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Vehicle Markings of the Canadian Expeditionary Force

August 4, 2014

by Clive M. Law

Shortly after the outbreak of the First World War the First Contingent of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) sailed for Britain with a small supply of motorcycles, cars and trucks. Many of these were privately owned and had been impressed into military service by the owners’ Commanding Officer.

The first vehicle marking instructions were issued by the War Office and included the major formations as well as Commonwealth troops. MilArt photo archives

The first vehicle marking instructions were issued by the War Office and included the major formations as well as Commonwealth troops. MilArt photo archives

To support the Contingent the Department of Militia and Defence (M&D) made a small purchase of trucks to act as General Service Lorries and which were intended to follow the Canadian troops to France. The purchase was far from the War Establishment of an Infantry Division which called for 355 vehicles, used almost exclusively by the Ammunition Column and the Service Corps. With no domestic manufacturing capability headquarters found itself buying US-made vehicles. Ultimately, they bought vehicles from eight different suppliers. Worse, many of the trucks purchased were unsuited for their role and suffered early breakdowns while in England. Aggravating the situation was that spare parts for these trucks could only be obtained in the US. Once the War Office saw the state of the Division’s Mechanized Transport (MT) they undertook to replace the vehicles with those that met War Office (WO) specifications. Even then, there were six different makes amongst the 51 trucks supplied by the British.

Official drawing of the 2nd Canadian Division's "C-Two" mark. This copied the division's battle patch as worn by officers.

Official drawing of the 2nd Canadian Division’s “C-Two” mark. This copied the division’s battle patch as worn by officers. MilArt photo archives

Note the "C-Two" identification plate, shown here above the cowl on the nearest truck, and attached to the cab roof on the others, MilArt photo archives

Note the “C-Two” identification plate, shown here above the cowl on the nearest truck, and attached to the cab roof on the others, MilArt photo archives

In keeping with the wishes of the War Office, the Canadians obtained additional trucks which met with British General Service (GS) specifications. These were acquired by either purchasing the trucks from the British trade or, once in France, indenting for their needs to British Army headquarters. By the time the Armistice was signed, the CEF held in excess of 3,000 vehicles, most of which were transport lorries with a small sprinkling of cars, ambulances and motorcycles.

Following the designs suggested for the higher formations instructions followed for marking vehicles in lower formations. MilArt photo archives

Following the designs suggested for the higher formations instructions followed for marking vehicles in lower formations. MilArt photo archives

This Kelly Springfield shows a trefoil signifying that it is from a Supply Column. The sign is carried on the cab roof as well as on the side. The "Canada" is unofficial while the meaning of the "Roads" plate is unknown.

This Kelly Springfield shows a trefoil signifying that it is from a Supply Column. The sign is carried on the cab roof as well as on the side. The “Canada” is unofficial while the meaning of the “Roads” plate is unknown. Milart photo archives

Another Supply Column vehcile but with a cab-roof plate showing that it is from the 1st Canadian Division. MilArt photo archives

Another Supply Column vehicle but with a cab-roof plate showing that it is from the 1st Canadian Division. MilArt photo archives

Late in the war the War Office determined that vehicles needed to be better identified for both ownership and purpose. At the time horse-drawn equipment carried no marks and, with no established system from which to draw upon, the War Office put forth a scheme consisting primarily of graphics. Some of these graphics were already in use as Army, Corps or Divisional marks while others had been put into use to identify the type and nature pf supplies headed to the front lines. Lastly, a graphic could be used in different colours or colour combinations. The use of these vehcile markings was also extended to horse-drawn equipment.

Another 1st Canadian Division vehicle, this one marked to an ammunition park. MilArt photo archives

Another 1st Canadian Division vehicle, this one marked to an ammunition park. MilArt photo archives

 

As the war progressed vehcile markings were further refined. This scheme, specific to the Canadian Engineers, was introduced in late August 1918. The format has a plain triangle for Brigade HQs and the addition of a vertical bar for each Battalion. The other devices identify the specific Division. MilArt photo archives

As the war progressed vehicle markings were further refined. This scheme, specific to the Canadian Engineers, was introduced in late August 1918. The format has a plain triangle for Brigade HQs and the addition of a vertical bar for each Battalion. The other devices identify the specific Division. MilArt photo archives

With most of these vehicle marks coming into use in the last year of the war it is not surprising that few photos of these exist.

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From → Vehicles

One Comment
  1. Clive,

    Here is another vehicle marked ‘Roads’: http://www.rcsigs.ca/index.php/File:Digging_in_signals_cable_WW1.jpg

    And a vehicle showing the Signals marking: http://www.rcsigs.ca/index.php/File:DR_section_vehicles_WW1_1.jpg

    Cheers, Joe.

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