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1st Canadian Division

The 1st Canadian Division refers to four organizations raised during the 20th Century.

  • 1st Canadian Division

  • 1st Canadian Infantry Division (1939-1945)

  • 1st Canadian Division (1954-1958)

  • 1st Canadian Division (1988)

The first formation so designated was a fully manned and equipped combat division which formed the initial contribution of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. A second iteration was raised for the Second World War, and served in I Canadian Corps. The last two iterations of the 20th Century were peacetime divisions. This article refers to the Division raised during the First World War.

First World War

The First Contingent of the Canadian Expeditionary Force was raised in August 1914, concentrated at Valcartier Camp in Quebec, and set off for England in the largest trans-Atlantic convoy to date two months later. Training and reorganization commenced upon arrival in the United Kingdom in October 1914, and it was not until 26 January 1915 that the Division was officially organized, under the command of Lieutenant General E.A.H. Alderson. Several units under command of the First Contingent were excluded from the Divisional organization, including the 17th Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders), 18th Battalion, and several companies of Newfoundland soldiers (later formed into the Newfoundland Regiment and assigned to the 29th (British) Division.)

The Division consisted originally of a cavalry squadron, cyclist company, four infantry brigades, three artillery brigades (equivalent in terms of numbers to the regiments used in WW II and after), and divisional engineers, with supporting troops of the Canadian Army Service Corps and Canadian Army Medical Corps. The strength of the Division was placed at 17,873 all ranks, with 4,943 horses. The 4th Brigade was borken up in January 1915, with one battalion (the 10th) going to the 2nd Brigade, and the other three battalions being broken send to the Canadian Training Depot. The 6th Battalion (Fort Garry Horse) left the 2nd Brigade to become a cavalry unit, later serving in the Canadian Cavalry Brigade.

Pioneer units were added later in the war, including the 1st Canadian Pioneer Battalion from Mar 1916 to Feb 1917, when they became the 9th Canadian Railway Battalion. The 107th Canadian Pioneer Battalion also came under command between Mar 1917 and May 1918, before being absorbed by the 1st Canadian Engineer Brigade.

Lieutenant General Edwin A.H. Alderson was selected in early 1915 to command the new Canadian Division, as it was known at that time, making him the highest ranking divisional commander in the British Army. He was selected - to the relief of many - in lieu of Sir Sam Hughes, who was promoted at this time by the Prime Minister to the rank of Major General. It had been Hughes wish to command the Canadians in action. Alderson won out over three prospective Canadian appointees, who, while serving with the British Army, were still considered too inexperienced.

Training in the winter of 1914 was rigorous, and conditions on Salisbury Plain were harsh due to cold and rain. A Royal Inspection of the Division early in 1914 foretold a move to France, which occurred in February 1915. After a period in reserve near Hazebrouck, the Division relieved the 7th (British) Division in the Fleurbaix sector during the first three says of March, taking over 6,400 yards of front line trenches on the left flank of General Sir Douglas Haig's First British Army.

The Division moved to the Ypres Salient in April, and faced its first real test during the defence of St. Julien beginning on 22 April. The Canadians withstood German attacks - aided, for the first time on the Western Front, by the use of poison gas - and finally retired to secondary positions on 26 April, where they held on until 4 May. The Second Battle of Ypres, as the overall action came to be known, cost the infantry brigades some 5,506 men.

Two weeks later, the Division was in action again at Festubert. Aiding in a diversionary offensive by the British armies, the Canadians suffered 2,204 casualties for gains of only 600 yards. Another futile attack was launched at Givenchy in June 1915, after which the Division moved to Ploegsteert.

The Canadians began a long period of static warfare which would last them throughout the winter, In September, the arrival of the Second Canadian Division meant that a national corps headquarters could take to the field to command the Division. Active operations resumed again in the spring of 1916, participating in the Battle of Mount Sorrel, and then restoring the situation at Sanctuary Wood.

The legendary Battle of the Somme opened on 1 July 1916, the worst single day in the history of the British Army, with 20,000 men killed and 40,000 wounded. However, the Canadians' part in the great battle, which was to last through to November, didn't begin until September at Pozières, and lasted through to October. It was on the Somme that the red patch was first worn as an identifying device - two inches by three inches and worn on both sleeves, this rectangle identified the wearer as belonging to the First Division. The insignia was also painted on steel trench helmets, and adorned with geometric shapes of different colours to further identify the soldier's specific battery, brigade, battalion or other subunit.

The Division began to prepare for the historic assault on Vimy Ridge, and took the time-honoured position of Right of the Line on 9 April 1917 when the Corps took the Ridge. Other gains were made in the days following the successful assault on the ridge, and the Division participated in the monumental battle of Hill 70 in August 1917. Passchendaele followed in mid-October, and fighting continued into November.

Massive German offensives came in the spring of 1918, but the Canadian Corps - now considered crack assault troops - were held in reserve for the inevitable counter-offensives. "Canada's Hundred Days" - the last 100 days of the war - were marked by several Canadian successes, at Amiens, the D-Q Line, and Canal du Nord. On 11 November 1918, the Armistice brought the war to an end.

The Division formed part of the occupation forces on the right bank of the Rhine, then in early 1919 moved back to England, and the eventual repatriation and demobilization. The infantry battalions of the First Division suffered 52,559 casualties during its years in the field, some 15,055 of them fatal - statistically, representing almost the original strength of the entire Division. Twenty-four soldiers of the Division were awarded the Victoria Cross.

Order of Battle

1st Canadian Brigade

1st (Western Ontario) Battalion. Aug 1914 - 11 Nov 1918
2nd (Eastern Ontario) Battalion Aug 1914 - 11 Nov 1918
3rd (Toronto Regt) Bn Battalion Aug 1914 - 11 Nov 1918
4th (Central Ontario) Battalion Aug 1914 - 11 Nov 1918

2nd Canadian Brigade

5th (Western Cavalry) Battalion Aug 1914 - 11 Nov 1918
  6th (Fort Garry Horse) Battalion (Converted to Reserve Cavalry Regt) Aug 1914 - Dec 1914.
7th (1st British Columbia Regt) Battalion Aug 1914 - 11 Nov 1918
8th (Canadian Rifles) Battalion Aug 1914 - 11 Nov 1918
10th (Canadians) Battalion Jan 1915 - 11 Nov 1918

3rd Canadian Brigade

13th (Royal Highlanders) Battalion Aug 1914 - 11 Nov 1918
14th (Royal Montreal Regt) Battalion Aug 1914 - 11 Nov 1918
15th (48th Highlanders) Battalion Aug 1914 - 11 Nov 1918
16th (Canadian Scottish) Battalion Aug 1914 - 11 Nov 1918

4th Canadian Brigade
(broken up in Jan 1915)

9th Battalion. Transferred to the Canadian Training Depot. Aug 1914 - Jan 1915
10th (Canadians) Battalion. Transferred to the 2nd Canadian Brigade Aug 1914 - Jan 1915
11th Battalion. Transferred to the Canadian Training Depot. Aug 1914 - Jan 1915
12th Battalion. Transferred to the Canadian Training Depot. Aug 1914 - Jan 1915

Divisional Units

  • 1st, 2nd and 3rd Field Companies, Canadian Engineers

  • 1st Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery

  • 2nd Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery

  • 3rd Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery

  • Special Service Squadron, 19th Alberta Dragoons

  • First Canadian Divisional Cyclist Company

  • 1st Canadian Pioneer Bn. Mar 1916 - Feb 1917. Became the 9th Canadian Railway Bn.

  • 107th Canadian Pioneer Bn. Mar 1917 - May 1918. Absorbed by the 1st Canadian Engineer Brigade.

  • Canadian Machine Gun Corps

    1st Canadian Machine Gun Company
    2nd Canadian Machine Gun Company
    3rd Canadian Machine Gun Company
    13th Canadian Machine Gun Company

In early 1918, infantry machine gun companies were consolidated into Machine Gun Battalions, one per division. At first the battalion had three companies, and in May 1918 this increased to four, with a total complement of 96 Vickers Guns. The 1st Canadian Machine Gun Battalion was formed for this division.


  • 17th (Nova Scotia Highlanders) Bn Canadian Infantry. Aug 1914 - Jan 1915. To the Canadian Training Depot.

  • 18th Bn Canadian Infantry. Aug 1914 - Sep 1914. Disbanded.

  • Newfoundland Companies. Oct 1914 - Dec 1914. Left the Division, made up to Battalion strength, transferred to British 29th Division Sep 1915.

Militia Regiment Parentage

The following is a list of the Militia Regiments in Canada that provided soldiers for the numbered infantry battalions.

1st Canadian Infantry Brigade 1st Battalion (Western Ontario)

1st Hussars

7th Regiment (Fusiliers)

21st Regiment (Essex Fusiliers)

22nd Regiment (The Oxford Rifles)

23rd Regiment (The Northern Fusiliers)

24th Kent Regiment

25th Regiment

28th Perth Regiment

29th Regiment (Highland Light Infantry of Canada)

77th Wentworth Regiment

2nd Battalion (Eastern Ontario)

9th Mississauga Horse

The Governor General's Foot Guards

14th Regiment (The Princess Of Wales' Own Rifles)

15th Regiment (Argyll Light Infantry)

16th Prince Edward Regiment

34th Ontario Regiment

42nd Lanark and Renfrew Regiment

43rd Regiment (The Duke of Cornwall's Own Rifles)

49th Regiment (Hastings Rifles)

59th Stormont and Glengarry Regiment

3rd Battalion (Toronto Regiment)

Governor General's Body Guard

2nd Regiment (Queen's Own Rifles of Canada)

10th Regiment (Royal Grenadiers)

13th Royal Regiment

4th Battalion (Central Ontario)

12th Regiment (York Rangers)

19th Lincoln Regiment

20th Regiment (Halton Rifles)

35th Regiment (Simcoe Foresters)

36th Peel Regiment

44th Lincoln and Welland Regiment

2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade 5th Battalion (Western Cavalry)

12th Manitoba Dragoons

16th Light Horse

30th Regiment (British Columbia Horse)

7th Battalion (First British Columbia Regiment)

6th Regiment (The Duke of Connaught's Own Rifles)

11th Regiment (Irish Fusiliers of Canada)

88th Regiment (Victoria Fusiliers)

102nd Regiment (Rocky Mountain Rangers)

104th Regiment (Westminster Fusiliers of Canada)

8th Battalion (90th Rifles)

90th Regiment (Winnipeg Rifles)

96th The Lake Superior Regiment

10th Battalion (Canadians)

103rd Regiment (Calgary Rifles)

106th Regiment (Winnipeg Light Infantry)

3rd Canadian Infantry Brigade 13th Battalion (Royal Highlanders of Canada)

5th Regiment (Royal Highlanders of Canada)

78th Pictou Regiment (Highlanders)

93rd Cumberland Regiment

14th Battalion (Royal Montreal Regiment)

1st Regiment (Canadian Grenadier Guards)

3rd Regiment (Victoria Rifles of Canada)

58th Westmount Rifles

63rd Regiment (Halifax Rifles)

65th Regiment (Carabiniers Mont Royal)

66th Regiment (Princess Louise Fusiliers)

68th Regiment

76th Colchester and Hants Regiment

15th Battalion (48th Highlanders of Canada)

31st Grey Regiment

48th Regiment (Highlanders)

97th Regiment (Algonquin Rifles)

16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish)

50th Regiment (Gordon Highlanders)

69th Annapolis Regiment

72nd Regiment (Seaforth Highlanders of Canada)

75th Lunenburg Regiment

79th Cameron Highlanders of Canada

91st Regiment (Canadian Highlanders)

Battles and Engagements

  • France and Flanders

  • Battle of Gravenstafel. 22-23 Apr 1915.

  • Battle of St. Julien. 24 Apr-4 May 1915.

  • Battle of Festubert. 15-25 May 1915.

  • Second Action of Givenchy. 15-16 Jun 1915.

  • Battle of Mount Sorrel. 2-13 Jun 1916.

  • Battle of Flers - Courcelette. 15-22 Sep 1916.

  • Battle of Thiepval. 26-28 Sep 1916.

  • Battle of Le Transloy. 1-18 Oct 1916.

  • Ancre Heights 1 Oct-11 Nov 1916.

  • Vimy 9-14 Apr 1917.

  • Battle of Arleux. 28-29 Apr 1917.

  • Third Battle of the Scarpe. 3-4 May 1917, including the capture of Fresnoy.

  • Second Battle of Passchendaele. 26 Oct-10 Nov 1917.

  • Amiens 8-11 Aug 1918.

  • Actions around Damery. 15-17 Aug 1918.

  • Battle of the Scarpe. 26-30 Aug 1918.

  • Drocourt-Quéant 2-3 Sep 1918.

  • Canal Du Nord 27 Sep-1 Oct 1918.

  • Battle of Cambrai. 8-9 Oct 1918.


See Main Article: Divisional Officers - 1st Canadian Division (CEF)

  • Lieutenant General E.A.H. Alderson (26 Jan 1916 - 13 Sep 1915)

Left to accept appointment as General Officer Commanding, Canadian Corps.

  • Major General Arthur W. Currie (13 Sep 1915 - 28 May 1917)

Appointed as General Officer Commanding, Canadian Corps.

  • Major General Archibald MacDonell (May 1917 - 1919)

Division disbanded.


Beginning in mid-1916, the Division adopted a system of coloured Battle Patches which were worn on both sleeves of the Service Dress jacket as well as the greatcoat. A rectangle 2 inches tall by 3 inches wide in red was adopted to distinguish the 1st Division from other formations of the Canadian Corps. Coloured geometric shapes used in combination with the divisional patch distinguished individual formations, units and sub-units within the division. The markings were also seen painted on steel helmets, vehicles and used as road signs. The diagram below is a representative list only.

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