Getting Quotes from Attestation Papers

Attestation papers include declarations or oaths military recruits said out loud

Fourteen days after Canada declared War on Italy and the same day France signed an armistice with the country, my grandfather Richard Charles Himphen left his job as a baker’s helper to enlist in The Irish Regiment of Canada.

He said a declaration out loud, in front of someone whose name looks like Mr. Armstrong Cafo, although it might also be Captain M. Armstrong.

…I hereby engage to serve in the Canadian Active Service Force so long as an emergency, ie, war, invasion, riot or insurrection, real or apprehended, exists, and for the period of demobilization after said emergency ceases to exist, and in any event for a period of not less than one year, provided His Majesty should so require my services.”

Then he said:

I Richard Charles Himphen do solemnly promise and swear (or solemnly declare) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to His Majesty.”[1]

I know he said those words because they’re on his attestation papers. Although since no one crossed out one or the other I don’t know whether he “solemnly promised and swore” or “solemnly declared.” I suspect he did both because he was reading from the paper and it says both, but I don’t know.

(Note: If you want to read more about Richard Himphen, I have stories about his life here and here.)

Good Stories Need Quotes

Unless you have an ancestor who participated in a court case or worked as an actor, singer or writer, it can be difficult to obtain quotes from his or her life.

Military recruits, however, usually had to say declarations and oaths out loud in front of a witness and both had to sign to make enlistment legal. If that happened, the declarations and oaths will be on their attestation papers.

You also have the name of the witness if you can read his or her signature.

World War II

Most attestation papers include declarations and/or oaths, but not all. The attestation paper of Harry Denis Davy who enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force on February 14, 1919 doesn’t include either an attestation or an oath. Then again, it’s possible that there was a third page missing from his service record.[2]

James Fredrick Devitt served with the same unit and his attestation papers included a declaration and oath.

I James Patrick Devitt do solemnly declare that the foregoing particulars are true, and I hereby engage to serve on active service anywhere in Canada, and also beyond Canada and overseas, in the Royal Canadian Air Force for the duration of the present war, and for the period of demobilization thereafter, and in any event for a period of not less than one year, provided His Majesty should so long require my services.”[3]

Soldiers in other wars said different things.

World War I

During WWI, on October 29, 1915, bank clerk John Glass said:

I hereby engage and agree to serve in the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force, and to be attached to any arm of the service therein, for the term of one year, or during the war now existing between Great Britain and Germany should that war last longer than one year, and for six months after the termination of that war provided His Majesty should so long require my services, or until legally discharged.”

Boilermaker Arthur Luker said the exact same thing on June 24, 1916.

Steamfitter William Wright said the same thing on September 21, 1914.

Henry Hadley Jr.’s file doesn’t include an oath or declaration. He signed a Officers’ Declaration Paper on December 9, 1915 instead.

South African War

South African war recruits swore at least two declarations and two oaths. Farmer Henry Smith Munro, for example, swore on October 6, 1899 that he would:

…well and truly serve our Sovereign Lady The Queen in the Canadian Contingent for Active Service, until lawfully discharged, and that I will resist Her Majesty’s enemies, and cause Her Majesty’s peace to be kept on land and at sea, and that I will in all matters appertaining to my service faithfully discharge my duty, according to law. So help me God.[4]

Then, on December 24, 1901, he said:

I Henry Smith Munro, do sincerely promise and swear (or solemnly declare) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to His Majesty, King Edward VII, His Heirs and Successors and that I will faithfully defend Him and them in Person, Crown and Dignity, against all enemies and will obey all orders of the Officers set over me.[5]

Abbreviations Can be Tricky

As you go through the form, you definitely want to refer to a Canadian Archives’ abbreviations page to understand everything on the form.

Pay careful attention to marital status. Often, wives or husbands had to send letters to the recruiting office giving permission for someone to enlist. These letters are wonderful sources of direct information about your ancestor.

Also, look carefully for typical fields that remain blank. This might indicate that your ancestor intentionally left the field blank to make sure they would not be rejected. Eliza Richardson describes why nurses left several blanks on their attestation forms during World War I.

The Nursing Sisters who did not fit the camc requirements of age, education, and marital status bypassed regulations by deliberately abstaining from marking down pertinent information on their attestation forms. It is only through pairing Toman’s statistics with the personal accounts of Nursing Sisters in the form of letters, memoirs and photographs that these inconsistencies become clear and a more accurate picture of the composition of the Nursing Sisters becomes possible.”[6]

Look for Historical Context

After collecting information from the attestation papers of your relatives, you may want to do a search of academic papers on Google scholar to figure out how the information you learn fits within common assumptions about historical trends.

Now that attestation papers have been more widely digitized, historians have been examining them for health and sociological information. New interesting papers are constantly appearing.

A simple search informed me about a decades-long discussion questioning why statistics show soldiers at the beginning of World War I being shorter than those who served in the Anglo-Boer War even though there were only 14 years between the beginning of one war and the end of the second.

Last February, Martine Mariotti,  Johan Fourie and Kris Inwood from the Australian National University and the universities of Stellenbosch and Guelph came up with a theory to explain the discrepancy in their article Military Technology and Sample Selection Bias.

We posit that new technologies, and the changes in military strategy entailed by those technologies, explain the difference. The Anglo-Boer War, also termed ‘the last gentleman’s war’, was the last war to use cavalry lancers, a military strategy where height is a particular advantage. In contrast, the mechanization of weapons during WWI  meant that soldiers’ heights were no longer so important. In this case, improvements to military technology help to explain the apparent decline in stature between the two wars.[7]

If you have an ancestor who served as a soldier in WWI or the Anglo-Boer War, you might want to mark down his height and compare it to the average height of soldiers at that time. Then you can comment on whether he fits the general trend or not. You might also try to figure out whether his task was height-dependent.

Next Steps

If you want help writing stories about your ancestors using attestation papers, I’m offering a course that begins at the end of the month. You can find more information on my Teachable page. There’s also a free course about my four-step system for writing profiles on that same page.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear what you discover about Canadian military attestation papers in the comments.



[1] Himphen, Richard Charles; Library and Archives Canada, R112, volume 30826.

[2] Davy, Harry; Library and Archives Canada, RG-24, volume 25178.

[3] Devitt, James Frederick; Library and Archives Canada, RG-24, volume 25203.

[4] Munro, Henry Smith; Department of Veterans Affairs fonds, RG38, volume 11170, T-2079, p1.

[5] Munro, Henry Smith; Department of Veterans Affairs fonds, RG38, volume 11170, T-2079, p10.

[6] Richardson, Eliza. “Sister Soldiers of the Great War: The Nurses of the Canadian Army Medical Corps (Book Review)” by Cynthia Toman,” Canadian Military History: Vol. 27 : Iss. 1, Article 9. Available at:, accessed January 5, 2019.

[7] Fourie, Johan, Martine Mariotti and Kris Inwood. “Military Technology and Sample Selection Bias,” Stellenbosch Working Paper Series No. WP03/2018, February 2018,


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Funny Friday: John Cleese comes to Canada

John Cleese is coming to Canada in May. He's not coming to Montreal, but if you live in Halifax, Toronto, Kitchener, London, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Calgary or Victoria, you're in luck. Get your tickets before they sell out. If you want a hilarious read, pick up John Cleese's biography So Anyway. For today, though, I'll remind you of my favourite Cleese joke from a blog post he did in 2012.


The English are feeling the pinch in relation to recent events in Syria and have therefore raised their security level from "Miffed" to "Peeved." Soon, though, security levels may be raised yet again to "Irritated" or even "A Bit Cross." The English have not been "A Bit Cross" since the blitz in 1940 when tea supplies nearly ran out. Terrorists have been re-categorized from "Tiresome" to "A Bloody Nuisance." The last time the British issued a "Bloody Nuisance" warning level was in 1588, when threatened by the Spanish Armada.


The Scots have raised their threat level from "Pissed Off" to "Let's get the Bastards." They don't have any other levels. This is the reason they have been used on the front line of the British army for the last 300 years.


The French government announced yesterday that it has raised its terror alert level from "Run" to "Hide." The only two higher levels in France are "Collaborate" and "Surrender." The rise was precipitated by a recent fire that destroyed France's white flag factory, effectively paralysing the country's military capability.


Italy has increased the alert level from "Shout Loudly and Excitedly" to "Elaborate Military Posturing." Two more levels remain: "Ineffective Combat Operations" and "Change Sides."


The Germans have increased their alert state from "Disdainful Arrogance" to "Dress in Uniform and Sing Marching Songs." They also have two higher levels: "Invade a Neighbour" and "Lose."


Belgians, on the other hand, are all on holiday as usual; the only threat they are worried about is NATO pulling out of Brussels.


The Spanish are all excited to see their new submarines ready to deploy. These beautifully designed subs have glass bottoms so the new Spanish navy can get a really good look at the old Spanish navy.


Australia, meanwhile, has raised its security level from "No worries" to "She'll be alright, Mate." Two more escalation levels remain: "Crikey! I think we'll need to cancel the barbie this weekend!" and "The barbie is cancelled." So far no situation has ever warranted use of the last final escalation level.
-- John Cleese - British writer, actor and tall person, A final thought -
 Greece is collapsing, the Iranians are getting aggressive, and Rome is in disarray. Welcome back to 430 BC.

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About Pages that Serve and Surprise

Ten people in Canada have done a great job using effective about pages to build interest in what they do. Readers know real people wrote these stories.

I collected these effective about pages to give private clients a few good ideas about how they can up-level their websites. None of these pages are perfect. As a writer, there were several copywriting and grammar mistakes I itched to correct. One person has too many capital letters in the text. Many of these pages would work much better with improved formatting and structure. Still, all of these pages work beautifully despite their flaws. Each of these authors excels at what they do. Each person describes their expertise in a way that makes readers understand that there’s a real person behind their stories. I don’t know any of these people. My opinions about who they are and what they do are limited to what’s reflected on their about pages. Still, after reading these pages, I feel like I’ve already met these people in person. I want to see them again. Those are the best emotions anyone can have after reading an awesome about page. More than anything else, an about page invites someone to connect. Here are my favourite Canadian about pages, so you can meet these people too.

Ten Fabulous About Pages

Howie Chong

Environmentalist Howie Chong looks very approachable on his about page. Normally, I encourage people to divide ideas up into multiple sentences but I like Howie’s statement about what he does anyway. This single sentence somehow encapsulates his past, present and future all at once.
Holding environmental degrees from both Yale and McGill, I’m currently a campaigner at, where I use digital tools to marshall popular power to fight oil and gas projects and protect forest ecosystems.
The photo of him teaching a class on the Antarctic Peninsula also gets points. I want to go there.

Adam Dodek

Ottawa Law professor Adam Dodek gets full marks for putting a personal touch on his professional academic about page. The third sentence of his long page says:
I love teaching and have been fortunate to teach so many great students at the University of Ottawa and before that at Osgoode Hall Law School and at the University of Toronto where I began my teacher career before moving to Ottawa.  One of the highlights of my career was receiving the Capital Educators Award as one of the top teachers in Ottawa in 2012.
This is after he begins telling us he is a proud Canadian, teacher, scholar, husband and father. There are many many professional qualifications on this perhaps-a-touch-too-long page, so it’s impressive that the few personal touches stand out so strongly. I want to interview this man for my podcast.

Sylvia Duckworth

An infographic about the 12 benefits of creativity on her about page provides everything I want to know about Toronto-based teacher Sylvia Duckworth. My favourite benefit is:
Creativity allows you to enter your happy zone and have fun.
I can’t say anything more meaningful about her wonderful masterpiece.

Hilary Elizabeth

What is it about young people these days? They all seem to know how to insert their personalities into their web pages. Ottawa-based Hilary Elizabeth has an about page for her photography service that makes me want to hire her. Then again, she wrote:
You'll catch me singing along to country music anywhere I go, and will probably see me singing and dancing along to your music on your wedding day. I'm a quieter person, which helps me to blend in on your wedding day to be able to capture those special candid moments between you and your loved ones.
This really speaks to me, but maybe it’s because I love country music too.

Corbin Fraser

Blogger Corbin Fraser describes his passion for backpacking throughout Canada on his fun irreverent about page. My favourite sentence breaks all the rules in terms of length and grammar, yet still tells a compelling story that makes readers want to connect to this charming young man.
Coming home to the prairies took some adjusting, it had been nearly 5 years since I spent an entire winter in the -40 to -50 degree cold; however, being centrally located in Canada has allowed me to quickly hop, skip, and jump from province to province with my now fiancé and cover more of Canada.
Congratulations Corbin.

Sarah Granskou

Kitchener Ontario-based Sarah Granskou presents musical theatre. Her skills include fiddle, mouth-harp, music, puppetry, spoken word and textile artistry. She describes her training in a single captivating paragraph on her about page.
Growing up, Sarah’s awareness of her heritage manifested in food traditions, a few Norwegian swear words, and an imitation Sami hat which was worn on birthdays. Granskou’s first profound experience in Norway was, in fact, amongst the Sami reindeer herders of the North, where she learned their wordless singing. Then, with her great-grandfather’s fiddle in her backpack, Sarah traveled extensively on ski, hut-to-hut in southern Norway.
I hope she performs in Montreal so that I can easily attend.

T. Erin Gruber

Visual artist T. Erin Gruber lives in or near Edmonton but travels across Canada to design theatre sets, make costumes, produce visual displays and take care of lighting. Her about me page reigns as the most complicated of those listed here, but it includes awards in all four of her specialties. Her description of how she handles lighting reads like poetry.
Colour, contrast and dynamic angles are the most noticeable aspects of my designs. Driven by adaptability - a desire to balance projected media content - means my work is about highlighting action and controlling focus.
This text also clearly demonstrates her workplace philosophy. Add that to quirky photos and an easy-to-read format sets up the entire page for impact.

Andé Major

Third-generation real estate broker André Major has been working in his industry since 1978. Given that expertise, it’s impressive that his about page contains only six brief paragraphs. His most impressive project appears in only two sentences, but they are so complete, his expertise shows through.
For six years until 2016, I applied my accumulated experience helping the City of Ottawa as a real estate acquisitions consultant for the Light Rapid Transit (LRT) project. My primary focus was team negotiations related to integrating the 6 tunnel station entrances with adjacent office and retail buildings.
That job could not have been easy. André, congratulations for describing a lot of experience in a pithy paragraph.

Naomi Prohaska

The about page of Pemberton native Naomi Prohaska proves what an outstanding story and a superb photograph can do. This 16-year old is the youngest person ever to climb Mount Logan. Here’s how she starts her story.
My name is Naomi Prohaska and I would rather be in the mountains. I am 16 years old and live in Pemberton BC Canada. I have been so blessed to grow up in such an active community. Pemberton is a 30 minute drive from Whistler BC, one of the best places to ski in the world. Keep going south and you reach Squamish, one of the best places to rock climb in North America. I am surrounded by such incredible sports all the time. I have grown up in the midst of boundaries being pushed and records being broken.
Naomi will climb Denali this coming spring. Expect great things from this young Canadian.

George Veletsianos

With his about page, Victoria-based professor George Veletsianos demonstrates how you can take a typical academic bio and make it read as though a real person wrote it. Every sentence describes extraordinary accomplishments in a straightforward way that anyone can understand. My favourite statement describes what Veletsianos does.
My research aims to understand and improve teaching, learning, and participation in emerging digital environments. I achieve this by examining the practices and experiences of learners, educators, and scholars with/in online learning, social media, and open education/scholarship.
If you want a traditional about page, this is a good model. Then again, the stellar accomplishments are among the reasons this about page shines. Especially since the photo shows a young man with a less-than-elegant suit and a loose tie, which makes him seem way more approachable than the qualifications imply. So, what makes an amazing about page, anyway? I think there are only three firm requirements. A good about page must be personal and unique. It must identify what readers can hope to get. It must also include some way of connecting with the author.

Three Questions to Ask Yourself

All the about pages I like best tell a clear story. To build yours, answer three questions:
  1. What’s unique or weird about you?
  2. Why should readers care?
  3. How can readers connect with you?
In my case, my page describes my seasonal Canadian life. I describe who needs my services and how working with me will attract clients and save time. I’m also part of a genealogy writers’ group, and I like our about page there too. It's designed to encourage people to keep reading our blog. You might like me or hate me after reading these two pages, but either way, you’ll know if you want to continue reading my work. Technology has changed over the years, but the perfect about page hasn’t changed much. It still has to be personal, quirky and clear, just like Rachel Macdonald described in 2014.

Other tips for the perfect about page

Macdonald’s questions about how to write a perfect “about” page resonate just as well today as when she originally wrote her piece. Her initial question “how do you want your reader to feel?” expresses the quintessential aim of anyone crafting an effective about page. Read her wisdom at Sonia Simone from Copyblogger wrote much the same thing in her guide to writing an about page this summer. Sonia pointed out three crucial points that I didn’t specifically mention earlier, but all the about pages I like follow the same three rules.
  1. Make sure your about page mentions your full name (or your pen name if you wish).
  2. Include a photo of you, preferably doing something active.
  3. Outline your credentials.
If you like checklists, Barry Feldman from Orbit media uses the letters in the word “about” to create a checklist acronym. His post is also worth reading. All of my about page examples feature individuals, but if you want to create a compelling company about page, Alexander Kesler from the Search Engine Journal has put together a list of 25 company about pages. Samples he likes include Mailchimp and Amnesty International. Do you have any specific about pages you like? If so, link to them below and tell me why they work.

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Farewell 2018, hello 2019

We are now well into the twenty-first century. The hopes and dreams of our ancestors are well within reach or even surpassed. So where do we go from here?

Personally, I’m inspired in part by the words of preeminent feminist scholar and philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft. Wollstonecraft lived in London, Britain between April 27, 1759, and September 10, 1797. (One of her children, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, is the famous writer of Frankenstein.)

Wollstonecraft’s first commercial success was a political pamphlet. She wrote “A Vindication of the Rights of Men” in 1790 to respond to Edmund Burke’s “Reflections on the Revolution in France”. In it, she wrote:

In life, an honest man with a confined understanding is frequently the slave of his habits and the dupe of his feelings, whilst the man with a clearer head and colder heart makes the passions of others bend to his interest; but truly sublime is the character that acts from principle, and governs the inferior springs of activity without slackening their vigour; whose feelings give vital heat to his resolves, but never hurry him into feverish eccentricities.[1]

‘During, 2019, I will focus on “acting from principle” and “governing the inferior springs of activity without slackening their vigour.”

I summarize those ideas with the word “peaceful.”

Before focusing on 2019, I think it’s worth reflecting on what happened in 2018.

Slow Start to the Year

Last year’s word for me was “active.” Eventually, the word helped me succeed with several projects. Early in the year, however, I struggled to figure out what to do with my ambitions.

I don’t know what to do with my government action intentions yet, and this problem really stopped me early in 2018. Part of my problem stems from a bruised ego after losing the municipal election late in 2017. There’s a bigger issue with my identity too though. During the election campaign, I gave up a long-held conviction for neutral observance as a journalist and became a clearly biased wannabe politician. Both personas enabled me to share a passion for public service, but neutral journalism is no longer possible. Since I don’t want to practice opinionated journalism either, I haven’t yet figured out how to evolve further. For most of 2018, I avoided writing about municipal politics altogether. I didn’t write much journalism at all in 2018, as you’ll know if you’ve been following the Arialview blog or The Suburban.

I continued writing, although primarily for clients. Those contracts enabled me to study behavioural science, the collaborative economy and how people participate in a just, democratic society. Much of the resulting work will be published over the next two years.

I also began speaking and teaching people how to write well in 2018 and this will continue in earnest in 2019.

Family History Presentations

The earliest speaking gig took place in February along with two other members of Genealogy Ensemble.

My favourite of these was a group presentation to the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa (BIFHSGO) group back in February. The presentation took place in a wonderful venue, The Chamber, Ben Franklin Place, 101 Centrepointe Drive, Ottawa, Ontario. Afterwards, we met with the organization’s writing group and received a warm welcome there also.

I recently turned my portion of the presentation at that event into a free course called “Four Steps to Profile Your Ancestors.” It only takes 23 minutes to go through it. Let me know what you think!

Also, BIFHSGO has another wonderful presentation in the same space two weekends from now. Two sisters, Kristen den Hartog and Tracy Kasaboski will be speaking about how they combined their family history research into a book called “The Cowkeeper’s Wish.” Unfortunately, I can’t attend the presentation, which is open to the public and takes place from 10 until 11:30 am on Saturday, January 12. To keep up with the sisters’ work, however, I’ve signed up for updates when they add to their blog,

Raif Badawi Freedom Award

Another highlight from 2018 took place on April 26 when the Montreal Press Club celebrated its 70th anniversary by awarding jailed Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi with its first ever Freedom Award.

It was such an honour to have dinner with his wife Ensaf Haider and his children Maryam, Doudi and Najwa, who now live in Sherbrooke.

Controversial philosopher Jordan B. Peterson also spoke at the event.

A month later, on May 28, the City of Montreal made Badawi an honourary citizen of the city.

Every Friday at noon, they hold a vigil at the Sherbrooke City Hall to bring Badawi to Canada so that he can be reunited with his wife and children. Friday will be the 158th such event.

I can’t wait to welcome Badawi to Canada.

After that event, activities with the Urban Abundance Solidarity Cooperative (CAUS) took over my schedule.

Promoting Local Food Production

My work with CAUS last year featured a compost project, farmers’ markets, shared gardens and a new member retail outlet at Verdun’s Municipal Greenhouse. Our membership is growing and we extended our Wednesday farmers’ markets into the autumn, a pilot project that will continue in 2019.

Members also re-elected me onto the board of Grand Potager, the non-profit that has turned the municipal greenhouses into an urban agriculture resource centre. The 2018 year marked the first of self-sustaining operations for the new organization. Our 2019 goal will be fundraising to replace the older production greenhouses. That’s been a joy to be a part of.

I’m going to continue exploring how Canada can become more self-sufficient, particularly when it comes to food. I’m excited about continuing the farmers’ markets, compost project and member retail centre with CAUS. I also have two additional projects planned—fruit baskets and a local food application.

Unapologetically Canadian

The year 2018 also marked the beginning of my audio investigation of what it means to be Canadian. During the year, I spoke to courageous people working hard to make our country stronger and kinder while making sure that their own lives have meaning.

It’s a great honour to continue working on that project in the coming year.

Exploring the Nature of Truth

I also plan to continue exploring the nature of truth as “that which corresponds to reality.” My work encouraging Canadians to create Notable Nonfiction in the fields of business, genealogy and journalism will continue.

I’m also planning to explore and promote the incredible leaps and bounds we’re taking in the fields of high tech and artificial intelligence while working equally hard to protect human health. There’s no doubt that we are all undergoing a giant experiment right now, and I’m committed to reconciling the two realities.

Part of that work will be the long-awaited book about how Canada changed because of World War II. If you’d like to be among the beta readers, please let me know.

In the meantime, enjoy the beginning of what I hope will be a wonderfully productive year.

For me, I’m particularly inspired by Thomas Paine’s argument that each of us is born with equal rights and that the state must protect those rights while giving us the ability to keep control over its efforts through voting and other democratic innovations.

I also agree with Jean-Paul Sartre that each of us must choose what we do with our lives to ensure meaning. Simone de Beauvoir’s extension of his ideas to encourage women to recognize our own freedom and in doing so free ourselves from a society whose rules and values have traditionally stemmed from men.

So, here’s to freedom and meaning in 2019.

[1] Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Men, in a Letter to the Right Honourable Edmund Burke, occasioned by his Reflections on the Revolution in France (2nd edition London, Printed for J. Johnson, 1790),, accessed 1/1/2019.

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