I”m not sure how I ended up there, but yesterday I found myself knee-deep in World War I research. In particular I was reading up on the Canadian Railway Troops (CRT) and the 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish) to which grandpa and his brother (my granduncle) belonged respectively.
Going over my granduncle’s military file (search Attestation Forms at CollectionsCanada, then order a copy of the entire file for around $30), I found that while it was true he belonged to the 16th Battalion when he died, he had only belonged to them for a month before he was killed. His short career in the army saw him transferred between four different battalions.
Grandpa on the othe other hand, being older, enlisted earlier in January 1915 and was transferred only once, from his enlisted battalion (58th) to the 1st Canadian Pioneers, which later became known as the 9th CRT. His paybook and file paysheets list him as a Steam Tractor Engineer & Repairs.
For an interesting description of what it was like in France, and in particular being part of a CRT company, download and read France & Flanders: four years experience told in poem & story (1919) by W. Brindle, a Sapper (roughly the engineer equivalent of a Private). What a promising source InternetArchive (www.archive.org, Canadian version) is!
Another wonderful source of information I found was the CEF (Canadian Expeditionary Force) Study Group. Try searching on your ancestor’s battalion to begin with, or just browse.. The amount of accumulated knowledge on this site is formidable.
Finding out what happened on a specific day in the war in a particular battalion is actually quite easy–search on the battalion and read the War Diaries. Almost everyday entries were made describing what the battalion did on that day. Although very few names are specifically mentioned, it can give you a very good overview of what things your ancestor did on a day-to-day basis, and show what happened the day, as in my granduncle’s case, your ancestor died.
There are many many books out there written on specific battalions and battles. If you are researching the 16th Battalion as I am, I highly recommend Brave Battalion by Mark Zuehlke (Chapters, Amazon). Last night I read 4 pages detailing what happened October 1st, 1918, giving me a pretty good idea exactly what my granduncle’s last morning was like, and how and where (and why) he was likely killed. Thank you to my sister for giving me this book for Christmas!