The following rank structure prevailed in World War II and through the Korean War. Armed Forces unification altered things significantly in the 1960s, and other changes have occurred as the Canadian military has become more closely linked with that of the United States. There are any number of websites that will allow the reader to explore the niceties of current and former rank structures.
Navy Army Air Force
Ordinary Seaman – OS Private – Pte* Aircraftman 2 – AC2
Able Seaman – AB Aircraftman 1 – AC1
Leading Seaman – LS Lance Corporal – LCpl* Leading Aircraftman – LAC*
Corporal – Cpl* Corporal – Cpl
Petty Officer – PO Sergeant – Sgt* Sergeant – Sgt
Chief Petty Officer – CPO Staff Sergeant – SSgt Flight Sergeant – F/S
Warrant Officer 2 – WO2 Warrant Officer 2 – WO2
Warrant Officer – WO Warrant Officer 1 – WO1 Warrant Officer 1 – WO1
Midshipman Second Lieutenant – 2Lt Pilot Officer – P/O
Sub Lieutenant – SLt Lieutenant – Lt Flying Officer – F/O
Lieutenant – Lt Captain – Capt Flight Lieutenant – F/L
Lieutenant Commander – LCdr Major – Maj Squadron Leader – S/L
Commander Lieutenant Colonel – LtCol Wing Commander – W/C
Captain – Capt Colonel – Col Group Captain – G/C
Commodore Brigadier Air Commodore – A/C
Rear Admiral – RAdm Major General Air Vice Marshal – AVM
Vice Admiral Lieutenant General Air Marshal
Admiral General – Gen Air Chief Marshal
* Several branches of the Army have their own designations for the rank of Private:
Craftsman – Cfn a member of the Royal Canadian Electrical & Mechanical Engineers
Fusilier – Fus originally a member of a regiment armed with light muskets
Guardsman – Gdsm a member of a Guards regiment (armoured)
Gunner – Gnr a member of an Artillery regiment
Rifleman – Rfn a member of a Rifles regiment
Sapper – Spr a member of the Royal Canadian Engineers etc.
Signalman – Sgm a member of the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals
Trooper – Tpr a member of an Armoured Corps regiment
In addition, the equivalents to Lance Corporal and Corporal in Artillery regiments are Lance Bombardier – LBdr and Bombardier – Bdr. Also, the RCAF used the rank of Leading Airwoman – LAW for members of its Women’s Division.
Most Army regiments also used the rank of Lance Sergeant – LSgt, which could best be considered as an acting Sergeant. Interestingly, that rank has been replaced in the modern Army with that of Master Corporal, an Americanization that this former Lieutenant in the Canadian Army deplores but can do nothing about.
In any discussion of ranks, it is also worth noting that young men and women who joined the RCAF before or during World War II tended to climb much higher up the ladder than did their Navy and Army cousins. The average foot soldier had less chance of making Lance Corporal than an Air Force type had of being commissioned as an officer – particularly if he was aircrew. The vast majority of Pilot Officers in the RCAF would never have made Corporal in the Army, and this was a matter of considerable resentment among soldiers who were quite aware that the flyboys had the glory, but only they could actually win the war.
It should be noted that a good many service personel are better known by their positions rather than their ranks. For example, one can find a Company Sergeant Major – CSM or a Battery Quartermaster Sergeant – BQMS in the Army, and Navy ratings typically appear as Motor Mechanics, Stokers, Cooks, Engine Room Artificers, etc. While these titles appear in the text, the headings for each casualty use their ranks. In the examples cited, they are WO2 and Sgt, and seamen have been labelled as Ordinary Seamen – OS, Able Seamen – AB or Leading Seamen – LS.
Finally, the comparative ranks tabulated above are those in use during World War II and for twenty years or so thereafter, but there has been some evolution since. For example brigadiers are now brigadier generals, lieutenant colonel is now abbreviated LCol and new NCOs have come on the scene: Master Corporal – MCpl, Master Sergeant – MSgt and Master Warrant Officer – MWO.