The First Canadian Army was a field army formed in 1942 during the Second World War. It became an international force in 1943, when Allied units were added to keep the army up to strength. The First Canadian Army was commanded by A.G.L. McNaughton and H.D.G. “Harry” Crerar.
Canadian servicemen were first sent overseas in December 1939, not long after the outbreak of the Second World War. As numbers increased, it became necessary to reorganize the Canadian forces serving overseas. The First Canadian Army was formed in 1942 under Lieutenant-General A.G.L. McNaughton. It comprised approximately 170,000 men organized in two corps (1st Canadian Corps and 2nd Canadian Corps).
The First Canadian Army spent much of 1942 training in England, preparing for invasion. McNaughton's aim was to keep the Canadian Army together to lead the cross-channel assault on northwest Europe. Instead, the Canadian government sent 1st Canadian Corps to serve in the Italian campaign in 1943 so that Canadian troops could see action. Because the existence of an identifiably Canadian army was important at home, Allied formations were added to the First Canadian Army to keep it up to strength.
General H.D.G. Crerar, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief First Canadian Army, cutting the ribbon to open the Walsh Bridge, the longest (1286 feet) Canadian Bailey bridge in the world, built by the Royal Canadian Engineers (R.C.E.), Mook, Netherlands,
26 February 1945.
(photo by Lieut. Barney J. Gloster / Canada. Dept. of National Defence, courtesy Library and Archives Canada / PA-145699)
In 1944, the First Canadian Army (now commanded by Lieutenant-General H.D.G. “Harry” Crerar) went into battle on the left flank in France, Belgium and the Netherlands, clearing the Channel coast after the Normandy Invasion. At that point, it had more Allied than Canadian troops, including contingents of British, Polish, American and Dutch infantry and armoured soldiers. The balance was restored in March 1945 following the Rhineland campaign, when the Canadians in Italy rejoined First Canadian Army for the Liberation of the Netherlands.
A.G.L. McNaughton (6 April 1942–26 December 1943)
Kenneth Stuart (acting command 27 December 1943–20 March 1944)
H.D.G. Crerar (20 March 1944–30 July 1945)
Guy Simonds (acting command 27 September 1944–8 November 1944)
Victory Parade marchpast of massed pipe bands of the First Canadian Army, The Hague, Netherlands, 21 May 1945.
(photo by Lieut. Donald I. Grant / Canada. Dept. of National Defence, courtesy Library and Archives Canada / PA-135978)