39 Combat Engineer Regiment Museum

A Research and Writing Guide

For Preparing a “Soldier’s Story”  for the “Faces to Graves” Netherlands Project

This guide was produced to support the “Faces to Graves” project that is underway to honour Canada’s WW II soldiers in the three Canadian War Cemeteries in The Netherlands. The project intends to write a short ‘Soldier’s Story’ for every Canadian buried or memorialized in these cemeteries.

This guide is intended to help in researching and organizing a Soldier’s Story and suggests a variety of sources where information may be found. The Guide is directed towards Royal Canadian Engineers. An additional general guide for researching Royal Canadian Engineers available HERE

This guide can also support such projects as the “Lest We Forget” high school project that is underway with the support of Library and Archives Canada.

Starting Point. If you have an interest in writing the story on a particular soldier, it is recommended that you first check with the following addressees to determine if a Soldier’s Story has already been written, is underway, or for which some reference material is available:

    Canadian Virtual War Memorial

Faces to Graves project website and by contacting the appropriate “Faces to Graves” contact for the particular Canadian War Cemetery:

   Bergen op Zoom: info@stichtingbbw.nl

   Groesbeek:  info@facestograves.nl

   Holten: info@canadesebegraafplaatsholten.nl

Do not underestimate the value of a thorough search of the internet.

Accessing the Service Record File. The basic material for the story of a WW II fatality is available from the soldier’s Service Record File. This information is available free online at Ancestry.com. Simply enter the soldier’s name in the SEARCH feature at: Canada, WWII Service Files of War Dead, 1939–1947 . If you are not already a subscriber, a screen will open that invites you to "Create a FreeAccount." You can accomplish this by entering only your name and an email address. This is not the same as a ‘free trial subscription.‘ Ancestry requires an email address for this free account, but not financial information. Credit card information will not be requested.

 Organizing the Story. The story is typically structured around the following eras of the soldier’s life:

Early (pre-enlistment) personal and family life.  The pre-enlistment aspect offers the best opportunity to make the work a personal story of the Sapper. An outline of this early life can be gained from the details in the enlistment documentation on the Service File as well as from records of the initial interviews and personnel assessments. Some additional Information on family members may be found at the ‘Estates Branch’ documentation that will be found later in the file.

Sometimes the 1921 Census Records can provide some insight. More family information will likely be available if you can establish contact with relatives. Contact with family members requires considerable research including internet searching, online forums, social media, local newspaper archives, local public libraries and Historical Societies. Some information may be available from regimental museums or archives and in the “Democracy at War” WW II newspaper archive. Library and Archives Canada has an extensive microfilm set of local newspaper archives but access requires either a site visit in Ottawa, requesting an InterLibrary loan, or gaining the assistance of a volunteer or researcher in the Ottawa area.

Enlistment details and training in Canada leading up to embarkation to England. This information is detailed on the Record of Service pages.  That record comprises a shorthand chronological, line-by-line, detailing of transfers, training, qualifications, promotions and the like. It may take some effort to read these hand-written entries and they use abbreviations heavily. A guide to most of these abbreviations is found HERE.

Activities in England prior to D-Day. While some clues on this aspect are found at the Service Record, it is helpful refer to the official RCE histories  or the known published unit histories . The CD version of Volume II of the History of the Royal Canadian Engineers official history is particularly easy to search. The book should also be available on Inter Library Loan. Sometimes a GOOGLE search of the unit name can produce results. Sometimes  online Forums can also help.

Activities surrounding death. Research of the online War Diary will generally produce this information - if not already learned during the above stages. Details on accessing the War Diaries WW II Sapper Units are HERE but be prepared for a slow research of the page-by-page image files. If you are seeking WW II War Diaries of non-Sapper units go HERE. See, also: Project 44 .

Burial details. The basic information is at the Canadian Virtual War Memorial site  and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission site. Letters to the Next of Kin advising of the death and burial arrangements should also be found on the file.

Medals, Awards and Memorials. This information is found on the Service file along with information on their delivery to the family. Some WW II citations are available online HERE. WW II citations are also published in Clive Law’s book “Courage and Service.”

A number of local ‘memorials’ have been established to remember WW II fatalities. This may be a plaque, a bursary, a street name or a named geographic feature, to mention a few. These memorials should be sought out and this information included in the story.

Another good resource: The Library and Archives Canada - Military Heritage site found HERE. Another possibly good source of material could be a local historical society, public library and local newspaper in the Sapper's hometown. Often local libraries or universities hold newspaper microfilm archives. Finally, the Family Tree feature in Ancestry may prove helpful. If you are really lucky, the tree may include living relatives and a contact!

For additional assistance, contact:

     Canadian Military Engineer Historian Vice President, History and Heritage  History.Heritage@cmea-agmc.ca

     Canadian Military Engineers Association  https://cmea-agmc.ca/

 Summary of Links and Addresses

Faces to Graves site

Additional guidance

Lest We Forget site

Canadian Virtual War Memorial

Bergen Op Zoom cemetery contact

Groesbeek cemetery contact

Holten cemetery contact

Canada WW II files – war dead 1921

Census Records

Democracy at War newspaper archive

Abbreviations used in documents

Official RCE histories

Known published unit histories

War Diaries  (Sapper units and additional links/sources)

War Diaries non-Sapper units

Project 44

Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Medals, Awards & Memorials

Library and Archives Canada - Military Heritage