The goal of this project is to conduct primary research on individuals who served and died in the First World War in Europe. You are asked to write an essay that tells the story of one service person's actions during the war. The information you compile will be sent to the Canada Remembers Division of Veterans Affairs Canada to become part of a national databank. Please read and follow all instructions carefully.
Your teacher will assign to you and your fellow students the name of a service person inscribed on the cenotaph in your community. These names will be added to a larger comprehensive list of service personnel names from the First World War, all of which will be researched using military files held at Library and Archives Canada, and military history textbooks, databases and Web sites.
The service person's name assigned to you must be copied correctly, just as it appears on the cenotaph. This will allow you to access the databases of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Veterans Affairs Canada and Library and Archives Canada.
Once you know the name of your service person, write it on the "Library and Archives Canada Order Form for Military Service Files" template given to you by your teacher. You are now ready to follow Steps Two through Five to complete the required research.
Go to the Library and Archives Canada Web page Soldiers of the First World War (1914-1918) to obtain information about your service person. By typing the surname and given name of your service person in the spaces provided, you will obtain the service/regimental number or rank and a record group reference, which contains the box number. Please enter these data in the designated columns on the order form. Once the names and data have been added by all students, your teacher will verify the information and ensure that it is complete. (Your teacher may wish to add a few more names of service persons and their corresponding data in the event that a particular file cannot be located.) Your teacher will then fax the completed order form for military service files to Library and Archives Canada.
Once Library and Archives Canada receives the order form, employees in the Researcher Services Division will copy and send the information to your school within 30 days. If your school is located in the National Capital Region, your teacher may wish to arrange a visit to the Canadian War Museum to consult original military service files as part of a workshop.
If you are researching service persons whose Attestation Papers are digitized on the Soldiers of the First World War (1914-1918) Web page, you can download and print them. They will provide more details to complete your "Military Service Record" and "Service Personnel Information" templates.
Download and print the "Service Personnel Information" template and the "Military Service Record" template from the "Starting Templates" folder on your school network server. Once you receive these templates, you can access the following Internet sites to complete as much of the information as possible. These two sites provide different details that you will need to complete your work.
On the Commonwealth War Graves Commission site, simply fill in the criteria for the search fields and obtain information on your service person. When completed, go to the Canadian Virtual War Memorial site of Veterans Affairs Canada and continue compiling research on your service person. Follow the criteria outlined on the templates to gather as much information as possible. The two most important pieces of information you are looking for on the latter site are the service or regimental number (e.g., 781324), which will help you obtain even more information at other Web sites, and the battalion to which your service person belonged. Once you know the specific battalion (e.g., 2nd Battalion), you can research it further on the Internet or on the Library and Archives Canada Web site by accessing the ARCHIVED - War Diaries of the First World War.
Be very careful in copying down information. Please ensure that you cite all information properly. See the essay on Clarence Garfield Mainse in the "Finished Templates" for footnote and bibliography examples.
Once you have accessed the above information from the Internet and have completed the templates, scroll down to the bottom of the Canadian Virtual War Memorial page that contains the information for your service person, and open the "Cemetery Plan" if one is given. Copy and paste this onto a blank page. To reduce the size of the graveyard image, save a copy of it as a jpeg file, then cut and paste it onto the "Grave Reference" template provided in the "Starting Templates" folder. (See "Grave Reference" example in the "Finished Templates.")
Once you have established the country where your service person is buried, the date of death, the number of the regiment and the battalion, you must investigate to see what battles were taking place at the time your service person died. This is going to take some time and will require organization, thorough research and deduction skills to pinpoint the battle. Once you have pinpointed the battle, you can access the Internet sites listed below for battle maps and more information.
For an overview of the major battles of the war, visit The War Times Journal and scroll down to "Battles & Campaigns". A second Web site that provides excellent background is Trenches on the Web Library.
There are many additional Web sites to help you understand the First World War. For a selected list, see "Further Research" in the main menu of this project site. Please ensure that you cite all Internet sources and the information you obtain from them correctly in your bibliography. Remember, these Web sites are starting points and you will need to search the Internet extensively for more information on the First World War.
Once you have established a general knowledge of the European theatre of war, you will begin to work on creating a complete profile of your service person. It is important to realize that you are about to write history, bringing a face and a name as well as historical detail to an individual in your community. Until now, this individual has remained largely anonymous. You will become the expert on this service person by writing an essay and completing the templates. In the end, you will be able to describe what your service person did during the First World War and reveal how, when, and where your service person died. (See the essay on Clarence Garfield Mainse in the "Finished Templates.")
Publications that are easily accessed at school or at the local public library are important for your work. Among the many sources on the First World War, Library and Archives Canada recommends the following texts as excellent starting points for your research.
Berton, Pierre. Vimy (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1986).
Dancocks, Daniel G. Legacy of Valour: The Canadians at Passchendaele (Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, 1986).
Dancocks, Daniel G. Spearhead to Victory: Canada and the Great War (Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, 1987).
Swettenham, John. To Seize the Victory: The Canadian Corps in World War I (Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1965).
These texts provide background to Canadian battalions and major battles of the First World War. Use the indexes or chapter headings and search for specific words such as the battle in which your service person died (e.g., Vimy), the battalion (e.g., 2nd Battalion), or the division (e.g., 1st Division). You may not be able to locate your service person exactly, but if you know the battalion and the date of death, you can cross-reference that information to specific battles. By using these research techniques you will gain a better understanding of what happened to your service person.
Also, all students must refer to the book written by Colonel G.W.L. Nicholson, entitled Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914-1919 [PDF 1492 KB]. It is a comprehensive study of battalion movements, and lists the dates and battles which will help you pinpoint the movements of your service person. This source provides you with facts about the battle in which your service person fought and died. You will be able to confirm this information when you review your service person's medical records contained in the military files sent to you from Library and Archives Canada.
Use the following guideline to search Nicholson's book for the information you need. If you are looking for specific battalion information, scroll down to Index - Part II, pages 660 to 671. If you are looking for information on specific battles, scroll down to Index - Part I, pages 615 to 659. For information on Canadian Units in France and Belgium and what battalions were in which divisions, scroll down to pages 516 through 518. To find out where battalions were mobilized in Canada, scroll down to pages 525 through 528. If you need to know the commander of specific divisions and battalions (Canadian Officer Corps), scroll down to pages 511 through 514. To view six battlefield maps from Nicholson's book, go to Canada and the First World War.
Examine the documents contained in your service person's military file sent to you from Library and Archives Canada. Once you have done this, you are ready to write the history of your service person, drawing from all the information you have gleaned from the military file, textbooks and Internet sites. Please see the essay on Clarence Garfield Mainse as an example of a completed history with correct use of footnotes and bibliography.
Often the military terminology used in service personnel files is written in an abbreviated form. To help you understand it, Library and Archives Canada has provided a list of abbreviations and acronyms with corresponding terms and meanings. Please see "Military Abbreviations, Terms and Meanings" under the Resources to Complete Cenotaph Research.
Your teacher will make arrangements to have your completed research saved onto a CD-ROM. Make sure you write your name on your essay and your service person's service or regimental number (e.g., Clarence Garfield Mainse, 781324, by John Smith). It is essential that you save your work in Corel WordPerfect or Microsoft Word format.
Lastly, Library and Archives Canada wishes to thank you for working on this national project and for taking the time to write a historical account about one individual who served and died in the First World War - a history for all to appreciate at the local, national and international levels.