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Canada's military was small, ill-equipped and poorly trained when the Second World War began in September 1939. The run-down and derelict condition of the nation’s military was the result of 20 years of government neglect and cutbacks following the First World War.

In 1939 the Permanent Active Militia (professional soldiers) consisted of roughly 4,000 members; the Non-Permanent Active Militia (reserves) boasted 51,000 members, but their training was inconsistent and involved the use of outdated equipment and the practice of similarly outdated tactics.

By the end of the Second World War (August 1945) Canada had assembled, trained, and equipped a fighting force exceeding one million men and women:



Air Force






Canadian soldiers, sailors, and airmen participated in campaigns in Italy, Northwest Europe, the North Atlantic, the Pacific, and the Far East. 45,000 Canadians were killed and another 54,000 were seriously wounded during the war. Official statistics from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission break down the fatality numbers as follows:



Air Force




Merchant Navy


Unidentified Serviceman






These figures account for 1,298 individuals who died during 1946 and 1947 from injuries sustained and/or diseases contracted as a direct result of their participation in the war.

Some of the heaviest casualties sustained by Canadian forces came as result of their participation in the following battles or campaigns. During the ill-fated allied raid on the French port of Dieppe (August 19, 1942) 907 of the nearly 6,000 soldiers who took part in the operation were killed; 2,460 were wounded; and, 1,874 were taken prisoners. Canadian troops taking part in D-Day operations (June 6, 1944) sustained a casualty rate of 50 percent during the first hours of the assault.

The loss of Canadian lives was not restricted to overseas locations. German U-boats operated in Canadian and Newfoundland waters throughout the war, sinking many naval and merchant vessels. Among those lost to U-boat attacks were the HMCS SS Rose Castle and PLM 27 on 2 November 1942. Sixty-nine lives were lost as a result of these attacks. The Newfoundland Railway ferry SS Caribou was torpedoed and sunk in the Cabot Strait on the night of 14 October 1942, claiming 137 lives.

The cost of victory was steep. The generation of young men who served during the Second World War paid a staggeringly high price for the Allies’ victory. Thousands of Canadian veterans lived for years with a variety of physical and psychological ailments stemming from their participation in the war - many of these individuals continue to shoulder these burdens.


Wikipedia “World War II casualties.” (accessed October, 2007)

Canadian War Museum. “Counting the Cost: More than 42,000 Canadians lost their lives as a result of the Second World War.” (accessed October, 2007)

World War II Multimedia Database. “Canada in World War II.” (accessed October, 2007)

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