The Drill Rifle: Training Recruits in the CEF

When the war broke out in August 1914, Canada only held 16,796 rifles on hand. [1] As Canadians rushed to recruiting stations in staggering numbers to enlist, the Department of Militia and Defence was confronted with the overwhelming challenge of training new recruits without a sufficient amount of rifles. In response, CEF units in Canada were often issued with obsolete weapons.

Image: [Ross Cadet Drill Rifle]. Collections CCGW/CCGG
Canada’s initial contribution to the war effort saw 31,000 men leave the Dominion in October, 1914 to fight overseas. By the war’s end, over 620,000 Canadians would serve from a nation of fewer than 8 million. Juxtaposed against the 16,796 rifles available, many soldiers went overseas with only a brief introduction to the rifle they would be fighting with. In order to offset this imbalance, the Department of Militia and Defence issued many obsolete weapons to the CEF in Canada, many of which were withdrawn or borrowed from peacetime militia. It is important to consider, however, that peacetime militia were armed with a variety of rifles, thereby making it difficult to promote efficient training across the CEF.
Where there wasn’t sufficient rifles to train a unit, the drill rifle was often an alternative. The drill rifle, ranging from basic wooden rifles to more functional replicas, was built to resemble the weight and shape of the Ross rifle. [2] While insufficient to teach basic shooting, the drill rifle was sufficient in training soldiers for formal marching and precise military movements. In St Mary’s, Ontario, for instance, a platoon of the 110th Battalion had to borrow wooden rifles from the collegiate cadet corps in February, 1916. Nevertheless, only one drill rifle was issued for every four soldiers. [3]
The drill rifle pictured above was a Ross Cadet Drill Rifle. Made almost entirely out of wood, save for a few metal parts, they were ordered exclusively for training purposes. Unfortunately, however, most drill rifles were unmarked, such as this one. As such, it is very difficult to trace their origins or date of manufacture.
[1] Holt, Richard. Filling the Ranks: Manpower in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2017, 142-143.
[2] A history of drill and training rifles. Retrieved from
[3] Holt, Filling the Ranks, 145.

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