Soldiers from 1st (Canadian) Division, England 1915.


The Canadian armed forces on the eve of the Great War were fairly small, and while having numerous Militia units affiliated to and recruited in particular parts of Canada, there was only one regular unit - the Royal Canadian Regiment. When war broke out the Militia battalions were disbanded, and a Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) formed. This comprised of numbered battalions (more than 260 by 1918), plus support units such as Medical Corps, Engineers and Artillery. By 1916 there were four Canadian divisions in France, forming the Canadian Corps.


While the basic uniform very much resembled the 1902 pattern Service Dress worn by British soldiers, on the eve of the war a modified version of this was commonplace in most Canadian Militia units. This was the Canadian 1903 pattern uniform, which differs from the British issue in that there are nine buttons instead of seven, 'pointed' cuff ends to the tunic sleeves, and detachable shoulder boards. The latter were coloured according to arm of service: dark blue for infantry, green for rifle regiments, red for artillery and yellow for cavalry. This type of uniform was issued to the original CEF, and was worn in the field well into 1916. The colour of these tunics were much 'browner' than the 1902 SD tunic.


In 1914, the Canadian Militia was issued with a variety of different equipment, most of it in leather. A Canadian version of the 1908 pattern webbing was in use, and in leather Oliver Pattern and Mills Burrowes 1913 pattern was also available. From photographs, all three versions could (and were) worn by men in the same unit. When the CEF was formed there was hardly enough equipment to go round, so a variety of all three sets of personal kit were in use. The leather equipment did not survive long in France, as it was found to be inferior. Webbing took over, although in some cases the 1914 pattern equipment, produced in England, was also available to the CEF.

One item peculiar to Canadian soldiers was the MacAdam shield shovel. This was a Swiss invention, and was a small entrenching tool with a loophole in the shovel blade - making it potentially useful as a digging tool and a shield. However, front line conditions showed that the handle was too short, and the whole too low to shoot through. I have read accounts of it still in use on the Somme in 1916, but the entire shipment of 22,000 shovels was scrapped by the Canadian government in 1917.


The main weapon in use at this time was the Canadian Ross Rifle. Much has been written about this rifle, and while it was very accurate on the ranges in Valcartier, it proved problematic under war conditions. It did not like mud, and regularly jammed. Many Canadian soldiers were accidentally killed while trying to kick open the bolt, in an attempt to extract a round only causing it to be fired. Some snipers kept the Ross, but following Second Ypres soldiers of 1st (Canadian) Division began to acquire the Short Magazine Lee Enfield, and by the time of the Battle of the St Eloi craters in the Spring of 1916, most had the SMLE.


Canadian Militia 1911.

These Buglers wear the pre-war dress tunics, which were used as the basic design for the uniforms issued to 1st (Canadian) Division in 1914. The Sergeant in front wears the khaki version of this tunic. (ŠPaul Reed)

Soldier of 1st (Canadian) Division 1914.

Clearly visible are his standard CEF cap badge and shoulder title, both in dull bronze. (ŠPaul Reed)

Lance Corporal, 1st (Canadian) Division 1915.

Clear view of the standard uniform worn by Canadians 1914-15.


ŠPAUL REED 2002-2007

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