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Gazette student columnist: 'Lest we forget all who served'

Student Life | Student View

By Emma Troake

Despite Remembrance Day being exactly what its name implies – a day of remembrance – many of those who served in the world wars are overlooked on Nov. 11.

Most of us are aware of well-known troops who served from our home, such as the Royal Newfoundland Regiment fighting at Beaumont-Hamel. However, there are underrepresented groups and minorities from this province and Canada who served both in conflict and on the home front that you may not have heard of before. 

Role of women

The Women’s Patriotic Association was a group of more than 15,000 women volunteers in Newfoundland who made and sent clothing, medical supplies and other resources overseas to troops. They also fundraised large amounts of money, volunteered in local hospitals and visited families with relatives fighting in the war.

The association was founded by Lady Margaret Davidson in 1914. One year later, there were 168 branches established all over Newfoundland in many of its communities.

That year, the secretary of the association, Eleanor MacPherson, stated: “In very few cases have there been any divisions, but dropping all distinctions of a social or religious nature, the women have joined hands to work for the men at the front. It has been estimated . . . that there are something over 15,000 women in Newfoundland who are doing their bit! Inspiring, is it not?”

By the end of the First World War, the WPA contributed more than and estimated 159,000 items. 

Black Canadian military unit

The first large Black Canadian military unit, the No. 2 Construction Battalion, was formed in 1916 in Pictou, N.S. Ultimately, more than 600 men were accepted from across the country.

In 1917 the battalion served with the Canadian Forestry Corps, constructing roads and railways as well as producing lumber for trenches. Other contributions made by Black Canadians during the First World War include factory work and fundraising on the home front.

While enlisting in the First World War was very discriminatory, by the Second World War prejudice had lessened somewhat and battalions were no longer segregated. Black Canadian soldiers fought alongside white soldiers in Europe.

Back in Nova Scotia, black women filled the men’s roles in the shipbuilding industry while they were fighting away from home. 

Indigenous service

During the First World War, more than 4,000 Indigenous people served during the conflict. One of the most acclaimed snipers of the Canadian Corps was Henry Louis Norwest, a Métis man from Alberta. He held a record of 115 fatal shots and was awarded the Military Medal with one bar.

Francis Pegahmagabow, an Ojibwa soldier from Ontario, was another elite sniper. He was awarded the Military Medal with two bars. Edith Anderson Monture, from the Ontario Six Nations Grand River Reserve, served as a nurse overseas in France in 1917.

During the Second World War, many Indigenous people joined the military again. Some soldiers, such as Charles Checker Tompkins, a Métis man from Alberta, worked as a “code talker.” Code talkers would translate sensitive radio messages into Cree as protection from enemy interception.

Indigenous people also contributed from the home front by donating money, clothing and food. Numerous Indigenous people who served were decorated during the war. Willard Bolduc, an Ojibwa airman from Ontario who served as an air gunner during bombing raids in Europe, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. As well, Huron Brant, a Mohawk soldier from Ontario, was awarded the Military Medal for his courage while fighting in Sicily. 

‘Crucial’ to include everyone

It’s important to pay attention to those who served in the wars that are often overlooked.

Efforts were made on all fronts of the battles and it is crucial we talk about those less acknowledged in order to prevent them from being completely forgotten from history. 

More information about this can be found online.

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