History 

All information provided courtesy of Veterans Affairs Canada/Anciens Combattants Canada.

 

Aboriginal peoples from every region of Canada served in the armed forces during the Second World War, fighting in every major battle and campaign of the conflict. To serve their country in the Armed Forces, Aboriginal Canadians had to overcome unique cultural challenges. Their courage, sacrifices, and accomplishments are a continuing source of pride to their families, communities, and all Canadians.At least 3,000 status (treaty) Indians-including 72 women-enlisted, as well as an unknown number of Inuit, Métis, and other Natives. The actual numbers were no doubt much higher.
Among this small number of identified Aboriginal members of the forces, at least 17 decorations for bravery in action were earned.

 

History

    1.    South African War
    2.    First World War 
    3.    Second World War 
    4.    Korean War
    5.    Peacekeeping
    6.    Profiles 

South African War

In South Africa, on 11 October 1899, war broke out between the British Imperialists and the Boers (descendants of Dutch Protestant farmers) who had been engulfed in conflict for over fifty years. The British Imperialists, located in the Cape Colony and Natal, wanted to have South Africa unified under British rule. The Boers, who occupied the more northern independent republics of the Orange Free State and Transvaal, wanted to remain independent. Throughout the 19th Century more and more commercially minded British settlers had moved to the Cape Colony causing many Boers to move further inland to protect their way of life. With the discovery of gold and diamonds in Transvaal, the tensions grew between the Boers and the English newcomers (Uitlanders, meaning foreigners). These tensions soon erupted into all out war and the second Boer War commenced. (The first Boer War occurred in 1880-1881).

Prime Minister Laurier endeavoured to keep Canada out of this conflict and the country was divided over whether or not Canada should participate. This conflict was seen by some Canadians as Britain's war in which Canada should not become involved, while others were drawn to the idea of fighting in South Africa and defending the British Empire. The Canadian Government was divided between those, primarily French Canadians, who wished to stay out of the war and others, primarily English Canadians, who wanted to join with Britain in her fight. In the end, Canada agreed to support the British by providing volunteers, equipment and transportation to South Africa. Britain would be responsible for paying the troops and returning them to Canada at the end of their service. The Boer War marked the first occasion in which large contingents of Canadian troops served abroad.

First World War

On August 4, 1914, Britain declared war on Germany. Canada, as a member of the British Empire, was automatically at war, and its citizens from all across the land responded quickly. A month after war broke out, 32,665 volunteers arrived at the new camp at Valcartier, Quebec, in 100 special trains. Thus began the growth of the colony's peacetime army from a pre-war force of 3,110 regular and 74,213 part-time militia members. By the end of the war, Canada would have 619,636 service people in uniform, including more than 3,000 Nursing Sisters. The tiny peacetime force would grow nearly tenfold. It was a huge army for a population of less than eight million.

Four long years of war would transform Canada from a colony to a nation. At a cost of nearly a quarter of a million casualties-one in four of them fatal-Canada would grow, with sorrow for the fallen and the maimed, yet with a new pride and a more confident awareness of nationhood. It was a heavy price for national identity and peace in the world, a price Canada would pay again 20 years later and in the troubled years beyond. Eventually, Canadians would become peacekeepers to the world. Instead of fighting to restore peace, they would stand between combatants to preserve it. This prime military role supports Canada's foreign policy to this day. Canada's major military contribution to what was called the Great War- the war, to end to end all wars- was the 100,000-strong Canadian Corps. Its members were stationed on the Western Front, that jagged chain of trenches dug into the mud and clay of France, stretching 966 kilometres from the Belgian coast to the border of Switzerland. Here armed soldiers faced each other over the shell-torn, muddy and decaying landscape of No Man's Land. Daily, they were confronted with the cruel realities of disease and death. For most of those years, the front line scarcely moved, except a few metres at a time, gains that were hard-bought by continual courage and dogged endurance. Almost until the end, the Great War was fought as siege warfare, rather than a war of movement. It was very costly in terms of lives and wounds.

The citizen-soldiers of Canada adapted with innovative methods that were designed to stem the terrible tide of casualties. Their modern approaches earned them a remarkable reputation in France. In the First World War, 70 Canadians won the highest award for valour, the Victoria Cross (VC). Many more would receive other decorations for gallantry.

In this largely static war of attrition, the Canadian Corps came to be valued as one of the most effective military formations on the Western Front, for they were masters of the grim and hazardous techniques of offensive warfare. Their first full-scale demonstration of this came in April 1917 at Vimy Ridge, which they captured with superb planning and preparation, resulting in casualty levels far below the norm. Vimy was the pinnacle of Canadian military achievement in the First World War.

The Battle of Vimy Ridge

Always seeking the elusive breakthrough, the Allies planned to launch another massive offensive, which would take place early in 1917. A sweeping French attack would be launched in the south between Reims and Soissons, matched by an assault by the British First and Third Armies around Arras. While the Third Army advanced eastward along the Scarpe River, the Canadian Corps-with all four of its divisions together for the first time, and assisted by units of the First Army- would simultaneously deliver an attack against Vimy Ridge.

Vimy Ridge was a key to the German defence system. Rising 6l metres above the Douai Plain, it protected an area of occupied France in which mines and factories were in full production for Germany. It was a linchpin covering the junction of the main Hindenburg Line and the defence systems running north to the coast of the English Channel. Since capturing the Ridge in October 1914, the Germans had been building fortifications to add to its natural strength and dominance. The slopes of Vimy Ridge favoured the defenders. Because the incline on the west was gradual, many of the Canadians would have to attack over open ground, where they would be prime targets for artillery, machine-gun and rifle fire. They would face three main defensive lines, consisting of a maze of trenches, concrete machine-gun strong points that had hedges of barbed wire woven around them, and deep dug-outs, all linked by communication trenches and connecting tunnels. As well, there were vast underground chambers, some capable of sheltering entire German battalions from Allied shells.

The Commander of the Canadian Corps, Lieutenant-General Sir Julian Byng, planned an assault on a front of seven kilometres by all four of his divisions abreast. To reach their final objectives on the far side of the Ridge, the Canadians would have to capture the commanding heights of Hill 135 and Hill 145, which formed its crest. The operation would be conducted in four stages, dictated by the German zones of defence. At planned intervals, fresh troops from each division would take over the advance. The assault on "the Pimple," a German stronghold at the northern tip of Vimy Ridge, overlooking the Souchez valley, would begin 24 hours after the main attack.

 

Second World War 1939-1945

The Second World War lasted six terrible years and left a legacy of death and destruction. It was truly a world war encircling the globe from the Atlantic to the Pacific and touching the far reaches of the Arctic. Nor was it confined to soldiers and battlefields, for new weapons of destruction made war possible on the land, in the air, and beneath the seas, and brought death and suffering indiscriminately to the young and the old, to their homes and their hearts.

A few pages are not sufficient for a full account of that war - its causes, its events, its heroism and its treachery. The aim here is simply to tell something of the story of the Canadians who went overseas, to give some idea of where they fought and died, and what they were able to achieve. For a young nation it was a remarkable achievement. Serving in the Canadian Army, the Royal Canadian Navy, the Royal Canadian Air Force and with other Allied Forces, thousands of young Canadians fought from 1939 to 1945 on the battlefronts of the world. They were there to defend the United Kingdom when it appeared that Nazi invasion was imminent. They fought valiantly in the unsuccessful attempt to defend Hong Kong against the Japanese. At Dieppe they bore the brunt of a daring, but fateful raid against the enemy-controlled coast of France. Above all they played their part in two great campaigns: they fought for twenty months in Italy, and were in the front lines when the Allies returned to Continental Europe on D-Day in 1944.

They brought honour and a new respect to their country. Most of all they helped to win the struggle against the tyranny and oppression which threatened to engulf the world. It was for our freedom that these young Canadians fought, and it was for that freedom that many of them died. More than one million Canadians and Newfoundlanders served in the Second World War. Of these more than 45,000 gave their lives, and another 55,000 were wounded. Countless others shared the suffering and hardship of war.

These few words are dedicated to those who fought so that we might live in freedom. It is their valour that we must remember.

The Korean War

The history of Korea is marked by successive conquest. Long dominated by China, the peninsula had passed into Japanese control in 1910 following the Russo-Japanese War.

During the course of the Second World War the leaders of the Allied nations of Great Britain, the United States and China met to decide what would be the fate of Japan and her territories when hostilities ended. In their Cairo Declaration of November 1943, they promised that "in due course Korea shall become free and independent." When the Japanese surrendered in 1945 the Soviet Union occupied North Korea; the United States took over control in South Korea. The 38th Parallel was chosen as the dividing line. It was assumed that the occupation would be temporary and that a unified, independent country would eventually be formed.
Unfortunately, the defeat of the Axis powers in 1945 did not bring peace to the world. The western allies soon found themselves engaged in a new struggle with their former ally the Soviet Union. As the Cold War developed in other parts of the world, in Korea the 38th Parallel gradually hardened into a permanent boundary. In the north the Russians established a communist regime which they proceeded to arm. In the south the United States set up a shaky democracy under the leadership of Syngman Rhee. Complicated by the artificial boundary, the economic and political situation grew desperate, and by 1946 Syngman Rhee was appealing for an end to the division of his country.

In September 1947 the United States announced its intention of laying the whole matter before the United Nations. The Soviet Union countered by suggesting that both sides withdraw their forces leaving the Koreans free to choose their own government. The Americans rejected this proposal which would have left the South Koreans at the mercy of the heavily armed north. They submitted the problem to the United Nations General Assembly. The Assembly, on November 14, 1947, created a Temporary Commission to Korea to supervise free and secret elections and to oversee the withdrawal of the occupation forces. As the Communists denied the Commission access to North Korea, it was directed to implement the program in those parts of the country which were accessible. On May 10, 1948, elections were held in South Korea; on August 15, the Government of the Republic of Korea was established. This Government was recognized by the United Nations General Assembly which recommended the withdrawal of occupying forces and established a new United Nations Commission. The Soviet Union immediately created in North Korea the "Democratic People's Republic of Korea" under the control of a communist guerrilla leader, Kim II Sung.

In December the Soviet Union announced that it had withdrawn its troops from North Korea and thus forced the United States to follow suit in South Korea. The South Korean Army, armed with small arms and mortars and without tanks, heavy guns or aircraft, was left to face a large, well-equipped North Korean force. Trouble soon flared up along the border as both sides claimed the right to rule all Korea. North Korean patrols began to invade the southern Republic and the United Nations Commission repeatedly warned of impending civil war.

Peacekeeping

Every day Canadian Forces (CF) members put their lives at risk, often leaving their families and homes behind to courageously and selflessly serve in our nation's military, defending Canada's values and contributing to international peace and security.

The Canadian Forces have acted in many different capacities, both here in Canada and throughout the world. The CF patrol our frontiers, perform search and rescue operations, provide assistance during natural disasters and participate in international peace missions. Wherever they are and whatever the task, these men and women carry on Canada's proud military heritage.

Profiles: First Nations Veterans

  • Chief Joe Dreaver, of Mistawasis Cree Band in Saskatchewan, served in both world wars. During the First World War, he was a sapper and earned the Military Medal, an award for bravery in the field, in Belgium. When war erupted again, he immediately re-enlisted, leaving his farm and bringing 17 men with him, including three of his sons. At 48, he was too old for overseas service and remained in Canada with the Veterans Guard, watching over prisoners of war in Alberta.
  • John McLeod, an Ojibwa, served overseas in the First World War and was a member of the Veterans Guard during the Second World War. Six of his sons and one of his daughters enlisted. Two sons gave their lives, and another two were wounded. In 1972, John's wife, Mary, became the first Aboriginal woman to be named Canada's Memorial Cross Mother, placing a wreath at the National War Memorial in Ottawa on Remembrance Day on behalf of all Canadian mothers who had lost children to the war.
  • Charles Byce, the son of a Cree woman, joined the Lake Superior Regiment (Motor). He won the Military Medal in the Netherlands and the Distinguished Conduct Medal in the Rhineland Campaign. His citation for the latter was impressive: "His gallant stand, without adequate weapons and with a bare handful of men against hopeless odds will remain, for all time, an outstanding example to all ranks of the Regiment."    
  • Thomas George Prince, an Ojibwa from Manitoba, volunteered to be a paratrooper. His unit, the 1stCanadian Special Service Battalion, joined with an elite American troop from a spearhead of 1,600 men that became known to the Germans as the Devil's Brigade. He earned the Military Medal during a battle in Italy, and the Silver Star, an American award for gallantry, for his reconnaissance work in France. These awards were presented to him by King George VI at Buckingham Palace.    
  • Brigadier Oliver Milton Martin, a Mohawk from the Six Nations Grand River Reserve, reached the highest military rank ever held by an aboriginal person. During the First World War, he served in both the army and the air force. During the Second World War, he oversaw the training of hundreds of recruits in Canada. For his 20 years of excellent service, he was awarded the Colonial Auxiliary Forces Officer's Decoration.    
  • David Greyeyes, a member of the Muskeg Lake Cree Band in Saskatchewan, served in seven European countries in many difficult military roles, including commanding a mortar platoon in Italy. During the Italian Campaign, he earned the Greek Military Cross (third class) for valour in supporting the Greek Mountain Brigade. In 1977 he was awarded the Order of Canada. His citation reads: "Athlete, soldier, farmer, former Chief of the Muskeg Lake Reserve, Saskatchewan, and ultimately Director of Indian Affairs in the Maritime and Alberta Regions. For long and devoted service to his people, often under difficult circumstances."  
 
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