Notable Native Veterans of Canada

Tommy Prince

Thomas G. Prince (right)

Thomas George Prince was one of 11 children born to Henry and Arabella Prince of the Brokenhead Band at Scanterbury, Manitoba. He was a descendant of Peguis, the Saulteaux Chief who led his band of 200 Ojibwa from the Sault Ste. Marie region to the Red River in the 1790s, and of Chief William Prince, who headed the Ojibwa-Manitoba team of Nile Voyageurs. Prince enlisted in June 1940, at the age of 24, and began his wartime service as a sapper with the Royal Canadian Engineers. After two years with the RCE, he answered a call for paratrooper volunteers, and by late 1942, was training with the 1st Canadian Special Service Battalion. Soon after Prince joined this select battalion, it merged with an elite American unit, forming a spearhead of 1,600 men who possessed an assortment of specialist skills. Officially called the 1st Special Service Force, it would become known to German soldiers as the Devil's Brigade. Originally, this force was intended to be a parachute unit that would land behind enemy lines and sabotage their installations. Instead, it became a versatile assault group with a reputation for specialized reconnaissance and raiding. Prince was well-suited to be a member.

In Italy, patrol of the Devil's Brigade undergoes a last-minute briefing before setting out. On February 8, 1944, near Littoria, Italy, Reconnaissance Sergeant Prince was spying on the Germans. An abandoned farmhouse some 200 metres from the enemy served as his observation post, and 1,400 metres of telephone wire connected him to the force. He had a clear view of the enemy's artillery emplacements and promptly reported them.

During what would become a 24-hour solo watch, Prince's communication line was severed by shelling. Unfazed, the sergeant donned civilian clothing, grabbed a hoe and, in full view of German soldiers, acted like a farmer weeding his crops. He slowly inched his way along the line till he found where it was damaged, then, pretending to tie his shoelaces, quickly rejoined the wires. His reporting continued and so did the damage to enemy artillery posts. In all, four German positions were destroyed, and Prince had earned the MM. As his citation explains, 'Sergeant Prince's courage and utter disregard for personal safety were an inspiration to his fellows and a marked credit to his unit.

Oliver M. Martin - Mohawk

The name Oliver Milton Martin appears repeatedly in Native newspapers and magazines. He was a prominent figure: a soldier who reached the highest rank ever held by a Canadian Native and, in civilian life, a school teacher, principal and provincial magistrate.
A Mohawk from the Six Nations Grand River Reserve, Martin made his mark in both the army and the air force. He served in the First and Second World Wars, ending his service in 1944 with the rank of brigadier.
Martin's military career began in 1909, when he joined the Haldimand Rifles militia regiment. Bugler was the first of his many military roles. In 1915, at the age of 22, he took leave from teaching to enlist in the regular force. Two brothers also volunteered. Martin eventually served as a company officer with the 114th and the 107th Battalions. As a lieutenant, he spent seven months in France and Belgium, where he survived a gas attack. In 1917, he qualified as an observer with the Royal Air Force and, the following year, he earned his pilot's wings.
When the war ended, Martin returned to teaching and became a school principal in Toronto, Ontario. He also maintained his ties with his militia regiment. In 1930, he assumed command of the Haldimand Rifles, holding this position until the outbreak of war.
During the Second World War, Martin oversaw the training of hundreds of recruits in Canada. His first appointment, as a colonel, was commander of the 13th Infantry Brigade at a training camp at Niagara-on-the-Lake. The following year he was promoted brigadier and went on to command the 14th (Nanaimo) and 16th(Prince George) Infantry Brigades.
In the official history of the Algonquin Regiment the brigadier is remembered with fondness and respect. The Algonquins had arrived at Niagara-on-the-Lake after a long and festive train ride.
It was a sad and sore group of men who piled off the cars in Niagara. It was our good fortune to have Brigadier Martin as our new brigade commander, and he, sensing our condition, was most tactful and kindly. His first inspection of the unit, and his words to the men, won him at the outset our strong friendship and loyalty.
In October 1944, the brigadier retired from active service. His impact, however, carried on for several years. According to a niece, "many of Brigadier Martin's nephews and nieces joined the service during the Second World War. They wanted to serve their country and I'm sure they were influenced by their uncle's military career."
After leaving the armed forces, Martin was appointed provincial magistrate for Ontario District 6, the counties of York, Halton and Peel. He was the first Native to hold a judicial post in Ontario. The Mohawk magistrate served the district until his death in 1957.
Brigadier Martin received many rewards for his accomplishments. For his 20 years of service with good conduct in the militia, Martin was awarded the Colonial Auxiliary Forces Officer's Decoration. In 1953, he and his wife, Lillian, were invited to, and attended, the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Today, the East York branch of the Royal Canadian Legion is named the Brigadier O. Martin Branch. The brigadier-magistrate is also a member of Canada's Indian Hall of Fame.

Tom Longboat - Onondaga Veteran

Thomas Charles Longboat did not receive any awards for bravery. He was not killed in the thick of battle while performing a daring feat above and beyond the call of duty. Rather, he is an example of the selfless response of Canadians to the chaos spreading throughout Europe. An Onondaga from the Six Nations Grand River Reserve, Longboat had a compelling reason not to enlist: he was a world champion long-distance runner. In 1907, he won the Boston Marathon (a distance of approximately 40 kilometres) in record time, leaving his closest competitor four-fifths of a kilometre behind.47 His status as a racing celebrity was solidified in 1909, when he won the world professional marathon championships at Madison Square Garden in New York City. His running had earned him thousands of dollars by February 1916 when, at the age of 29, he set aside his athletic career to enlist. Though the rewards were substantially less, he did not quit racing. As a dispatch carrier with the 107th Pioneer Battalion in France, Longboat ran messages and orders between units. He also kept in competitive form by racing in inter-battalion sporting contests, many of which he won. At the 1918 Canadian Corps Dominion Day competitions, Longboat won the eight-mile [13-kilometre] race.48 The famous runner was wounded twice during his time of service. Once he was declared dead, but he survived the war and returned to Canada in 1919. Tom Longboat died in 1949 at the age of 62. He is a member of the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame and the Indian Hall of Fame.

Source: Native Soldiers, Foreign Battlefields : Veterans Affairs Canada.

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