30 June 2017

CWGC takes a look at Canada's role in the world wars as the country marks its 150th national day

Canadians around the world will be celebrating Canada’s 150th national day tomorrow. To mark the milestone, the CWGC is taking a look back at the country’s vast contribution in the First and Second World War, and the cemeteries and memorials where those lost in action are honoured.


Sherman tanks of 10th Canadian Armoured Regiment (Fort Garry Horse) with infantry of the Royal Regiment of Canada massing in preparation for the assault on Goch, 17 February 1945  © IWM (B 14681)


Fact File

  • CWGC is responsible for commemorating more than 110,000 Canadian war dead of the two world wars who are buried or commemorated in 74 countries.
  • Outside Canada, the countries in which the largest numbers of Canadian war dead are commemorated are France (47,500), Belgium (15,800), the United Kingdom (12,700), Italy (5,700) and the Netherlands (5,700).
  • Canada is one of six partner governments which make up the Commission, the others being the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and India. Newfoundland was a full and equal partner in the Commission until it became Canada's 10th province in 1949, when its status as a separate Dominion ceased.
  • One of the last casualties of the First World War is believed to be Private George Price, who served with “A” Company of the 28th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force. He died at 10.58am on 11 November 1918, after being fatally shot in the chest by a German sniper.


The First World War

Canada entered the First World War in August 1914 as part of the British Empire. Canadian forces fought on the Western Front from 1915 to 1918. In April 1915, they faced a major German attack in Belgium during the Second Battle of Ypres and were subjected to chlorine gas – the first use of poison gas in the First World War. Despite having no protection from the gas, Canadian forces held the line. Canadian forces arrived on the Somme in August 1916 and fought at Courcelette and Pozieres.

Perhaps Canada's most famous battle of the conflict came on 9 April 1917 at Vimy in France. The Canadian Corps captured the strong German positions on Vimy Ridge as part of the Battle of Arras. By taking Vimy Ridge, the Canadian Corps established a reputation as elite assault troops. For Canada, the battle became a symbol of national achievement and a central part of its commemoration of the war.

Canadian soldiers on Vimy Ridge, April 1917 © Collections Canada PA 1085

Later in 1917, Canadian troops fought in horrific conditions in the mud of Passchendaele, finally capturing the village in November. Canadian assault troops played a key role in the Allied advance which began in August 1918 and ultimately led to victory.

Canadians also served at sea in the newly-formed Royal Canadian Navy as well as the Royal Navy. They also took part in the war in the air with the Royal Flying Corps, the Royal Naval Air Service and later the Royal Air Force.

Related cemeteries and memorials

The Vimy Memorial is dedicated to all those who served with Canadian forces during the First World War, and the 65,000 who lost their lives. Inscribed on its walls are the names of more than 11,000 soldiers who died in France and have no known grave.

Cabaret Rouge British Cemetery has a particularly close connection with Canada. More than 740 headstones here are inscribed with the Canadian maple leaf, marking the graves of those who died while serving with Canadian units. In May 2000, the remains of an unidentified Canadian soldier were removed from Cabaret Rouge and taken to the National War Memorial in Ottawa, Canada. Now a focal point for national remembrance, he represents every Canadian soldier who died for their country – past, present and future. A special headstone marks his original resting place.

Unique headstone marking the original resting place of the Canadian Unknown Soldier

Passchendaele New British Cemetery stands on Passchendaele ridge, it contains the graves and memorials of more than 2,100 servicemen of the British Empire, including more than 650 of Canadian units.

The Second World War

Canada entered the Second World War on 10 September 1939. Within two months they arrived in Great Britain to supplement the British Expeditionary Forces (BEF). Canadian forces served across the globe in Hong Kong, Italy, North West Europe and the North Atlantic.

The raid on Dieppe in France in August 1942 saw some 3,370 Canadian casualties, including 970 killed and almost 2,000 taken prisoner.

The Royal Canadian Navy expanded from a force of 2,000 men in 1939 to nearly 100,000 by the end of the Second World War. From six ships it grew to a force of nearly 400, the third largest navy in the world. Their main duty was to act as convoy escorts in the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and to Murmansk, Russia. The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) was also an extremely small force at the  outbreak of hostilities. Initially many Canadians served with the Royal Air Force, eventually comprising some 25% of the service. The RCAF grew rapidly however, becoming the fourth largest allied air force by the end of the war.


Canadian troops marching into their new camp on arrival at Hong Kong, 16 November 1941 © IWM (K 1385)

Related cemeteries and memorials

The CWGC commemorates more than 45,000 people who died while serving with Canadian or Newfoundland forces during the Second World War, at cemeteries and memorials including Runnymede Memorial in the UK, Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery in France, and Halifax Memorial in Canada.

Buried in Brookwood Military Cemetery, Surrey in the UK, are 326 members of Canadian forces who died during the First World War and 2,405 members of Canadian forces who died during the Second World War. The entire crew of a Lancaster Bomber of no.424 (Tiger) Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force were laid to rest side-by-side in the Canadian Section at Brookwood, after their aircraft was badly damaged during a raid on 5 April 1945 and crashed, killing the entire crew.

In July 1943, the Canadians joined the Allied landings in Sicily as a prelude to the invasion of Italy. Agira, taken by the 1st Canadian Division, was later chosen as the site for the burial of the vast majority of Canadians killed in the Sicilian campaign. All 490 graves in Agira Canadian War Cemetery are Canadian.