Canadians in the BEF: Imperial War Service Gratuities records

In April of this year Ancestry made available “Canada, Imperial War Service Gratuities, 1919-1921“, a dataset containing 17,702 records on Canadians who served in the B.E.F., British Navy, Royal Air Force and Nursing services during the First World War.

At the end of the war Canadian service personnel received a one-time gratuity based on their length of service, however Canadians who served in Imperial units received a smaller amount. The Canadian government addressed this imbalance by allowing those individuals to apply for what was effectively a top-up. Ancestry’s description states three conditions had to be met:

First, the individual had to have been a resident of Canada on August 4, 1914. Second, he or she had to return to Canada to reside after the war. Third, he or she had to be a permanent resident at the time of application.

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War Service Gratuity (Imperial) Statutory Declaration
© 1997-2015 Ancestry.com

Each Imperial War Service Gratuity record contains dozens of pieces of correspondence relating to an application. Some of these documents, the Statutory Declaration in particular, provides wonderful insights into an individual’s situation before and after the war. Other documents, such as the Verification Form, provides useful detail on their war service and in some cases information on previous military service. With the loss of so many First World War British Army Service Records during the Second World War this archive provides researchers with another line of enquiry, at least for those investigating British service personnel with Canadian connections.

Of the soldiers I’m actively researching only a handful were Canadians who served in an Imperial unit and of those only one appears in the database, Capt. William L. C. MacBeth. MacBeth was a doctor in the Canadian Army Medical Corps who returned to Canada in 1917 to join the British and Canadian Recruiting Mission in the United States. This was an Imperial unit however his record doesn’t contain an application for a gratuity but rather 40 pages relating to a request to reinstate the Separation Allowance paid to his wife Alice.

A more typical example is the file relating to George Arthur Clifford (no relation) who served briefly in the 5th (Reserve) Battalion Coldstream Guards. George emigrated to Edmonton in 1911 “to improve my position” but returned to England in 1913 owing to his mother’s ill health. The examples featured in the gallery below illustrate how his application was scrutinized, particularly in regards to his intention to return to Canada. In the end George received his gratuity but not before providing a tremendous amount of detail that researchers and descendants will find fascinating today. Kudos to the bureaucrats (and Ancestry) for making this possible.

2 replies

  1. You need a subscription to view these Gratuity records on Ancestry although you can search for a record for free (at least you will know that one exists). At some point Library & Archives Canada will have these same records available at no charge however none are online at the moment.

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