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A First World War Top Sniper - Corporal Pegahmagabow

For the week of Monday, June 1, 2015

On June 2, 1916, the 1st Canadian Infantry Battalion fought the German 4th Army at the Battle of Mount Sorrel in Belgium. One of its members, First Nations soldier Francis Pegahmagabow, was recognized as one of the top snipers of the First World War. He was among the few soldiers who fought the entire war, and he received three Military Medals for his bravery.

Portrait of Corporal Francis Pegahmagabow
© CWM 20040035-006 / George Metcalf Archival Collection / Canadian War Museum

Pegahmagabow was born on Parry Island, Ontario, in March 1891. As a young man, he worked for the Department of Marine and Fisheries as a fireman. He volunteered for the Canadian Expeditionary Force in September 1914, one month after the outbreak of the war.

Throughout the war, Pegahmagabow served as a scout and a sniper. In 1915, he participated in the Canadian Army’s first battle at Ypres, Belgium. For his exceptional services in battle at Ypres, Givenchy, and Festubert, he was awarded the Military Medal in 1916.

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Francis Pegahmagabow is one of only 38 men to be awarded a double-bar Military Medal
© Library and Archives Canada

Pegahmagabow fought at the Battle of Mount Sorrel in June 1916, where he captured dozens of German soldiers. A month later, he was shot in the leg at the Battle of the Somme in France. He rejoined his battalion in 1917 at the Battle of Passchendaele in Belgium. His exceptional scouting and directional skills earned him a bar to his Military Medal (each bar is equivalent to earning an additional medal). Pegahmagabow earned a second bar in 1918 at the Battle of the Scarpe in France for braving enemy machine gun fire to retrieve ammunition for his unit.

Back in Canada and shortly after the war, Pegahmagabow joined the Algonquin Regiment in the militia. Despite its name, the regiment was predominantly Euro-Canadian and Pegahmagabow faced constant racial discrimination there and elsewhere. Later, like his grandfather and father, he served as chief of the Wasauksing First Nation from 1921-25 and again from 1942-45, and was a band councillor from 1933-36. He died at Wasauksing on August 5, 1952.

Aboriginal Service in the First World War and the Battle of Passchendaele are both National Historic Events.

June is Aboriginal History Month. To learn more about Aboriginal contributions in the First World War, read A Racing Legend is Born and Aboriginal Women Won’t Be Left Behind in the This Week in History archives. This year is the 100th anniversary of the First World War. For more information, visit the Government of Canada’s World War Commemorations page.

Follow us on Twitter @ParksCanada! Also, click here to learn about the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.

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