In the fall of 1943, a scheme was devised whereby Canadian Infantry Officers could volunteer to serve with Regiments of the British Army. This came about due to the many campaigns fought by the British Army, half way around the world, which resulted in a shortage of junior officers, while the invasion of North-West Europe was imminent.
The Canadian Army at this time had a surplus of officers, due in part to the disbanding of two Home Defence divisions, and also to the fact that the Canadian Army was fighting on one front only, in Italy. Officer training continued and it was discovered that Canada had more officers than could be employed in active battalions, at this time, with the result that many were cooling their heels in Reinforcement Units, Depots, and Training Centres.
The Canadian Government offered to loan junior officers to the British Army on a voluntary basis, under the code name “CANLOAN”. They were attached for all purposes except pay and given special serial numbers with the prefix “CDN”.
Six hundred and twenty three (623) Infantry Officers, together with fifty (50) Ordnance Officers, whom the Royal Army Ordnance Corps were anxious to have, volunteered and served under the CANLOAN scheme, a total of six hundred and seventy-three (673) in all. While the majority were Junior Officers, Captains were included on the basis of one for every seven Lieutenants. Some officers with higher ranks reverted and some from other arms of the service transferred to Infantry, in order that they could get in on this promise of early action.
In the early spring of 1944 all officers who volunteered were interviewed by a special Selection Board, and on acceptance were sent to A-34 Special Officers’ Training Centre, Sussex, NB, where they underwent a short refresher course, while the necessary preparations for overseas service were speedily completed. During this phase they were under the command of Brig. Milton F. Gregg VC, MC, who, because of his continued keen interest in the welfare of all CANLOAN, is regarded as their Colonel-in-Chief and became Honorary President of the post-war CANLOAN Army Officers’ Association. From Sussex they proceeded overseas in drafts of from fifty to two hundred, the first draft arriving on April 7th, 1944 and the remainder following in short order. They were immediately posted to British regiments, as far as possible to the British Regiment, if any, to which their Canadian Regiment was affiliated.
CANLOAN Officers took part in the bitter fighting in North-West Europe in 1944-45, many landing with the Airborne Forces on D-1, and with the seaborne assault on the Normandy beaches, and some surviving through the final battles in Germany. A few served with British Regiments in Italy, and, although the plan was for service in North-West Europe and the Mediterranean only, a number volunteered for other theatres with a few eventually serving in South-East Asia. Some, after being wounded, were returned to duty through the reinforcement stream and were posted to new units; thus many served with two or more regiments and formations. They received normal wartime (temporary) promotion within their British units, some becoming Company Commanders and in at least one case, CO of his battalion. While with the British regiments they wore normal British unit and formation badges and shoulder patches plus the “Canada” shoulder flash.
Killed in Action or died of wounds 128 (20%)
Wounded 310 (50%)
Prisoners of war 27 (5% )
Total Casualties 465 (75%)
41 Military Crosses (1 with bar) 1 Silver Star (US) 1 Distinguished Service Cross 4 Croix de Guerre (French) 1 M.B.E. 1 Order of Bronze Lion (Dutch)
An unrecorded number of “Mentions in Dispatches” and C-in-Cs Commendations.
In addition, CANLOAN volunteers already wore 2 Distinguished Conduct Medals and 6 Military Medals for previous service in the ranks of the Canadian Army.
That the CANLOAN Scheme was a success is shown by the report published in the Official History of the Canadian Army, under the authority of the department of National Defence:
“The CANLOAN scheme may be accounted decidedly successful; the gallant young officers loaned to the British Army under its terms did their country credit and made a distinguished and significant contribution to the Military effort of the Commonwealth and the winning of the war”
During a pilgrimage to Great Britain and North-West Europe by CANLOAN veterans and their families in 1968, they were received and honoured by the Royal Family at St James Palace, by their former Regiments, by the Corporation of the City of London and by Officials of other European Governments. The Lord Mayor of London, Sir Gilbert Inglefield, at an official luncheon at the Mansion House, paid them tribute with these words:
“……In 1944 when the war was at its height, 673 young officers came over to help us, for our need was very great. One is perhaps reminded of the call recorded in the Acts of the Apostles when St Paul had a vision of a man who said ‘Come over into Macedonia and help us.’ And help came. ‘Come over to England and help us’ he might have said, and help came for our depleted ranks when our need was greatest…..”
In a peaceful park on the banks of the Rideau River in Ottawa stands a simple memorial, on which are recorded the names, CDN numbers and British Regiments of the 128 fatal CANLOAN casualties. It was unveiled on 3 June 1961 by the Governor General of Canada, General The Right Honourable Georges P. Vanier, PC, DSO, MC, CD in the presence of the British High Commissioner, Canadian and British Government representatives and CANLOAN veterans, next-of-kin and friends from all parts of Canada. The memorial bears this inscription:
“Erected by the Governments of Canada and the United Kingdom, the British Regiments, the CANLOAN Army Officers’ Association, and CANLOAN next-of-kin. Designated CANLOAN, 673 Canadian Officers volunteered for loan to the British Army and took part in the invasion and liberation of Europe 1944-45. CANLOAN total casualties were 465, of which 128 were fatal. Their fallen are honoured in this quiet place in gratitude and remembrance of the cost of liberty”.
Official History of the Canadian Army in the Second World War, Volume III, The Victory Campaign, by Col C P Stacey. Pp 633-635.
Codeword CANLOAN, by Dr Wilfred I Smith; Dundurn Press 1992
A CANLOAN Officer, by R F Fendick, privately published 2001.
Iron Division, (The history of the 3rd British Division) by Robin McNish, Ian Allan Ltd London (Revised and re-published by HQ 3 Armoured Division), pp 110-112.
We understand the CANLOAN Army Officers Association has disbanded. The Centre is happy to receive any information or archive material in respect of CANLOAN and continues to host this page as a reference.