Like their civil counterparts, courts-martial were legal bodies that are convened to determine the guilt or innocence of accused men and women. A panel of officers sat in judgement at a court martial, while the accused was represented by an officer who may have been a military lawyer. Courts-martial had the authority to try a wide range of military offences, many of which closely resembled civilian crimes like fraud, theft or perjury. Others, like desertion and cowardice were purely military crimes. Punishments for military offences ranged from fines and imprisonment to execution. Military offences were defined in the British Army Act. These offences, their corresponding punishments and instructions on how to run a court martial, were explained in detail in the Manual of Military Law, which was distributed to Canadian Expeditionary Force units.
Military offences were identified by 'AA' for Army Act, followed by a number indicating the specific section of the Act under which the service person was charged. The list below summarises some of these sections.
Offences in Respect of Military Service
Section 4 covered the most serious military crimes, including deserting one's post, convincing a superior officer to surrender, throwing away one's arms in the presence of the enemy, assisting the enemy, corresponding with the enemy, or showing cowardice in the face of the enemy.
Section 5 covered disobeying orders, failing to rejoin His Majesty's Forces after being released from an enemy prisoner of war camp, and spreading rumours that might cause fear and alarm amongst the troops.
Section 6 covered a wide range of crimes including plundering, leaving one's post without orders, physically attacking another soldier, stealing from civilians; revealing secret passwords, being drunk at one's posts and making false alarms about attacks.
Mutiny and Insubordination
Section 7 covered leading and taking part in a mutiny, and refusing to report soldiers who were planning to mutiny.
Section 8 covered striking or threatening a superior officer.
Section 9 covered disobeying lawful orders from a superior officer.
Section 10 covered resisting arrest.
Section 11 covered refusing to obey a general order.
Desertion, Fraudulent Enlistment, and Absence Without Leave
Section 12 covered deserting or encouraging others to desert while on active service.
Section 13 covered fraudulently enlisting in the forces, for example by lying about one's age.
Section 14 covered assisting a person to desert, and failing to report a person whom one knew intended to desert.
Section 15 covered being absent without leave.
Section 16 covered "behaving in a scandalous manner, unbecoming the character of an officer and a gentleman."
Section 17 covered the fraudulent use of public or regimental funds.
Section 18 covered "malingering", pretending to be ill or deliberately injuring yourself.
Section 19 covered drunkenness.
Offences in Relation to Persons in Custody
Section 20 covered officers and men who had been given the task of guarding prisoners. Such men could be charged for releasing a prisoner without the proper authority; or allowing a prisoner to escape.
Section 21 covered unnecessarily detaining someone without bringing his or her case to the proper authorities for investigation or trial.
Section 22 covered attempting to escape from custody.
Offences in Relation to Property
Section 23 covered fraudulently selling government property or extracting exorbitant prices for goods and services.
Section 24 covered selling, pawning, losing, or destroying arms, equipment, decorations and other public property as well as "ill-treating a horse used in the public service."
Offences in Relation to False Documents and Statements
Section 25 covered knowingly altering or making false statements on official documents.
Section 26 covered falsely filling out documents or refusing to complete reports relating to arms, ammunition and equipment.
Section 27 covered making false statements about the character of another officer or soldier and making false statements about one's own military career.
Offences in Relation to Courts-Martial
Section 28 covered making false statements or refusing to answer questions on the witness stand, refusing to take an oath in court, refusing to produce documents when asked to do so by the court, and insulting or disrupting the court.
Section 29 covered knowingly giving false evidence in court.
Offences in relation to Billeting
Section 30 covered "billeting", the practice of soldiers' lodging in private homes while on active service. Service men and women could be charged for mistreating, threatening or refusing to pay householders for billeting troops.
Offences in relation to Impressment of Carriages
Section 31 covered offences that occurred when service men forced civilians to hand over their horses and carriages without proper compensation.
Offences in Relation to Enlistment
Section 32 covered re-enlisting in the forces without declaring that one had been previously discharged in disgrace.
Section 33 covered making false statements on an attestation paper.
Section 34 covered helping a person to enlist fraudulently.
Miscellaneous Military Offences
Section 35 covered using traitorous or disloyal words against the sovereign.
Section 36 covered disclosing the location of forces, bases or operations to the enemy.
Section 37 stated that officers could be charged for striking or ill-treating soldiers, while both soldiers and officers could be charged for refusing to repay advances on their pay.
Section 38 covered fighting, or assisting in a duel, and attempting to commit suicide.
Section 39 covered refusing to help the civil authorities take custody of a service person who was accused of a crime.
Section 40 coved acting "to the prejudice of good order and military discipline."
Section 41 stated that courts martial could try soldiers for treason, murder, rape, manslaughter and a number of other civil offences when they occurred more than one hundred miles away from the nearest civilian court.
Section 155 covered selling a promotion in His Majesty's Forces.
Records of individual courts martial consist of an average of twenty to twenty-five documents, the majority of which are standardised forms. These records document charges under the Army Act and the trial itself. With respect to the trial, these records identify the officers who sat in judgement, and evidence presented to the court, including statements by the accused and witnesses. In cases of conviction, courts martial records document the sentences handed down. Many courts martial records include formal rulings about the legal proceedings by the Judge Advocate General, who is the senior officer responsible for overseeing military justice.
Researchers should note that the quality of the images on these microfilm reels is often poor, and that the paper originals no longer exist.
Each unique record contains the following fields: Name, Regimental number, Rank, Unit, Date Offence, Remarks and Archival Reference number.
The Search Screen
The search screen contains the following search fields:
To search, enter the name of the individual and/or their regimental numbers, unit and offence if known. A search by Name may also allow you to find records on a specific individual. You can enter any name or set of names separated by the appropriate logical connectors (consult the Search Syntax link for more information).
For the name C.V. Smith
enter CV SMITH in the Name field.
The Number of references by page option allows you to change the number of references appearing on the results page for the duration of the search in progress. By default, the number is set to twenty.
Be careful with regimental numbers. You will only retrieve references that correspond strictly to what you have specified.
Enter 222044, you will obtain only one reference.
Officers did not have a regimental number unless they enlisted first as privates or non-commissioned officers.
If you did not find the person's name, you can try searching spelling variations or combinations of given names and initials.
For example :
If you tried ARTHUR THOMSON without success,
try ARTHUR THOMPSON
For Harold Edward Simpson, try in the Name field:
HAROLD E SIMPSON
H EDWARD SIMPSON
How to Interpret the Results
Your search results will be posted as a summary list from which you will be able to obtain more detailed descriptions.
Results Summary List
The results summary list, sorted by column, contains information that will allow you to rapidly assess how relevant the documents are that you have found. Each page of the list provides 20 references, which is a default value that you can change. You can export the results to a diskette or to your own computer.
The results summary list includes all or some of the sections described below.
The first column is linked to the detailed description (see below). Clicking on the icon will bring you to the detailed description.
The Name column provides the family name and the given names of the soldier. The given names may be complete or only the first letter of one or many given names may be shown.
The Regimental number column provides the identification number assigned to the soldier when he enlisted. Officers did not have any regimental numbers unless they enlisted first as privates or non-commissioned officers.
The Rank column provides the rank assigned to the soldier.
The Unit column provides the Unit to which the soldier attached.
The From-To column provides the outside dates or date of the offence.
How to Consult a Record or Order a Copy
Once you have located a reference of interest in the database, you might wish to view the actual file.
Option One: You are welcome to Library and Archives Canada (LAC) view the microfilm reels and obtain copies on-site. See: Preparing for a Visit.
Option Two: The microfilm reels cited can be borrowed from LAC by libraries and institutions within and outside Canada. Borrowing institutions are authorized to make copies of pages on your behalf. See: Interlibrary and Inter-institutional Loans.
Option Three: Copies of files can be obtained from our Textual Records Reproduction Services. See: Photocopies and Reproductions. Note that requests for copies must include complete references: i.e. RG 150-8, file number and microfilm reel number. Most of these files contain an average of 20 to 25 documents.
Option Four: If you are doing extensive research, you might wish to hire a local researcher to consult and obtain copies from the files on your behalf.
See: Hiring a Free-lance Researcher.