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Identification

The Canadian soldier had a variety of official methods of Identification; these were necessary for security reasons in addition to identification.

Identification Discs - First World War

ID Discs, sometimes called "dog tags" though this seems to be more of an American term, were the primary means of identifying soldiers who had become casualties.

Identification discs were introduced into the British Army in approximately 1907 (when it is first mentioned in official documents). It consisted of a single aluminium disc, with a 42-inch cord. On the disc was stamped Regimental Number, Name, Rank, Regiment and Religion. Discs were to be marked locally, with 1/8-inch steel stamps. By May 1907 the requirement to include rank was abolished. An amendment to order in Apr 1908 permitted units to inventory discs with the regiment's name already stamped on it.1

Up until early 1914 the standard Identification Disc in British and Canadian service was made of Aluminium. A red fibre disc (described as "non-ferrous, fibre...which resembled linoleum")2 appeared in the Priced Vocabulary replacing the Aluminium one by Aug 1914. Aluminium discs were quite common, especially in Commonwealth forces, until after 1915.3

The fibre discs were marked identically to British discs, with the addition of CANADIANS or the abbreviation CDN. Some discs were stamped with half the information on one side, half on the reverse.

In April 1916, Army Order 3827 specified that each officer and soldier was to be issued two identity discs.

  • Disc, Identity, No. 1, Green

  • Disc, Identity, No. 2, Red

The green disc, octagonal in shape, was to be worn around the neck suspended on a cord. The second, red, disc, was to be suspended on another short length of cord, itself suspended from the first cord. The desire was to have one disc remain with the body in the event the soldier was killed. Soldiers already in possession of discs were issued with 6 inches of cord and ordered to adjust their tags in the prescribed manner. No orders were immediately issued on the reasoning for the new tags, and an amplification had to be issued in Oct 1916, specifying that the green tag was to be buried with fatal casualties. In the event a body could be reached but not brought back for burial, the red disc was to be removed to allow for proper notification of unit and next of kin, with the upper disc remaining with the body to ensure proper identification when the body was in a position to be recovered.

Second World War

Identification discs and their usage remained unchanged from 1916 up into the Second World War. Military Districts were advised they were responsible for issuing the discs, and all troops were to have them before employment overseas. Unlike discs stamped in the First World War, Routine Order 29 of the Canadian Active Service Force specified that stampings were to be in a straight line (except for those soldiers with lengthy names).

One change was the issue of a duplicate red disc, to be carried in the respirator case, identifying the owner of this equipment. Discs were stamped as before with a combination of the soldiers' name, Regimental Number (or rank, in the case of officers) and religion as well as the abbreviation CDN. And as before, the red tag was to be removed from a soldiers' body when he was killed and turned in to the Officer Commanding his unit while the green octagonal tag was to stay with the body at all times. (Also, a duplicate of the red tag was carried in the respirator case).

In August 1943, the National Research Council developed an improved material for the construction of discs which was fireproof. Australia had already moved to stainless steel discs and Canada considered a similar move, but found that the steel was difficult to emboss with materials at hand. The need for a fireproof disc was made apparent by casualty retrieval efforts of tank crews whose vehicles had burned after enemy action disabled them. Trials continued, and a new monel metal disc, similar in concept to one piece German discs, was developed, with 100,000 discs being produced in early 1945, suspended on a beaded metal chain (like the fibre discs, cord was easily destroyed by fire). The new discs were eventually worn for the first time in 1950.

dogtag.jpg (28800 bytes)
Artifact courtesy The Calgary Highlanders Museum

Other Ranks were assigned a Regimental Number.  Every unit was assigned blocks of numbers, prefixed by a letter indicating the Military District in Canada in which the unit was based.  There were 11 military districts in Canada, numbered from 1 to 13 (with 8 and 9 left out), and Regimental Numbers thus were prefixed with the letters A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L or M.  Officers were identified by name and rank only.

A list of approved abbreviations for religions was also promulgated; by the end of the war they included the following:

Abbreviation Name of Religion
BAPT Baptist
C OF E Church of England
C  SCI Christian Science
GC Greek Catholic
GO Greek Orthodox
J Jewish
OD Other Denominations
PRES Presbyterian
RC Roman Catholic
UN C United Church

icard.jpg (24202 bytes)

Beginning in September of 1942, "infallible" identification was established by the use of Identification Cards bearing a photograph and fingerprint.  The new cards were issued to all military and civilian personnel in the employ of the Department of National Defence.

Artifact courtesy of Donn Fowler, Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders Association.

idcard.jpg (230177 bytes)
Photos Courtesy Mike Crane

crane2.jpg (397132 bytes)

crane.jpg (294500 bytes)

paybook.jpg (56868 bytes)
Artifacts courtesy the Calgary Highlanders Museum.

Soldiers of the Active Army also had a Service and Pay Book assigned to them, consisting of a Service Book, a Pay Book, and a leather cover to keep both of them together.  Part I (Service Book) was given to all members of the Active Army (and NRMA conscripts) upon enlistment, and entries in the book were made by the unit Adjutant or other assigned officer. Part II (Pay Book) was only carried by the soldier until such time as he went overseas, when the book was given to the unit Paymaster.  Entries in both books were, by regulation, to avoid reference to unit.  Medical and dental officers also made entries in the books as needed

Korean War

The new monel metal discs were first worn by Canadian soldiers of the Canadian Army Special Force in Korea. Regimental number, name, religion and nationality (CDN) once again appeared on the disc, which was now rectangular and referred to as a disc by tradition. The disc was designed to be separated in the event the wearer became a fatal casualty.
Post War

The metal disc remained in use to the end of the century, eventually included the soldier's blood type as well as the replacement of the Regimental Number with the Social Insurance Number and later with a Service Number. The type of metal was changed in the 1990s from a soft metal to a harder aluminium.

The paybook fell from use some time after the Second World War, and personal records were kept at the unit level, including a Personnel File and a Unit Employment Record, with medical information ("Med Docs") being held by medical units, pay information at the unit level also, and records of issued equipment with the unit or base quartermaster.

Notes

  1. "Identity Discs in Canada and Great Britain" (Law, Clive M. Military Artifact, Vol.2, No. 2, Jun 1997)

  2. Ibid.
  3. Thanks to Joe Sweeney for the information.

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