By Jim Windle w/ notes Valour Canada
At 11 a.m., Nov. 11th, 1918, the sound of thunder of cannon fire and explosions, the rat-tat-tat fire machine guns and the hell of the trenches ended with the capitulation of the German war machine.
Although the killing stopped, the dying didn’t as hundreds of thousands of wounded soldiers from both sides, passed for months and years after from horrific war wounds and the effects of mustard gas and various trench diseases. Others returned damaged from the visions and sounds of war.
Not counting Inuit and Metis, there was more that 4,000 status Indians enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, more than 300 of them did not return. While on the front, they earned a stout reputation amongst the allied command for their bravery and stealth which made many of them perfect as snipers, scouts messengers as well as intellegent warriors.
Of the more than 600 Indigenous Nations represented, Six Nations and Bay of Quinte Mohawks comprised the vas majority of those answering the call. But across Canada the women and those who stayed home contributed to the war effort in other ways and for other reasons. Some, like Six Nations Women’s Patriotic League formed knitting clubs and fundraisers for the war effort and even designed and made a regimental flag.
There were two all-Native battalions mustered, one, the 107th Timberwolf Battalion out of Winnipeg and Brock’s Rangers (aka the 114th) which is where most Six Nations warriors ended up. But when they arrived in the battle front, the 114th was broken up and placed with other units.
By the end of hostilities, 75 medals of valour were awarded to Canada’s faithful allies. Amongst them were Francis Pegahmagabow from the Ojibwe Nation of Wasauksing Ontario.
He was known as “Peggy” to his fellow soldiers of the 23rd Canadian Regiment, 1st battalion and completed his tour of duty with 378 credited kills and captured another 300 before being killed at Vimme Ridge.
He was awards the Military Medal with two bars, the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal before returning to his home reserve which he served twice as band Chief before passing away in 1952.
Henry Northwest, as Cree/Metis from Saskatchewan was also a successful snipper recording 115 confirmed kills.
In his nearly three years of service with the 50th Canadian Infantry Battalion, the Lance-corporal achieved a sniping record of 115 fatal shots. The former ranch-hand and rodeo performer also merited the Military Medal and bar, making him one of roughly 830 members of the CEF to be awarded this double honour.
A letter written by his Lieut. Colonel in 1918 captures the essence of Northwest as a man and as a soldier.
“NORTHWEST is dead. I doubt if anyone in the Canadian Corps or in the whole British Army for that matter, had a finer record than he – one-hundred and fifteen hits observed – one hundred and fifteen hits dead or badly wounded. All the efforts of one man.
He was a peculiar character. Very silent, very intent.
As delighted as a child at his success and as grim as the avenging angel when on his work. I have seen him in his position waiting for a chance to get a shot, and he reminded me for all the world of a pointer pointing.
His whole body was tense with eagerness, his whole mind set on his work.
Day after day he would lie out in exposed positions waiting, waiting. His patience was colossal. No place was too dangerous for him to go. No risks too great to take, as long as he was killing.
He won the Military Medal and Bar and richly he earned them.
His Indian blood possibly helped him in his work, possibly inherited his patience and cunning from his hunting forebears.
He fell at last, shot through the head by a German snipper on the 18th day of August 1918, and was buried at WARVILLERS, a small village he had helped to wrestle from the enemy.
The most fitting epitaph that can be put on his grave is the remark that was made by men when the heard of his death. “It must have been a damn good sniper that got Northwest.”
And so he passed away, another of the stalwart characters that have helped to make the Canadian Corps what is is. We have lost his service but his memory will be ever with us, his example and inspiration.
Lieut. Colonel Commanding 50th Canadian Battalion.