Francis Pegahmagabow

Service file

Francis Pegahmagabow (1891-1952) was born on March 9, 1891, an Ojibwa of the Wasauksing First Nation of Parry Island, Ontario. He was orphaned at any early age and brought up by his First Nations community. He enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force at Valcartier, Quebec, on September 15, 1914. He joined the 1st Infantry Battalion and left for England on October 3, 1914. After several months of training, the battalion arrived in France in February 1915. Very quickly, Pegahmagabow’s exceptional abilities as a scout and sniper were recognized. Then in September 1916, during the Battle of the Somme, he was wounded in the left leg by a bullet. Following his convalescence he was promoted to corporal and went to Belgium with his battalion. He was awarded the Military Medal for his actions during the Second Battle of Passchendaele. Shortly after, he developed pneumonia and was hospitalized in England. His service file includes many records related to his mental state. Pegahmagabow returned to Canada at the end of the war, becoming one of the most highly decorated First Nations soldiers for bravery and the most effective sniper of the First World War. He served briefly as chief of the Parry Island Band in the 1920s, and as councillor from 1933 to 1936. In 1943 he became the Supreme Chief of the Native Independent Government, an early First Nations organization. He died in Parry Sound in 1952. The main character of Canadian writer Joseph Boyden’s award-winning novel Three Day Road was inspired, in part, by Pegahmagabow, who also appears as a minor character in the book.

Service Record Details

Attestation Paper 1

Date of Birth: March 9, 1891 (Shawanaga, Parry Island, Ontario)

Date of Attestation: September 15, 1914 (Valcartier, Quebec)

Age at Enlistment: 23 years, 5 months

Height: 5 feet, 8 1/2 inches

Weight: 160 pounds

Description: Dark complexion, dark brown eyes, black hair. Roman Catholic. One vaccination mark left arm.

Home Address: Parry Island, Parry Sound, Ontario

Trade: Fireman

Married: No

Details of Family: None (orphaned)

Next of Kin: None

Branch of Service: Canadian Expeditionary Force

Theatre of War: England, France, Belgium

Casualties

Attestation Paper 2
  • September 26, 1916 – Pegahmagabow receives a gunshot wound in the left leg. (Page 4)
  • December 1917 – On December 19 at No. 22 Casualty Clearing Station he is listed as dangerously ill with pneumonia. By December 29 his condition is slightly improved. (Page 76)
  • January 14, 1918 – At Queen Mary’s Hospital for the East End, Stratford, he reports that he has been experiencing chest pain since the previous summer. He also has bloody sputum due to severe gas in the trenches. (Page 25)
  • September to November 1918 – A lengthy note on a medical case sheet relates Pagahmagabow’s own description of his experience in the war: “Was wounded in leg at the Somme 1916. Got buried at Somme Sept 1916. Had bleeding from ears + more at that time but was sent back into line the following day.” The notes indicate that he did not get on well with the “Coy S.M.” (Company Sergeant Major). (Pages 34-35)
  • November 11, 1918 – He is admitted to the hospital ship Carisbrook Castle with “melancholia”. A note describes his condition in detail. (Page 33)
  • November 11, 1918 – Notes on a medical case sheet indicate that he “[h]as only a moderate degree of insight. Says CSM was against him + this made him depressed! Tried to get officers to take it up + investigate reasons for CSM’s antagonism. Says the CSM often appeared to be under the influence of drink, that he did not know his duties or his place, that the other NCOs made similar complaints against the CSM…. Gives clear connected narrative in intelligent manner. Memory good. No hallucinations traced. Very slight degree of retardation present….” He also complains of pain from a hernia. (Pages 36-37)
  • November 17, 1918 – His disabilities are “Exhaustion Psychosis” and “Left Inguinal Hernia”. Section 7: “He is much improved. Bright and responsive, works well in the ward + has good insight into the nature of his recent mental depression. He still maintains that he was the object of persecution on the part of the C.S.M…. He is clear on the point that it is not a delusion….” (Page 57)
  • December 12, 1918 – A medical case sheet documents an altercation with another soldier in his barracks over a towel, stating that Pegahmagabow “struck Pte Grosvenor causing a black eye. When spoken to he threatened to repeat it.” Later notes indicate that he is behaving quietly but “[has] some rather distorted ideas, if not actual delusions. He is reticent, however, and his real attitude + ideas cannot be clearly elicited on any of these doubtful points.” He is said to have expressed “delusions of personal power + influence” in a letter written to a lady in Yorkshire. (Page 19)
  • March 19, 1919 – A “Medical History of an Invalid” form indicates that he has “suspected dementia” and is suffering from depression and partial loss of mental function. He “talks rationally” but has frequent headaches and “seems to have full consciousness of surroundings during sleep. At times, his memory is absolute blank and others normal.” He complains of a cough, pain in his head, and that his eyes are failing him. “Man states was buried three times and blown up once. Was wounded four times, but only once received treatment. Never noticed any nervous effects from shocks beyond a few hours paralysis, June 13-16 after shell explodes in his vicinity.” (Pages 21-22)
  • April to May 1919 – A medical case sheet indicates that he is “Very reticent, unwilling to give any information. Appears to be suspicious of everyone. Is very desirous of returning to his own people.” However, specialists report “no evidence of mental disease or organic nervous disease. It would seem his actions are quite normal to one of his race and tribe.” (Page 31)
  • May 2, 1919 – Captain F.F. Tisdall forwards the contents of a neurological report on Pegahmagabow to the Officer Commanding at the College Military Hospital in Toronto: “This N.C.O. states that he is feeling fine, and has no complaints at all. He says that he was held as ‘suspect’ as a mental case, from Nov. 11th 1918, until Jan. 10th 1919. He gives as his reason for this that Sgt. Maj. and the Captain were down on him, and that the senior N.C.O. ordered him to change his post without it being in written orders….” The captain later writes: “There is no evidence, at the present time, of any delusions of persecution, and he has no hallucinations. His judgement appears good, and there is no evidence of there being any mental disease, at present time.” He recommends Pegahmagabow be discharged to civil life. (Page 41)

Interesting Details from the Service Record

  • October 3, 1915 – He sails from Quebec to England on the SS Laurentic. (Pages 83 and 105)
  • December 13, 1917 – A note indicates that he was promoted to Corporal in the field on November 1, 1917. (Page 6)
  • May 13, 1919 – He is discharged due to demobilization. His discharge certificate indicates that he received the Military Medal with two added bars. (Page 4)
  • November 9, 1934 – His Record of Service indicates that he was made a lance-corporal in August 1915, reverted to the rank of private at his own request in September 1916, and was promoted to corporal in November 1917. (Page 16)
  • May 15, 1950 – A letter written to the War Records Office of the Department of National Defense in Ottawa by the district supervisor of Casualty Welfare at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital reads: “The a/m veteran who has been a patient at this hospital since 24th April 1950 claims that he was never supplied with a Service button for his service during the first World War…. This veteran has asked that I write you concerning the possibility of being supplied with his Service button.” (Page 10)
  • June 6, 1950 – He receives in the mail, from the War Service Records office in Ottawa, his Class “A” War Service badge for “[his] service during the Great War 1914-1918.” (Page 101)
  • November 25, 1976 – In addition to the Military Medal, he also received the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. (Page 96)
  • Various dates – He has no next of kin. In case of his death, authorities are to notify Indian Superintendent D.F. MacDonald of Parry Sound and Miss C. J. Holland of Owen Sound, Ontario. (Page 82)

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