Copyright Canadian War Museum (CN 56-05-12-226).

For Canada the Empire and Freedom Do Your Part Enlist Now in the Royal Rifles of Canada, by Maurice Gagnon.

 
Copyright Canadian War Museum (CN 56-05-12-233).

Men with a Purpose Join the Royal Canadian Air Force, by Sampson.

 

When Britain declared war, King immediately recalled the Canadian Parliament for an emergency session. On 10 September, Canada made a separate declaration of war. The separate declaration demonstrated Canada's independence from Britain. Yet Canada's primary reason for going to war was much the same as 25 years earlier. Britain, still the mother country of most Canadians, was at war, and Canada would rally to the cause. This time, however, the cause would become far greater as the nation slowly came to recognize the evil nature of Hitler's regime. The Second World War would eventually be a crusade for freedom.

But, in September 1939, the war was not yet a crusade. Canadians were prepared to aid Britain in the defence of western Europe but felt little enthusiasm for another war. Memories of the sacrifices of the First World War were still too fresh. Although no major demonstrations against the war took place in any province, King recognized that the nation had little appetite for war. His strategy was to fight a limited war that would minimize manpower commitments overseas and maximize farm and industrial output on the homefront. In this way, he could keep his "no conscription" promise to Quebec.

National Archives of Canada (C-000387).

William Lyon Mackenzie King, May 1947.

Prime Minister King led Canada through the Second World War and into the post-war era.
Copyright Canadian War Museum (CN 89314).

A.G.L. McNaughton, by Margaret Fulton Frame.

General McNaughton commanded the expeditionary force that the Canadian government sent to England in 1940.

In fact, the mobilization of Canada's reserves started in late August, several days before the Germans invaded Poland. Military districts across the country were ordered to guard key installations. On 1 September, the day the Germans launched their invasion, general mobilization was ordered. Militia regiments and support units designated to be part of the two divisions for overseas service opened their armoury doors and started enlisting new recruits and processing unit members volunteering for overseas service. Responding to the call to duty, 58,337 volunteers, about 50 per cent new recruits, stepped forward to join the Canadian active service force in September. By about 20 September, the government decided that Canada would immediately send an expeditionary force of one division, led by General A.G.L. McNaughton, to Great Britain. Parliament approved $100 million for war expenditures. Recruiting was put on hold, but the 2nd Division was kept intact and sent overseas after the fall of France. The 1st Canadian Division was in Britain by December and started concentrated training. It was to be sent to France in August 1940 as part of the 4th British Corps being readied in Britain.

DocumentDocument
City of Edmonton Archives (Loyal Edmonton Regiment Collection, A96-215, Box 20).

"My Letter Home."

An unknown author wrote this poem to convey, in a light-hearted fashion, the rigours of training in England at the beginning of the Second World War.
The Fortyniner, No. 37, July 1943.

"[Colonel] Louis Scott's Son Directs at Manoeuvres," n.d.

Training in Britain with the Edmonton Regiment, Lieutenant K.L.W. Scott, son of Colonel Louis Scott, D.C.M., one-time Colonel of the 49th Perpetuating Battalion, informs three sergeants of his plan of action. From left to right: E. Johnston, Peace River; W. Remple, Grande Prairie; Lieutenant Scott, Edmonton; and R. McEwan, Barrhead.

When the first Canadian soldiers left for Britain in December of 1939, their training was still far from complete. Although these soldiers had a good start on basic military training, the units and brigades of the 1st Canadian Division were not yet ready for the rigours of combat. These skills were to be acquired while they were in Britain. Having been transported to their new base near Aldershot, the Canadian troops began training in mid-January 1940. The tedium of constant drills was compounded by dreary weather conditions. The winter of 1939-1940 was the coldest Britain had experienced since 1894. The unease felt by the Canadian forces would worsen over time and would increase as troops from Australia and New Zealand fought with the British in North Africa while the Canadian troops remained uncommitted to military operations. They had come to England expecting to train for only a few months before being sent to the continent for combat duty. Their expectations would not soon be fulfilled, but several near misses occurred. In April, two units of the 2nd Brigade, the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry and The Edmonton Regiment, were ordered to proceed to Norway, but the operation was cancelled. After the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and French forces from Dunkirk, a second BEF was dispatched to France through Brittany. The 1st Canadian Division was ordered to France but quickly recalled to England as France sued for peace. Only the 1st Brigade actually reached Brittany. Although the brigade managed to bring all its troops back, as well as its 24 field artillery guns, it had to abandon most of its vehicles. In the weeks following Dunkirk, the 1st Canadian Division was one of only three divisions reasonably equipped to defend Britain. The 2nd Division arrived in August, although some of its regiments were diverted to strategically placed Iceland for some weeks on garrison duties. With two divisions now in England, the Prime Minister announced the formation of a Canadian Corps, under the 1st Division's original commander General McNaughton, on Christmas Eve. The Allied evacuation at Dunkirk and the fall of France left Canada as Britain's ranking ally in the war against Germany.

DocumentDocument
The Fortyniner, No. 34, January 1942.

"Edmonton Regiment Raids Spitzbergen."

 

The Canadian Corps continued to build up in England in 1941 with the arrival of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, the 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade, and the 5th Canadian Armoured Division. By the end of 1941, Canada had 124,472 all ranks in Britain. In 1942, the 4th (infantry) Division was transformed into the 4th Canadian Armoured Division and shipped overseas. This process effectively completed the major components of Canada's Second World War field force, an entity that evolved into the 1st Canadian Army. Created on Easter Monday, 6 April 1942, the 1st Canadian Army was organized into two corps (1st and 2nd) and the 1st and 2nd Tank (later designated Armoured) Brigades. The first corps was to comprise the 1st Infantry and 5th Armoured Divisions, the 2nd Corps, the 2nd and 3rd Infantry, and the 4th Armoured Division.

In August and September of 1941, a small Canadian force that included a company of The Edmonton Regiment with detachments of The Saskatoon Light Infantry and 3rd Field Engineer Company was part of a combined British-Norwegian-Canadian operation to destroy mining activities and communications installations on the Norwegian island of Spitzbergen. Most Canadian soldiers, however, would not engage the German army for another two years.

National Archives of Canada (PA-169991, photo by Laurie A. Audrain).

King Presenting Colours to Carleton and York and Edmonton Regiments, Aldershot, England, 1 July 1941.

King George VI inspects Canadian troops. Many of these soldiers had been in England for over a year without seeing any combat action.
 

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Prince of Wales Armouries Heritage Centre
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