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Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF)

By December 1915, the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) in France had grown to three divisions. A fourth division was formed and had completed their training in Canada. They were preparing to ship to England for further training. By this time, approximately 150,000 men and women were serving in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Initially, the divisions fought separately until they were formed into the Canadian Corps in 1916.

One of Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden’s frustrations, reflected in the novel, was the lack of communication by the Imperial War Cabinet in London. Frequently, he would find out about the important decisions about the CEF when they were reported in the newspapers. Borden saw Canada’s role not as a contributor of troops and war supplies but as an active imperial partner.

Both Borden and Sam Hughes, his Minister of Militia and Defence, were in agreement that Canadian troops were to fight together, led by Canadian officers, and that Canadian officials must be consulted in matters concerning the CEF.

Hughes’ zeal and energy was the driving force behind the rapid deployment of the CEF. He laid the foundation for the victories that the CEF would later achieve in the war. Hughes’ get it done attitude got him into political trouble. The military contracts scandal was just starting to gather steam.

Also, Hughes’ stubborn support for the Ross rifle, the standard infantry weapon issued to the CEF, in the face of growing evidence that it wasn’t reliable in the field and that Canadian troops were abandoning the Ross for the more reliable Lee-Enfield, didn’t help.

Eventually, Borden had no choice but to replace Hughes as the Minister of Militia and Defence.

By the end of the war, approximately 600,000 had served in the CEF. The Corps suffered 210,000 casualties and 60,000 were killed, a remarkable number for a nation of 8 million.

Sources and further reading


Books Of Remembrance - Records & Collections - Veterans Affairs Canada - Canada and the First World War

Introduction - Canada and the First World War - Library and Archives Canada

Military and Peacekeeping - Discover the Collection - Library and Archives Canada

Introduction - Soldiers of the First World War - CEF - Library and Archives Canada

Canadian Expeditionary Force - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Canadian Great War Project - Canadians in the First World War

Discussion groups & forums

Canadian Expeditionary Force Study Group