RENÉ CHARTRAND, ILLUSTRATED BY RON VOLSTAD
CANADIAN FORCES IN WORLD WAR II
Service & support units
The corps and support units below had detachments in all areas where Canadian troops served:
Canadian Chaplain Service
Canadian Dental Corps
Canadian Forestry Corps (formed 1941, NW Europe 1944-45)
Canadian Infantry Corps (authorised 2 September 1942 - administered reinforcements for infantry units)
Canadian Intelligence Corps (authorised 29 October 1942)
Canadian Postal Corps
Canadian Provost Corps
Canadian Technical Training Corps (authorised 4 June 1943 - trained specialist tradesmen e.g. mechanics, electricians, draftsmen etc.)
Canadian Women's Army Corps (authorised 13 August 1941)
Corps of Military Staff
Clerks Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers
Royal Canadian Armoured Corps (authorised 13 August 1940 - administrative corps created to provide reinforcements to armoured units)
Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps
Royal Canadian Army Pay Corps
Royal Canadian Army Service Corps
Royal Canadian Army Veterinary Corps (disbanded 1 November 1940, as mechanised equipment had replaced horses)
Royal Canadian Corps of Signals
Royal Canadian Electrical & Mechanical Engineers (authorised 1 February 1944)
Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps
Officers were directed to use the same patterns of BD as their British counterparts by a long instruction of 14 September 1939 (DND, HQ54-27-8-8), and also in the detailed 1943 War Dress Regulations. From the outbreak of war they were permitted to wear the blouse collar open to show their collared shirts with tan neckties.
Various elements of the Canadian infantry used no less than four helmets during the war. The army helmet in use in September 1939 was the British Mk I of Great War vintage. Samples of the new 1938 British Mk II had been sent to Canada in 1939, but the first 25,000 were only manufactured from late May 1940, with another 115,000 ordered a month later and 135,000 more (including 20,000 for the RGAF) at the end of that year. Some 200,000 more were ordered in 1941. From July 1941 the helmet liners were edged with steel wire clips to hold the rubber buffers on the liner band, a feature not found on British-made helmets. In 1942, half a million helmets (including 200,000 for the RCAF) were ordered to meet the demand of the vastly expanded Canadian forces. Thereafter helmet orders were lower but, by the end of the war, a total of 1,131,600 (including 155,000 for Civil Defence) had been produced, with even more liners and chin straps.
Sgt. F.C.Edminston, Highland Light Infantry of Canada, 9th Inf Bde, 3rd Inf Div photographed in Normandy, 20 June 1944. Note that he has removed his rank badges, a common precaution against snipers; typically, however, he retains the large shoulder title - 'HIGHLAND/LIGHT INFANTRY/CANADA', in yellow on grass green within a yellow inner rim - above the divisional patch; see also Plate E3. Though sometimes dulled over with mud or camouflage cream, the titles were important to unit 6sprit de corps and seem normally to have been worn in action.
Appearing in the UK from late 1939, these titles proliferated in 1942-43; designed at unit level by 'beer bottle heraldists', in traditional unit colours, their shape and style varied widely. In 3rd Inf Div most were arc-shaped with 'CANADA' below the unit title, usually but not always embroidered on the same backing. A few other representative 3rd Div examples are:
(7th Inf Bde) arc with rectangular bottom extension, black ground, white lettering 'ROYAL WINNIPEG RIFLES/CANADA';
(8th Inf Bde) shorter over longer arc, dull red ground, light red inner rim, white lettering, 'LE/REGIMENT/DE LA/CHAUDIERE';
(9th Inf Bde) longer over shorter arc, blue ground, red lettering 'GLENGARRIANS/CANADA' (Stormont, Dundas & Glengarry Highlanders).
Some 48 variations are recorded in all - see Sexton, D.J., Select Bibliography. (Ken Bell, National Archives of Canada, PA133104)
Canadian-made Mk II helmets, including those for the RCAF and Civil Defence, were sprayed with a base coat of matt khaki paint which was initially browner than the more olive shade produced after 1942. Unit or arm of service decals were often applied to the left side. There was occasional repainting in camouflage, sand-textured olive-green or tan for specific purposes. A net of khaki or olive-green, or bi-coloured brown and green from 1943, was nearly always worn. It was sometimes interwoven with bits of khaki cloth 'scrim' for added camouflage. Canadians nearly always stuck their first field dressing packet under the net so their helmets had a bulge, usually at the back or one side.
Even as Mk II helmets were being made, the Canadian forces toyed with the idea of adopting the new American Ml helmet, and a few hundreds of these were experimentally issued to troops in southern England during autumn 1942. The Ml helmet was found to give better protection and it was recommended for adoption at the end of 1942 nor only by Canadian but, ultimately, by all British forces. Canada went ahead and immediately ordered a quarter of a million helmets from the USA. Meanwhile, the British changed their minds in early 1943 and decided to develop instead their own Mk III helmet. The Canadians' policy of maintaining a high degree of commonality with the British forces led them too to adopt the new Mk III; but the American order had to be honoured to at least 200,000 helmets, so that by April 1943 over a million dollars' worth of US helmets had arrived in Ottawa.
Senior supply officials wondered what to do with them; it had been decided that the British Mk II helmets would continue to be used in Europe except for the 3rd Inf Div, which would get the new British Mk III. The obvious answer was to issue the American Ml to units posted in British Columbia, the most likely to serve with American troops in operations in the Pacific. Thus die 13th Inf Bde, which was attached to the US forces for the liberation of Kiska, wore the Ml. Later, in 1945, Ml helmets were issued to the 6th Inf Div then being reorganised in British Columbia for participation in the projected invasion of Japan. The Ml saw various uses in the post-war years, but it officially replaced the British Mk II only in September 1960.
The turtle-shaped British Mk III became much associated with Canada in many Canadians' minds, as it was the invasion' helmet often shown in the press worn by Canadians during 1944. Some collectors later claimed that it was a Canadian design, but in fact none were made in Canada and all were issued in Britain to the Canadian troops. The 2nd Inf Div landed in France in July wearing Mk II helmets; this was also the only helmet used by the 1st Inf Div in Italy and later in NW Europe.
Following British practice, the pre-1939 peaked (visored) service cap quickly disappeared in favour of the khaki Field Service cap (sidecap), which was issued with the BD uniform from autumn 1939. In 1943 the Canadian War Dress Regulations introduced, following 1937 British Army regulations, a complicated table of colours for FS caps worn optionally on ordinary duties by officers and enlisted men. While staff officers and NCOs in London or Ottawa would have indulged in this, there is not much evidence that the coloured FS caps were widely acquired. Instead, from 1943, the khaki FS cap was replaced by the khaki General Service cap. The Canadian pattern was a true beret, made of one piece of material and generally of superior quality and appearance to the British GS cap, which was made from several pieces with a broad separate head band and which the Tommies bitterly compared to a cow-pat. The relevant unit cap badge was worn over the left eye, and some units used coloured cloth badge backing - e.g. the Royal Winnipeg Rifles had green backing following the outline of their badge, while Toronto's Queen's Own Rifles had a green square. 'Scottish' units had the khaki Balmoral bonnet (see Highlanders below). The Irish Regiment of Canada had the caubeen bonnet in dark green for officers and khaki for enlisted men.
For the six regiments converted 'on paper' to the armoured role in 1936 the next few years would be frustrating, since no actual tanks were forthcoming. Even the armoured corps' black berets were first denied to the units, and they were ordered to continue to wear their 'traditional headdress'. There was a loophole in the case of the Essex Regiment, since as a newly raised regiment it had no traditions. Members of the unit bought black berets at their own expense and wore them at the regiment's inaugural parade on 20 April 1937, making it the first Canadian unit to wear berets. The Department of Defence eventually followed suit, so that all armoured units had black berets during the war. (Curiously, the 13th Inf Bde in the Aleutians was also issued black berets in 1943.) Parachute units had maroon berets like their British counterparts.
Canadian troops in Holland, early 1945, wearing the standard British white cotton two-piece snow camouflage suit. (Canadian Dept of National Defence, ZK-958)
Footwear was the standard laced army 'ammunition' boot of black pebbled leather. The soles were of leather, hobnailed and with steel toe and heel plates. The ankles were covered with short khaki web anklets; the Canadian-made anklets had the narrow retaining straps made of webbing but, especially in Italy, the Canadians sometimes received British anklets with leather straps from 8th Army stores. In 1943 the 13th Inf Bde wore Canadian-designed black boots, made higher and with a wrap-around ankle flap buckling at the outside; these were considered both comfortable and smart. For the 1944 Normandy invasion part of the 3rd Inf Div was issued with these 'invasion boots', as they now became known. They remained, however, a limited issue outside of the 3rd Inf Div in NW Europe, and are often referred to by collectors as '3rd Division boots'.
This view of a Canadian infantryman at Caen on 25 July 1944 shows the rear of the 1937 web personal equipment in battle order - of Plates E2, E3. The small pack is worn on the back, with a British General Service shovel thrust below it - the issue entrenching tool was inadequate for getting a man under cover quickly. (The British shovel had a 'T'-handle, the US equivalent a (D-handle.) The dark olive-green anti-gas cape, now used more as a rain cape, is rolled and tied to the back of his belt. Below this is the bag for his light respirator, slung around the body. On the right hip can just be seen his water bottle. On the nearside he seems to carry his nested mess tins in a second water bottle carrier of the pocket type. He has a netting face veil attached to the back of his helmet; and note the buckle- flap '3rd Div' boots. Sleeve insignia are limited to the 3rd Inf Div patch and lance-corporal's badge of rank. (Ken Bell, National Archives of Canada, PA163403)
Table 3: Regimental distinctions of Canadian Highlanders
|Black Watch of Canada||Black Watch||plain|
|Highland LI of Canada||Mackenzie||all dark green cap|
|Lanark & Renfrew Hs||Black Watch||plain|
|Storrnont, Dundas & Glengarry Hs||Macdonell of Glengarry||scarlet, white & green|
|Pictou Hs||Mackenzie||scarlet, white & green|
|North Nova Scotia Hs||Murray of Atholl||scarlet, white & green|
|Cape Breton Hs||Black Watch||scarlet & white|
|Prince Edward Island Hs||Black Watch||plain|
|Cameron Hs of Ottawa||Cameron of Erracht||plain|
|Essex Scottish||MacGregor||scarlet, white & green|
|48th Hs||Davidson||scarlet, white & green|
|Argyll & Sutherland Hs||Black Watch||scarlet & white|
|Queen's Own Cameron Hs||Cameron of Erracht||plain|
|Calgary Hs||Black Watch||scarlet & white|
|Seaforth Hs||Mackenzie||scarlet, white & green|
|Canadian Scottish||Hunting Stuart||scarlet, white & green|
|Toronto Scottish||Elcho||Elcho blue, white & tan|
|Scots Fusiliers||Black Watch||scarlet, white & green|
|Lorne Scots||Campbell of Argyll||scarlet, white & green|
Notes: Pipers of the Black Watch and the Lanark & Renfrew had Royal Stuart tartan kilts; the Scots Fusiliers had No.11 Erskine. The Highland U, the Scots Fusiliers and the Lome Scots had trews, except for their pipers who wore kilts. Except for the Highland LI, all Glengarries were dark blue with a scarlet tuft.
The new BD trousers were greeted with sadness and resignation by many Canadian Highland units. They may have been a more practical garment in battle but, in their hearts, the men wished they could have retained their kilts. To make matters worse, some regiments - e.g. the Seaforths and the Calgary Highlanders - were first issued the ordinary khaki FS cap instead of the khaki Balmoral or tam-o'shanter bonnet, their tartan badge backings being the only Highland distinction left to them. The khaki tam-o'shanter bonnet was eventually issued to all Canadian Highlanders and was the only cap to be worn with BD in ерe field; but photos taken in NW Europe in 1944-45 often show Glengarries with diced bands also being worn as off-duty headgear.
Apart from the regulation distinctions listed in Table 3, a number of peculiarities were noted in various Canadian I Iighland regiments, of which the following are merely a few random examples. The Cape Breton Highlanders were mobilised in 1939 with diced Glengarries and kilts; were issued BD with bonnets, and also tropical dress with shorts and sun helmets when in Ottawa in 1941; were shipped to England and then to Italy in 1943, where the pipe band reassigned Black Watch tartan kilts, black sporrans with six tassels, red and black hose tops and Glengarries with a plain black border. The Stormont, Dundas & Glengarry Highlanders had the standard issue khaki tam-o'shanter, but also bought Glengarries for even man in June 1943. Many men of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders had Murray of Atholl tartan kilts in England. (In NW Europe the regiment wore BD but nevertheless carried in the front lines - unofficially - the very Scottish-looking provincial flag of Nova Scotia, which may have been the first 'Canadian' flag planted in German soil.) The pipers of the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada are said to have worn their kilts almost constantly in the field in NW Europe, though 'Wallace', their St Bernard regimental mascot made famous by the press, remained in Britain.
The steel helmet might have some added Scottish distinction. The Seaforth Highlanders of Canada had applied, from 1941, 'a two-and-a half inch square decal of the MacKenzie tartan with the regimental cap badge imposed on it' on the left side of the helmet. The Calgary Highlanders put a small square of red and white dicing on their helmets.
The personal equipments worn by Canadian servicemen had quite a convoluted history of their own. The title 'Tangled Web' given to the definitive study of this topic by the late Gen. Jack L.Summers is most appropriate, and readers are referred to it for all minute details, technical, administrative or even political.
It has often been assumed that the accoutrements worn by Canadians were identical to those of their British comrades. While this was largely true in times of national mobilisation during the World Wars, Canada did in fact evolve its own versions from the late 19th century. At that time, peculiar Canadian models of the originally British 'Oliver' equipment were adopted. These were made of dark brown leather. Although replaced with the British 1908 Web Equipment (hereafter in this text, WE 08) for nearly all troops going up to the Front in the Great War, reserve troops often kept the leather accoutrements.
Following World War I the Canadian government made plans for a much expanded volunteer force, but found it had insufficient equipment in its stores. Additional WE 08 equipment was sought from the UK in 1920, but could not be supplied. Thus, by 1923, the Quartermaster-General reported having some 43,120 WE 08 sets, 10,780 of which were only missing the entrenching tool carriers. Spare parts could make up another 22,480 sets. In all, about 50,000 sets of surplus WE 08 which had seen previous service in the trenches could be issued. There were also 13,000 sets of the Canadian 1916 leather equipment. Although there were various proposals to replace these supplies with more modern equipment, the idea of a large volunteer force was by now no longer entertained.
The Great Depression of the 1930s esured that nothing more would be done. Consequently, until 1940 the solid if aging 50,000 or so sets of WE 08 were still the only equipments available to the Volunteer Militia.
France, 28 July 1944: Tprs. Holstrom, Lardner and Mitchell relax on 'Clanky', the Sherman command tank of Cap. David Currie VC, C Sqn, South Alberta Regt, 4th Armd Div - of Plate El. By the time this photo made the 16 December 1944 cover of Liberty magazine, 'Clanky' had been lost in action at Bergen-op-Zoom, Holland; the crewmen survived the war, however. Here they wear general issue collarless shirts and BD trousers with 'ammo1 boots and the black Armoured Corps beret.
For the Regular infantry regiments of the Permanent Force - and for the Royal Canadian Air Force - there was a limited and somewhat confusing attempt to provide new equipment in 1928. This took the form of a Canadian issue of the British WE 19 equipment, later re titled WE 25 because it had some features of that newer British model too; this was in khaki for the infantry and blue-grey for die RCAF. When World War II broke out, the Regulars who went to Britain with the 1st Canadian Division in December 1939 had this WE 25 and the volunteers the ancient WE 08 of World War 1 vintage. These much-worn accoutrements were exchanged for the new British WE 37 equipment in England.
While the Canadian government had approved the British WE 37 in 1938, none of it was even made, let alone issued, until early 1940. Thereafter, however, the pace picked tip quickly as Canada's industrial output soared. By the summer of 1940 many units on active service had been re-equipped, and by that autumn there were enough new equipments for the thousands being called tip under the Selective Service programme. The WE 37 pattern was the standard equipment of Canadian soldiers from that time. There was one exception: the 13th Inf Bde Group in 1943. Serving with the Americans for the Kiska expedition, they received US Army accoutrements and helmets but Canadian issue weapons, uniforms and light respirators (see Plate B2).
Perhaps because of the sheer size of their country, many Canadians were especially attracted to aviation. During the Great War thousands of Canadians served in Britain's Royal Flying Corps (from April 1918, Royal Air Force) - among them many of its leading Tighter aces. In the wake of such feats, and to cope with increasing demands for a national air force, the Canadian Air Force was set up in 1920, redesignated Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) in 1924. The small RCAF of the 1920s-30s was more of a communications, survey and reconnaissance service than a combat air force. Made up of Regulars and volunteers, in September 1939 it mustered just 2,200 permanent and 966 reservist personnel; it had 53 combat aircraft out of a total of 201 machines, nearly all of them obsolete except for seven recently acquired British Hawker Hurricane fighters.