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Canadian Expeditionary Force
Flag of Canada-1868-Red.svg

Canadian Expeditionary Force
Active August, 1914 - 1920
Country Canada
Type Army
Size 619,646 enlistments during existence
For the organisation that fought in Europe, see Canadian Corps.

The Canadian Expeditionary Force was the designation of the field force created by Canada for service overseas in the First World War. Units of the C.E.F. were further divided into field formation in France, where they were largely organized into divisions and eventually a Canadian Corps within the British Army. Four divisions ultimately served on the front line. The Germans nicknamed them Stormtroopers.

The C.E.F. eventually numbered 260 numbered infantry battalions, two named infantry battalions (The Royal Canadian Regiment and Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry), 13 mounted rifle regiments, 13 railway troop battalions, 5 pioneer battalions, as well as numerous ancillary units including field and heavy artillery batteries, ambulance, medical, dental, forestry, labour, tunnelling, cyclist, and service units.

A distinct entity within the Canadian Expeditionary Force was the Canadian Machine Gun Corps. It consisted of several motor machine gun battalions, the Eatons, Yukon, and Borden Motor Machine Gun Batteries, and nineteen machine gun companies. During the summer of 1918, these units were consolidated into four machine gun battalions, one being attached to each of the four divisions in the Canadian Corps.



26th Battalion of the Second Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1915

The Canadian Expeditionary Force was comprised mostly of men who had volunteered, as conscription was not enforced until the end of the war when call-ups began in January 1918 (see Conscription Crisis of 1917). Ultimately, only 24,132 conscripts arrived in France before the end of the war.

Canada was the senior Dominion in the British Empire and automatically at war with Germany upon the British declaration. According to Canadian historian Dr. Serge Durflinger at the Canadian War Museum, popular support for the war was found mainly in English Canada. Of the first contingent formed at Valcartier, Quebec in 1914, 'fully two-thirds were men born in the United Kingdom'. By the end of the war in 1918, at least 'fifty per cent of the CEF consisted of British-born men'. Recruiting was difficult among the French-Canadian population, although one battalion, the 22nd, who came to be known as the 'Van Doos', was French-speaking ("Van Doo" is an approximate of the French for "22" - vingt deux)

To a lesser extent, other cultural groups were represented with Ukrainians, Russians, Scandinavians, Italians, Belgians, Dutch, French, Americans, Swiss, Chinese, and Japanese men who enlisted. Despite systemic racism directed towards non-whites, a significant contribution was made by individuals of certain ethnic groups, notably the First Nations[1], Afro-Canadians and Japanese-Canadians.

The Canadian Corps with its four infantry divisions comprised the main fighting force of the CEF. The Canadian Cavalry Brigade also served in France. Support units of the CEF included the Canadian Railway Troops, which served on the Western Front and provided a bridging unit for the Middle East; the Canadian Forestry Corps, which felled timber in Britain and France, and special units which operated around the Caspian Sea, in northern Russia and eastern Siberia.[2]

After distinguishing themselves in battle from the Second Battle of Ypres, through the Somme and particularly in the Battle of Arras at Vimy Ridge in April 1917, the Canadian Corps came to be regarded as an exceptional force by both Allied and German military commanders. Since they were mostly unmolested by the German army's offensive manoeuvres in the spring of 1918, the Canadians were ordered to spearhead the last campaigns of the War from the Battle of Amiens on August 8, 1918, which ended in a tacit victory for the Allies when the armistice was signed on November 11, 1918.

The Canadian Expeditionary Force lost 60,661 men during the war, representing 9.28% of the 619,636 who enlisted.

The C.E.F. was legally distinct from the Canadian Militia which did not mobilize in 1914. The Militia remained active in Canada during the war. After 1918, it was decided (after lengthy dissertation by the Otter Committee) that units of the C.E.F. would be disbanded, and that the Militia would be reorganized. Individual units of the Canadian Militia, notably infantry and cavalry regiments, were permitted to perpetuate the battle honours and histories of the C.E.F. units that had actually fought the war.[3]




Armoured carriers and armoured tractors

Mark I tank training tank, UK

  • Mark IV tanks in battle were operated by CEF crews, but they belong to the British Army

Small arms

Model/Type Period or Years in Use! Manufacturer/Origins
18 Martini Henry 70s-end of World War I  United Kingdom
Winchester rifle 1870s-end of World War I  United States

.303 rifles

Model/Type Period or Years in Use Manufacturer/Origins
Ross Rifle Mark I and Ross Mark II (multiple * variants) 1905-1913  Canada
Ross Rifle Mark III 1913-1916  Canada
Lee Enfield (SMLE) Mark III 1916-1943  United Kingdom
Service pistols
Model/Type Period or Years in Use Manufacturer/Origins
Colt "New Service" Revolver—1900-1928 (also used by the NWMP and RCMP from 1905-1954)  United States
Colt Model 1911 Pistol—1914-1945  United States
Smith & Wesson 2nd Model "Hand Ejector" Revolver—1915-1951  United States
Approved private purchase and secondary side-arms
Model/Type Period or Years in Use Manufacturer/Origins
Webley Mark VI Revolver  United Kingdom
Enfield No. 2 MkI Revolver  United Kingdom
Bayonets and combat knives
Model/Type Period or Years in Use Manufacturer/Origins
Pattern 1907 bayonet
Ross Bayonet (for 1905 and 1910 rifles)  Canada

Machine guns, light machine guns and other weapons

Model/Type Period or Years in Use Manufacturer/Origins
Colt Machine Gun 1914-1916 USA
Vickers Machine Gun 1914-1950s UK
Lewis Machine Gun—1916-c.1945 USA


Model/Type Period or Years in Use Manufacturer/Origins
.303 British  United Kingdom
.455 Webley  United Kingdom

Uniforms, load bearing and protective equipment

See also: Battledress, Uniforms of the Canadian Forces

Model/Type Period or Years in Use Manufacturer/Origins
Service dress 1903-1939
Canadian pattern and British pattern

Load bearing equipment

Model/Type Period or Years in Use Manufacturer/Origins
Oliver Pattern Equipment 1898-19??
1908 pattern web equipment

Head dress

Model/Type Period or Years in Use Manufacturer/Origins
Glengarry  United Kingdom
Tam o'shanter  United Kingdom
Field Service Cap  United Kingdom
Brodie helmet  United Kingdom

See also


  1. ^ Morton, Desmond. When Your Number's Up
  2. ^ Stacey, C. & N. Hillmer Canadian Expeditionary Force. The Canadian Encyclopedia.
  3. ^ Otter committee article

Further reading

  • Berton, Pierre (1986). Vimy. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart. ISBN 0-7710-1339-6
  • Christie, Norm. For King & Empire, The Canadians at Amiens, August 1918. CEF Books, 1999
  • Christie, Norm. For King & Empire, The Canadians at Arras, August–September 1918. CEF Books, 1997
  • Christie, Norm. For King & Empire, The Canadians at Cambrai, September–October 1918. CEF Books, 1997
  • Dancocks, Daniel G. Spearhead to Victory – Canada and the Great War, Hurtig Publishers, 1987
  • Cook, Tim. "At the Sharp End - Canadians Fighting the Great War 1914-1916 Vol. One", Viking Canada, 2007
  • Cook, Tim. "Shock Troops - Canadians Fighting the Great War 1917-1918 Vol. Two", Viking Canada, 2008
  • Morton, Desmond and Granatstein, J.L. Marching to Armageddon. Lester & Orpen Dennys Publishers, 1989
  • Morton, Desmond. When Your Numbers Up. Random House of Canada, 1993
  • Newman, Stephen K. With the Patricia's in Flanders: 1914–1918. Bellewaerde House Publishing, 2000
  • Nicholson, Col. G.W.L. Canadian Expeditionary Force 1914–1919, Official History of the Canadian Army in the First World War, Queen's Printer, 1964
  • Schreiber, Shane B. Shock Army of the British Empire – The Canadian Corps in the Last 100 Days of the Great War. Vanwell Publishing Limited, 2004

External links


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