Alexander George Edwin Smith

Alexander George Edwin Smith was among the most famous Canadian veterans of the First World War.  Born August 14th, 1880 on the Six Nations reserve just outside of Brantford, he was the oldest son of Alexander George Smith, Chief of the Cayuga on the reserve. Before the War, Smith worked as a contractor and served with the Haldimand Rifles for over a decade. Smith was a proud military man fiercely loyal to England in accordance with the historic Haudenosaunee alliance with the crown. Smith enlisted on November 13th, 1914.  Due to his previous militia experience, Smith was commissioned as an officer, a rare event for indigenous soldiers.

Smith was attached to the 20th Battalion and arrived in France September 15th, 1915.  The battalion would see action at some of the most significant battles of the war including the Somme, Vimy Ridge, Hill 70 and Passchendaele.  The Somme proved to be the most significant battle of the war for Smith as it was there he earned his Military Cross. On September 26th, Smith led his company in the vanguard of the attack on Tara Valley. On the second day of his assault, Smith led a party of bombers in an attack which captured 50 German prisoners. During the battle, Smith was buried twice by shells, but continued fighting regardless. Captain Smith was wounded sometime later and evacuated. After being treated for his wounds, Smith was sent to the reserve depot of his unit to recover fully where he remained until April 1917 when he became ill and was returned to Canada. Smith spent the last year of the war in Niagara, training volunteers for service in the Polish “Blue Army”, for which he was awarded the Black Star by Poland in 1920.

At first it seemed as though Smith has miraculously escaped the war with no long-term injuries. However, repeated close calls with explosive shells in 1915 and 1917, had left him temporarily death and with long-term hearing impairment. The extent of the impairment did not become apparent until 1920 when a hearing test showed Smith could not hear someone speaking from more then a couple feet away or any pitch above 2048 hertz, 1/10 of the normal human range. The Pension Board granted Smith a 30% pension of $ 25.00 a month and an additional pension of $24.00 on account of his wife and children. In addition to his hearing loss, Smith suffered severe headaches and neck pain on occasion. Despite being a land-owning adult, citizen and war hero, Smith was not directly given his pension. As an Indian under the law Smith was a ward of the state, and thus the Department of Indian Affairs had control over his pension. In 1932, Smith was retroactively diagnosed with asthma, which was attributed to his service.

Smith’s asthma proved crippling, leaving him unable to sleep several nights a week and unable to work for several years. Smith was able to somewhat recover and by 1939 was farming 100 acres on the reserve with the help of his eldest sons and nephews. His improvement in health did not last, as his age worsened his asthma forcing him and his family to relocate to Buffalo in 1942. In 1945, Smith requested treatment in Toronto for his symptoms which the pension board granted immediately. After a few years of treatment, it was decided by doctors that there was little they could do to improve his overall condition. Although Smith had hoped to leave the hospital to return to his farm on the reserve, his poor health caused him to return to Buffalo. Smith would live in Buffalo until his death on August 21st, 1954 from a heart attack. His body was repatriated to Canada and was buried at Saint Paul Anglican Church Cemetery in Middleport Ontario.

 

Click here to access Alexander George Edwin Smith’s military service file at Library and Archives Canada.

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