Peterborough during the First World War 1914 - 1918.

Peterborough, Ontario during the First World War 1914 - 1918.

Friday, 4 January 2013

First Nations Participation in Great War - Hiawatha's George Paudash

Depiction of Aboriginal,
Canadian Patriotic Fund
Poster, 1916

First Contingent Sailing from Canada, Oct 1914
Credit: Library and Archives Canada

By October 1914 the fleet that was carrying the first of the Canadian Expeditionary Force reached Plymouth Hoe, England.  Residents from the English towns and villages that surround the port city of Plymouth came out to the harbour to greet the soldiers from the distant cold colony that had come to the aid in the fight against ‘Prussian Barbarism.’

Civilians were surprised at what greeted them. According to one Canadian officer, R.F. Haig of Fort Garry Horse Regiment, English residents were disappointed that the Canadians were not wearing feathers and pelts, or wearing traditional headdresses. English citizens expected the Canadians of popular literature.  A country with a untamed wild frontier, filled with proud native warriors wearing war-paint mounted on horse back, living alongside hardworking farmers. Imagery of Canada and the ‘noble savage’ aside; the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) sent thousands of Aboriginal soldiers overseas during the First World War.

Depiction of Aboriginal,
Canadian Patriotic Fund
Poster, 1916

Aboriginal men had every reason not to want to fight for Canada. In the decades leading up to 1914, officials acting on behalf of the Crown and the Government enacted numerous laws and policies that oppressed Aboriginal people. Similar to the Indigenous population of Australia, contact with Europeans brought misery and hardship upon the native population. The once proud warrior nations that hunted buffalo in the Great Plains or traversed the Great Lakes of Ontario were brought to the brink of extinction by disease, war, and euro-centric policies that placed First Nations people into a system of reserves often located on unsuitable destitute land. European colonizers attempted to take all native children away from their families and place them into residential schools, where the children would be beaten, and in some cases sexually assaulted by predatory clergymen; all in an effort to have the ‘Indian’ taken out of them.

Minister Sam Hughes Touring Arras, 1916.
Credit: IWM
Despite the systematic oppression and societal exclusion, many Aboriginal men made the decision to enlist in the Canadian Expeditionary Force.  As wards of the crown, natives were not granted the rights of citizenship, and therefore were legally excluded from fighting overseas. The Minister of the Militia, Sam Hughes, a  xenophobic Orangemen, tried to further discourage the recruitment of natives by stating: “While British troops would be proud to be associated with their fellow subjects, yet Germans might refuse to extend to them the privileges of civilized warfare.” Many local battalion officers overlooked the Minister’s concerns and allowed Aboriginals to enlist.

Map of First Nations, Central Ontario
Credit: Ontario Aboriginal Affairs
Sgt. Mike Mountain Horse, awarded the DCM, explained his reason for enlisting in the CEF:

“The fighting spirit of my tribe was not quelched through reservation life. When duty called, we were there and when we were called forth to fight for the cause of civilization, our people showed all the bravery of our warriors of old.”

In Central Ontario there is several First Nations that near Peterborough and the Kawarthas, Northumberland, and Quinte Region. Aboriginal men from: Alderville, Curve Lake, Hiawatha, Chippewas of Rama and Georgina Island, and Mississauga of Scuggog, and the Tyendinaga Mohawks were all eligible to enlist in Peterborough in the No. 3 Military District.

                                                                             George Paudash

George Paudash, Nov. 1914.
In the November 1914, two brothers from the Hiawatha reserve located outside of Peterborough enlisted in the 21st Battalion (Eastern Ontario).  George Paudash, age 24; and Johnson Paudash, age 39; were trained and quickly sent overseas. The brothers arrived in France in the Autumn 1915, and spent several months in the M and N trenches south of Ypres in Belgium. The men of the 21st Battalion learned to snipe, scout, and exist under shell fire at the M and N trenches.

Months later the first rotations in the lines, the 21st Battalion would be pushed into their first actual pitched fight with the enemy, at the St. Eloi Craters. After the battle of the craters, the youngest brother, Corporal George Paudash, developed numerous abdominal pains and was sent to hospitals in England before returning home.

George’s older brother, Johnson Paudash, would find fame as one of Canada’s greatest snipers.
(Next Entry)

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