Reading a Canadian Army War Diary from the Second World War
War diaries are the written records completed by officers of a unit for historical or record-keeping purposes. Typically, Canadian infantry battalions made the intelligence officer responsible for writing these documents. Diary entries were meant to be completed daily but there were occasions when these officers did not find time to complete their entries on a regular basis. It was possible for these documents to be written after the fact based on notes taken at the time or the memory of the diarist and his fellow soldiers. Diary entries could also be lost during combat, leaving gaps in the written record. The Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders war diary for the 6 June to 17 June 1944 period appears to be complete and written on a daily basis excepting when the diarist indicates otherwise.
Reading Canadian Army war diaries can be tricky. Here are some tips to help you.
Times are given in a 24-hour clock format. Times in the AM will have a 0 at the beginning of a four-digit sequence. Times in the PM will continue counting upwards to 2359 hours (or just before midnight). If you see a time like 2100 hours, the easy way to convert it to our 12-hour clock is to subtract 12 from the first two numbers.
Example (2100 hours): 21 – 12 = 9 = 9:00 PM
Diarists typically capitalized the locations they mentioned. For example, BENY-SUR-MER and GRUCHY are villages in Normandy. In addition to or instead of mentioning local villages and towns, diarists often provided their location as a 9-number grid reference which corresponds to locations on the maps issued to the unit. Sometimes the number appears as only 4-digits. This reference will be based on the same maps, but the extra numbers make the location more precise.
Example: Reference 994848 can be reduced to Area 9984, which corresponds to the first, second, fourth, and fifth numbers in the 9-figure sequence.
It is common for diarists to make errors in their entries. Sometimes these errors were caught and struck through on the typewriter with multiple X’s. Other times, officers went through and crossed out mistakes while making notes in the margins. You may find errors in spacing or spelling but these are all reproduced faithfully on Project44.ca.
Adjutant: a military officer who acts as an administrative assistant to a senior officer.
Airburst: an explosive projectile that detonates in the air instead of on contact with the ground or a target, sending shrapnel and debris flying in all directions, including downwards.
Armour: a military term referring to armoured fighting vehicles including tanks, self-propelled guns, armoured personnel carriers, and armoured cars.
Artillery: a military term referring to the army’s guns, howitzers, and mortars, ranged weapons built to launch projectiles beyond the range of personal weapons like rifles or machine guns.
Assembly area: a point on a map designated as an area for a unit to assemble, usually before taking offensive action or moving to the front lines.
Battalion: the battalion is “the smallest infantry organization that can arrange for a concentration of support weapons of different kinds” (War Office training manual, 15 January 1944). At full strength, Canadian infantry battalions numbered 35 officers and 786 other ranks. A lieutenant-colonel was typically in command.
Bren: the Bren gun was a light machine gun used by the Canadian Army in Normandy.
Brigade: a military formation one step up from a battalion. Three battalions were grouped into a brigade, typically commanded by a brigadier.
Brigadier: a Second World War Canadian and British Army rank higher than colonel and lower than major-general. Typically commands a brigade or acts as a staff officer at higher headquarters.
Carrier: a reference to the Universal Carrier (sometimes referred to as a Bren Gun Carrier), a light armoured tracked vehicle used by Canadian and British infantry battalions and artillery regiments in Normandy.
“Centaurs”: British tanks armed with 95-millimetre howitzers used by the Royal Marines Armoured Support Group to support the D-Day landings and early stages of fighting in Normandy.
Company: the largest sub-unit found within a battalion. Each battalion typically fielded four rifle companies and a support company, each led by a major or captain with rifle companies numbering 5 officers and 122 other ranks.
Contact Detachment: a group of officers and soldiers whose job was to maintain contact between forward troops and commanders during major operations. Elements of the 17th Hussars provided this service on D-Day and into July 1944.
Counter-attack: an attack taken up in response to an enemy attack.
Cruiser: a type of heavily-armed warship larger and slower than a destroyer. “Belfast” is a reference to HMS Belfast, a light cruiser that supported the Normandy landings using heavy guns.
Destroyers: a fast and heavily-armed warship equipped for surface and anti-submarine warfare.
Division: a military formation one step up from a brigade. Canadian divisions were commanded by a major-general and numbered between 14,000 and 18,000 troops. Two or more brigades were grouped into a division, which also had attached field artillery, reconnaissance, signals, engineers, anti-tank, medium machine gun, and light anti-aircraft units.
Flank: a term meaning the sides of a military force, usually where they are vulnerable to attack.
Half track: a type of armoured fighting vehicle used in Allied and German armies featuring both wheels and tank-style tracks.
Hardtack: a simple type of biscuit or cracker, made from flour, water, and sometimes salt. It takes a long time to spoil, making it idea for military campaigns.
“Hornets”: German tank destroyers armed with 88-millimetre guns.
Infantry: a military term for foot soldiers.
M10’s: American-built tank destroyers armed with a 3-inch gun. The 105th Anti-Tank Battery, RCA used these in support of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division. The 17-pounder gun variant was known as an “Achilles” in the British Army.
Medium Regiment: a type of British or Canadian artillery regiment using 5.5-inch guns, heavier than the 25-pounder guns used by field regiments.
Military Medal: a gallantry award available to soldiers in the Canadian Army. Officers received the Military Cross.
Mortar: a category of artillery that fires “bombs” at angles greater than 45 degrees over short distances.
NAN sector, WHITE beach: the area on Juno Beach where the Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders came ashore. The coastal town of Bernières-sur-Mer covers much of this area.
Patriot: a reference to French resistance fighters and informers.
Platoon: the sub-unit found within a company numbering approximately 30-40 soldiers. Each company typically fielded three rifle platoons, each led by a lieutenant.
Round: a single bullet or shell fired from a gun.
Section: the sub-unit found within a platoon numbering approximately 10 soldiers.
Slidex: a hand-held, paper-based encryption system used at a low, front line (platoon, troop and section) level in the army. It helped to encrypt and decrypt messages sent by way of wireless telegraph.
Small arms: a general term for weapons carried by soldiers in battle — rifles, grenades, machine guns, sub-machine guns, pistols.
Sniper: typically a soldier equipped with a rifle and trained to shoot the enemy from a concealed position.
Strong point: a defensive position usually featuring multiple pillboxes, bunkers, trenches, machine guns, and other defences.
Troop: a sub-unit containing four tanks. A troop was usually in support of an infantry company.
West Wall: Likely a reference to the coastal defence network commonly known as the Atlantic Wall. Allied forces breached the Atlantic Wall at certain points on D-Day. Juno Beach was one of those points. The Siegfried Line in Germany was also known in German as the Westwall.
Military units and formations
The Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders were assigned to the 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade, 3rd Canadian Infantry Division.
4 SS Commando Bde: The 4th Special Service Brigade was a formation of British Commandos that participated in the D-Day landings and subsequent battles in Europe.
7th Armd Bde: 7th Armoured Brigade, a British tank formation.
8th Corp: The 8th British Corps, a corps headquarters containing multiple divisions. It is sometimes written as VIII Corps.
10 Cdn Armd Regt: The 10th Canadian Armoured Regiment (Fort Garry Horse), a tank regiment from Winnipeg.
11th Armd Div: 11th Armoured Division, a British tank and infantry formation.
15th Scottish Inf Division: a British infantry division mainly composed of units from Scotland.
17 Hussars: The 17th Duke of York’s Royal Canadian Hussars (7th Reconnaissance Regiment), the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division’s dedicated reconnaissance unit.
19 Fd Regt: The 19th Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery.
21 Pz Div: 21st Panzer Division, a German armoured formation containing tanks, motorized infantry and self-propelled guns. Named after a German division captured in North Africa.
27th Armd. Regt: The 27th Canadian Armoured Regiment (Sherbrooke Fusiliers), a tank regiment from southern Quebec.
44 R.T. Regt: The 44th Royal Tank Regiment, a British armoured regiment that arrived in Normandy on 9 June 1944.
49th Division: a British infantry division.
51st Highland Div: The 51st Highland Division, mainly composed of units from Scotland.
711 Div and 716 Div: German infantry divisions defending the Normandy coast on D-Day. Elements of 716 Division were responsible for defending the Juno Beach sector.
9 C.I.B: this is shorthand for the 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade, a formation to which the Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders belonged.
C.H.O.f O. or C.H.of O.: this is shorthand for the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa, a machine gun and mortar
Fort Garry Horse: a tank regiment from Winnipeg also known as the 10th Canadian Armoured Regiment.
Guards Armd Division: The Guards Armoured Division, a British tank and infantry formation.
HLI: The Highland Light Infantry of Canada, an infantry battalion from Kitchener, Ontario.
NNS: The North Nova Scotia Highlanders, an infantry battalion.
NSR: The North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment, an infantry battalion.
Q.O.R: The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, an infantry battalion from Toronto.
Regina Rifles: The Regina Rifle Regiment, an infantry battalion.
Regt de Chaud: Le Régiment de la Chaudière, an infantry battalion from the Quebec City area.
SDG: The Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders, an infantry battalion from southeastern Ontario.
L/Cpl = Lance Corporal
Cpl = Corporal
CSM = Company Sergeant Major
Lt = Lieutenant
Capt = Captain
Maj = Major
Brig = Brigadier
Abbreviations and shorthand
2 i/c = shorthand for second-in-command.
3 m platoon = shorthand for the battalion’s 3-inch mortar platoon.
8.8 = shorthand for the German 8.8 centimetre (88-millimetre) dual-purpose anti-tank and anti-aircraft gun.
60 cwt trucks = shorthand for 60-hundredweight (a payload rating) trucks used to carry troops and supplies.
105 mm = a reference to the American-built 105-millimetre howitzer commonly used by Allied armies.
A/A = Anti-aircraft
Admin = Administration
ADS = Advanced dressing station
“A” Ech = “A” Echelon, a sub-unit of a Canadian battalion under brigade control between three to five miles behind the front. It included quartermaster stores, repair equipment, spare transport and supplies, the rear battalion headquarters, and paymaster.
Armd = Armoured
Arty = Artillery
A/Tk or A/tk = Anti-tank
Bde = Brigade
BHQ = Battalion headquarters
BM = Brigade Major, the chief of staff of a brigade, commonly holding the rank of major and working closely with a Brigadier or brigade commanding officer.
Bn = Battalion
CCS = Canadian Corps of Signals
C.O. = Commanding Officer (usually in reference to a lieutenant-colonel in charge of the battalion or regiment).
Coy = Company, sometimes seen with a letter in quotation marks identifying the specific company (ex. “A” Coy = “A” Company).
Det = Detatchment
“DD’s” = Likely a reference to Duplex Drive swimming Sherman tanks. DD tanks had the ability to drive on land and in calm waters using flotation screens and propellers.
DF task = Defensive Fire task. These pre-planned taskings for the artillery were numbered and designated on a map in locations the enemy was expected to occupy during an attack.
Div = Division
D.R. = Dispatch Rider, usually on a motorcycle
Fd = Field
FOB = Forward Observer Bombardment, similar to the FOO below but usually linked to a Royal Navy ship or Royal Marine battery.
FOO = Forward Observation Officer, an officer from an artillery battery positioned with the infantry to relay requests for support and coordinate artillery strikes.
Gals = Gallons, a unit of volume.
Hy = Heavy
Inf = Infantry
Int sec = Intelligence section, a subunit of the battalion headquarters under the command of the intelligence officer.
L.O. = liaison officer
ME 109 = Messerschmitt Bf 109, a common German fighter aircraft.
MG = Machine gun
N.E. = Northeast
OAK = The codename for the Canadian D-Day objective beyond Juno Beach, sometimes referred to as the Oak Line
O.C. = Officer commanding, usually in reference to an officer commanding a company in the battalion
“O” Group = Orders Group, a meeting where officers relay orders to one another and coordinate their activities. May also include sergeants and corporals as the situation dictates.
O.P. = Observation post
O.R. = Other Ranks, meaning soldiers who are not officers
Nil = Nothing
Pdr = Pounder (size of a gun, ex. 25-pounder, 17-pounder, 6-pounder)
Pl = Platoon
Posns = Positions
Pz = Panzer, German for armour (ex. Panzer VI or “Tiger” tank; Panzer V or “Panther tank)
RAP = Regimental Aid Post
Recce = shorthand for reconnaissance
Regt = Regiment
R/T = Radio Telephony
Sec. = shorthand for section
Sigs = Signals
Sitrep = Shorthand for a situation report.
S.I.W. = Self-inflicted wound
SOS task = Similar to a DF task, an SOS task was also a pre-planned tasking for the artillery, usually on the most likely path of an enemy assault. The difference was that the SOS task was the default target that supporting guns would be calibrated for between actions. This allowed for more efficient fire support in emergency situations.
SP or Sp = Self-propelled, usually used in relation to guns (artillery)
Wi/T = Wireless Telegraphy
Van Gd = Vanguard, the group leading the way in a military movement
Yds = Yards, a unit of measurement
Slang and other military jargon
“Dusting” or “dust it up” = Slang for firing artillery at the enemy.
Gerry = German. Sometimes appears as “Jerry”.
“Up the Glens” = warcry of the Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders
Unit “Hedgehog” = an expression referencing an infantry battalion’s defensive positions.
Tape a patrol = literally taping pathways in no man’s land to assist patrols in finding their way around at night.
Intercept pick up report = likely a reference to signals intelligence (listening to the enemy’s radio traffic).