The most highly decorated Canadian Native in the First World War
[See also, this excellent CBC documentary at: Legendary Ojibwa sniper unsung hero of WW I]
Cpl. Francis Pegahmagabow of the Parry Island Band in Ontario was decorated three times for the marksmanship and scouting skills he displayed in Belgium and France. Known as ‘Peggy’ to other members of his battalion, he survived the war and later became chief of his band.
The most highly decorated Canadian Native in the First World War was Francis Pegahmagabow. An Ojibwa from the Parry Island Band in Ontario, he was awarded the Military Medal (MM) plus two bars for bravery in Belgium and France. Soldiers who had been awarded the MM and later performed similarly heroic acts could receive up to two bars to it, denoting further awards. Pegahmagabow was one of 39 members of the CEF who received the maximum two bars to the MM.
Pegahmagabow enlisted with the 23rd Regiment (Northern Pioneers) in August 1914 – almost immediately after war was declared. Previously, he had worked along the Great Lakes as a marine fireman for the Department of Marine and Fisheries. Within weeks of volunteering, he became one of the original members of the 1st Canadian Infantry Battalion, which, along with the rest of the 20,000-strong
1st Canadian Division, landed in France in February 1915.
Sniping was his specialty. It has been written of him, “His iron nerves, patience and superb marksmanship helped make him an outstanding sniper.” In addition, Pegahmagabow developed a reputation as a superior scout.
The 1st Battalion experienced heavy action almost as soon as it arrived on the battlefield. It fought at Ypres, where the enemy introduced a new deadly weapon, poison gas, and on the Somme, where Pegahmagabow was shot in the leg. He recovered and made it back in time to return with his unit to Belgium.
In November 1917, the 1st Battalion joined the assault near the village of Passchendaele. Here, roughly 20,000 Allied soldiers crawled from shell crater to shell crater, through water and mud. With two British divisions, the Canadian Corps attacked and took the village, holding it for five days, until reinforcements arrived. The Allies suffered 16,000 casualties at Passchendaele, and Corporal Pegahmagabow earned his first bar to the MM.
His citation reads, “At Passchendaele Nov.6th/7th, 1917, this NCO [non-commissioned officer] did excellent work. Before and after the attack he kept in touch with the flanks, advising the units he had seen, this information proving the success of the attack and saving valuable time in consolidating. He also guided the relief to its proper place after it had become mixed up.”
It is not known how Pegahmagabow earned the MM itself and its second bar. It has been said, though, that he merited them during the
Second Battle of Ypres in 1916 and at Amiens in 1918.
In April 1919, Pegahmagabow was invalided to Canada, having served for nearly the entire war. Afterward, he joined the Algonquin Regiment in the non-permanent active militia and, following in the steps of his father and grandfather, became chief of the Parry Island Band and later a councillor. A member of Canada’s Indian Hall of Fame, Pegahmagabow died on the reserve in 1952.
Source: The Canadian Regiment.