Corporal Francis Pegahmagabow (1891-1952) is one of the most highly decorated aboriginal soldiers in Canadian military history. He was an Ojibwa from the Parry Island Band in Ontario who was awarded the Military Medal plus two bars for his battlefield service during the First World War. Pegahmagabow was one of only thirty-nine men in the entire Canadian Expeditionary Force to receive the Military Medal with two bars.
Peggy, as his fellow soldiers called him, enlisted in August 1914 and was part of the First Contingent of soldiers to go overseas. He sailed overseas with the 1st Battalion and was engaged in fierce fighting at the desperate trial-by-fire battle of 2nd Ypres in April 1915 where the Germans unleashed chlorine gas for the first time in the history of warfare.
Peggy survived even though the 1st Battalion lost almost half of its strength in three days of bitter fighting. The front returned to its static nature and soldiers dug deeper trenches to avoid the murderous artillery and sniper fire. Cpl Pegahmagabow soon acquired a fierce reputation among his fellow soldiers as a deadly sniper. Establishing himself behind the front lines or slowly worming his way into No Man's Land at night, Peggy would wait for German soldiers to show themselves. He proved to be an effective and deadly marksman, and quickly began to account for dozens of the enemy.
In addition to his role as a sniper, Peggy exhibited great battlefield bravery at the Battle of Mount Sorrel in June 1916 where he captured a large number of German prisoners. Several months later, while fighting on the Somme, he was wounded in the leg. Despite having clearly already done his duty in two years of difficult conditions, Peggy returned to his battalion. In November 1917, the 1st Battalion was again thrown into battle, this time in the soggy morass near the ruined village of Passchendaele. He won the first bar to his Military Medal here and the citation reads:
At Passchendaele Nov. 6th/7th, 1917, this NCO [non-commissioned officer] did excellent work. Before and after the attack he kept in touch with the flanks, advising the units he had seen, this information proving the success of the attack and saving valuable time in consolidating. He also guided the relief to its proper place after it had become mixed up.
Passchendaele was a battle of nightmarish conditions. Pegahmagabow would have spent the battle racing over land through the quagmire of mud under a hail of shrapnel fire. With the regular severing of telephone wires by artillery fire, it was only through the bravery of runners and scouts like Peggy that those in the rear had any hope of assisting the fighting men at the "sharp end" of battle. Through courage and determination, the Canadians eventually captured Passchendaele ridge, a position that had eluded the rest of the British Army for three months.
Pegahmagabow was one of those rare Canadian soldiers who enlisted in 1914 and fought to the end of the war. Throughout his service at the front, he became Canada's premier sniper of the war. Although there are no exact figures recorded, accounts of his "kills" vary to as high as 378.
Pegahmagabow returned to Canada in 1919 and lived on Parry Island. He continued to serve with the Algonquin [Militia] Regiment. From 1921 to 1925, Pegahmagabow was chief of the Parry Island Band, and a councillor from 1933 to 1936. His son, Duncan, recounted that Peggy always felt "very strongly about his country." He was also remembered for ensuring that the culture of his people was not lost and, while chief, he encouraged the study and practice of the band's traditions. He is a member of Canada's Indian Hall of Fame and died in 1952.