. Unfortunately, it is sometimes a lengthy wait to receive the files. The waiting time varies but I have had to wait between two and ten months to receive a file.
If you have any questions about the application or questions about deciphering a service file when you receive it, don’t hesitate to ask in the comments below or send me an email.
The annual German Remembrance Day service will be held this coming Sunday, November 15, 2015. This service takes place at Woodland Cemetery in Kitchener, Ontario (119 Arlington Boulevard) at 2:30 p.m.
For more information, please visit the German Embassy’s website.
“They were the men of the Canadian Veterans’ Guards. Old soldiers who had not faded away but who have returned to serve with their sons.”
An appropriate video considering the 98th anniversary of Vimy Ridge on April 9. The Canadian Army Newsreels series was produced by the Canadian Army Film Unit during the war with the intention of showcasing the Canadian war effort to those back home. Albeit brief, the video shows some footage of the General Duty Company of the Veterans’ Guard of Canada, attached to the Canadian Military Headquarters in London, England.
The following newspaper article appeared in the April 12, 1950 issue of the Globe and Mail. Having first come across this a few years ago, it remains one of my favourite articles and I thought I would share. While these graves were relocated to Kitchener, Ontario in the 1970s, the article provides an interesting perspective only a few years following the departure of the last PoWs in Canada.
They are a long way from home.
The bodies of 17 German servicemen lie at rest in a small military cemetery on a snowy, windswept hill overlooking the Abitibi River a mile west of here. Through the uncertain tides of war, their destiny was death in a wild, rugged land, 4,000 miles from home.
Beneath their lonely graves the river winds down to the paper mill at Iroquois Falls, then onward toward James Bay. Little wisps of steam swirl upward from the swift water; otherwise the calm of the wilderness is unbroken. On the opposite bank the bushland sweeps unceasingly to the Arctic.
Buried in this remote forest plot are German soldiers, sailors and airmen who died during the Second World War at the Monteith prisoner-of-war camp 15 miles to the south. Of the hundreds of men imprisoned at the camp or employed in bush work across the north, only these 17 were left behind. Most of the 17 died from the after-effects of wounds received in battle.
Their resting place is enclosed by a birch fences. It was made by other prisoners who cared for the plot till they were sent back to Germany after the war. A birch archway, bearing the sign Ruhestatte Deutscher Kriegsgefangener gives entry to the area. Orderly rows of small spruce trees surround the plot.
The snow leading to the graves of these forgotten men was four feet deep and had been unbroken all winter when I arrived. The fence was engulfed almost completely and so was the line of wooden markers on the south side of the plot, for the winter wind from the north had swept a heavy drift across the hill.
The markers on the north side of the cemetery stood forth from the snow in a brave, pathetic little line. Sunlight struggled through the murky afternoon of late winter and fell upon the polished wood of their surfaces.
The memorials were remarkable; it was much as though one had stumbled into a tiny village cemetery in Germany, where the village wood-carver had wrought with loving care the plaques of the deceased.
Shouting their German identity defiantly to the alien wilderness, the markers were the work of some expert craftsman who had apparently been a prisoner at Monteith. Just who the artisan was is unknown. There is no record of his name, for the POW camp has long since been converted to Ontario’s northernmost jail… But it is unlikely there are half a dozen men in Canada today who could have done a similar job.
Each man’s name was carved in bold, authoritative lettering – Johann Wagner, Fritz Schröder*, Fritz Bochwoldt*, A. Hartwig… Beneath were the dates of birth and death but places of birth were not mentioned. A few of the men had been in their late thirties when they died, but most were in their early twenties.
Above each name was a symbol representing the branch of the German service in which each served. A galleon sweeping across a rifted ocean marked the sailors and U-boat men. A two-pronged arrow heading into a sunset was on the graves of the airmen. An infantryman’s helmet identified the graves of the soldiers.
Beneath the helmets on the soldier’s markers, swastikas were carved in the polished wood… But the hated symbol was just pathetic here.
I dug away the snow from one of the buried markers on the south side. Here Oberfeldwebel Friedrich Küttner* was buried. A remarkable carving of a sleeping soldier was exposed. I pushed back the snow and left the soldier sleeping.
The last of the German prisoners of war left Northern Ontario in 1946. During the war they composed a large portion of the workers in the forests. Men who showed and inclination to escape were kept in Monteith. Further north, near Hearst, a camp for incorrigibles was maintained.
There is a second Germany cemetery beside Highway 11, a mile and a half north of Kapuskasing. The men lying in it were prisoners of the First World War and were kept at what is now the Dominion Experimental Farm at Kapuskasing.
Care of both cemeteries is in the hands of the Canadian War Graves Commission.
Night was creeping up the slope from the river. You could no longer see the wisps of vapor rising from the water. The shadows lengthened across the hills on the far bank. With the night, there came a darkness which heralded spring.
As I went away I thought: These were our enemies. But the brotherhood of death has made them akin to our own Canadians lying in Europe. War is very bad, no matter which side you are on.
* – Corrected spelling
As I am in the midst of my comprehensive exams, this is a just a quick update!
The annual German Remembrance Day service is being held on Sunday, November 16. This service takes place at Woodland Cemetery in Kitchener, Ontario (119 Arlington Boulevard) at 2:30 p.m.
For more information, please visit the German Embassy’s website.
To mark the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day landings, here is one of the projects I have been working on.
Earlier in the year, the Laurier Military History Archive released thousands of aerial photographs taken during the Second World War. Among the collection was a number of photos taking during reconnaissance missions leading up to June 6, 1944. The following series shows Juno Beach as it appeared on June 4, 1944 and how it appears now.
Click on the image to view the full size. If you look closely, you can see some of the German defensive positions and obstacles of the Atlantic Wall. Note that the Archive’s online collection only includes medium-resolution photos so I apologize that I cannot zoom in any closer at the moment.
The first two photographs shows a map of the British and Canadian landing beaches (West to East – Gold, Juno, and Sword). The second photograph shows which Regiments landed at Juno in the early morning of June 6, 1944.
The following photographs show the Canadian landing zone from West to East.
For those who have visited Juno Beach, you may recognize this area. The middle of the two photographs shows the location of the Juno Beach Centre.
Thank you to the Laurier Military History Archive for making these images available on the web and allowing researchers to use them!
Today, I attended the German-Canadian Remembrance Society’s annual German Remembrance Day (Volkstrauertag) service at the Woodland Cemetery in Kitchener, Ontario. Honouring the sacrifices made by veterans on both sides as well as the victims of war, this moving ceremony was attended by representatives of the Federal Republik of Germany, the province of Ontario, the cities of Kitchener and Waterloo, the Canadian Armed Forces, the German Armed Forces, and over a hundred visitors.
The site of the service was aptly chosen. Tucked away in a corner of the Woodland Cemetery lies the final resting place of 187 German Prisoners of War who died in Canada during the First and Second World War. One hundred and forty-eight German PoWs from the Second World War are buried in this cemetery while the remaining thirty-nine were civilian prisoners from the First World War. I must also note here that at least two other PoWs who died in Canada have no known grave and are not commemorated here in Kitchener.
While the Second World War has been over for almost seventy years, the German Soldier’s Cemetery has only been in Kitchener for forty. Initially buried in thirty-six cemeteries scattered across the country, the remains of these men were relocated to Kitchener in the early 1970s in an attempt to bring together all of the prisoners who died in Canada. Today, these men lie side-by-side with their comrades under simple stone gravestones.
Each of these gravestones tells a story. Thirty-three year old Max Neugebauer died on March 16, 1944 in Dauphin, Manitoba after being struck on the head by a falling tree. Major Wilhelm Bach, one of Rommel’s commanders in the Afrika Korps succumbed to cancer on December 22, 1944. Twenty-five year old Johann Schäefer drowned while working at an labour project near Thunder Bay. Erwin Stöckl and Wolfgang Bergter went missing from a labour project in November 1944 and eventually succumbed to the elements. Ludwig Krumb was one of thirteen PoWs to commit suicide while interned in Canada. Ernst Müller was one of four PoWs shot while attempting an escape. Two of PoWs August Plaszek were murdered by fellow PoWs, five of whom were executed and lie in nearby graves.
Of the PoWs who died in Canada during the Second World War, ninety-one died of medical causes, thirty-one were killed in accidents, thirteen committed suicide, six died in escape attempts, five were executed, two were murdered, and two of unknown causes.
The service today reminds us that war has victims on all sides. Like the thousands of Canadians buried overseas, these men now rest a long way from home…
“Der gute Kamerad“
I once had a comrade,
You will find no better.
The drum sounded for battle,
He walked at my side,
In the same pace and step.
A bullet came flying towards us,
Is it meant for me or you?
It tore him away,
He now lays at my feet,
As if he was a part of me.
His hand reaches out to me,
Meanwhile I am reloading.
“I cannot shake your hand,
You must remain in eternal life,
My fine comrade.”