This Week in History


Thomas Prince: Distinguished Soldier of the Devil’s Brigade

For the week of Monday, June 15, 2015

On June 15, 1945, Sergeant Thomas “Tommy” George Prince was honourably discharged from the Canadian military. Awarded 11 medals, he was Canada’s most decorated Aboriginal soldier in the Second World War and among the most decorated non-commissioned officers in Canadian military history.

Sergeant Tommy Prince (right) at an investiture at Buckingham Palace in February 1945, where King George VI decorated him with the Military Medal as well as the Silver Star on behalf of the American President. The man on the left is his brother, Private Morris Prince
© Christopher J. Woods / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-142289

A great-great grandson of Saultaux Chief Peguis, Thomas Prince was born in 1915 and grew up on the Brokenhead reserve in Manitoba. His father taught him traditional hunting and trapping techniques, and he became a skilled sharpshooter and tracker.

When the Second World War began in September 1939, Prince was eager to join Canada’s military effort. Although racial discrimination initially held him back, he was finally able to enlist in June 1940. By 1942, he was a distinguished sergeant with the Canadian Parachute Battalion. Prince was among the few Canadian soldiers selected to form the First Special Service Force alongside American troops. This highly trained assault unit, known for reconnaissance and raiding, was nicknamed "Devil’s Brigade."

A monument to Tommy Prince in Kildonan Park, Winnipeg
© Wikimedia Commons

Prince distinguished himself in Italy and France using the tracking and shooting skills learned as a boy. At the Italian front in February 1944, he singlehandedly ran a secret communication wire into enemy territory, 200 metres from a German artillery position, in order to spy on enemy activity. When the wire disconnected, Prince disguised himself as a farmer and, in view of German troops, pretended to weed crops while making the repair. For this brave act, he was awarded the Military Medal.

After his discharge, Prince returned home and became chairman of the Manitoba Indian Association. He lobbied the Canadian government for better educational and economic opportunities for First Nations. However, the Association saw little change. Unable to find secure employment, Prince re-enlisted in the army and served two tours in the Korean War (1950-53).

Sergeant Thomas Prince was one of approximately 12,000 Aboriginal Canadians to serve in the First and Second World Wars and in the Korean War. In honour of their efforts, Aboriginal Military Service in the First World War is commemorated as a national historic event. Chief Peguis is designated a National Historic Person for his skills as a hunter, warrior, diplomat, and leader.

June is Aboriginal History Month. For more on Aboriginal people’s contributions during the World Wars, read A Racing Legend is Born and A First World War Top Sniper - Corporal Pegahmagabow Visit the Government of Canada’s World War Commemorations page to learn more about the First and Second World Wars.

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

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