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Brothers in Arms

Two sons of Chief Alexander Smith joined the 20th Battalion and both became officers, drawing upon their years of militia experience. Here members of the battalion drill at Exhibition Camp in Toronto before going overseas. (John Boyd / Library and Archives Canada / PA-61412)

Two sons of the Six Nations Cayuga chief, Alexander George Smith, served overseas as officers and both were awarded the Military Cross (MC) for gallantry.38 Alexander Jr. and Charles Smith enlisted in Toronto three months after the outbreak of the war. Until then, the militia had been the focus of their adult lives. Both were officers in the Haldimand Rifles before the war and, because of this experience, were commissioned officers after enlisting in the regular force.

The elder, Alexander, who had served in the militia for 17 years, earned his MC in France in September 1916 during the second Allied assault on the Somme. A lieutenant with the 20th Battalion, Smith headed a specialty unit charged with finding suitable locations for stockpiling ammunition.39 Along with a scouting unit, his group was the first in the battalion to go forward. Once his task was accomplished, he joined in the battle.

Smith's citation explains that on the second day of the assault, "he proceeded with a party of bombers and captured an enemy trench and 50 prisoners, displaying the greatest courage throughout. He was twice buried by shells but stuck to his post."

Throughout their three weeks in action on the Somme, the 20th Battalion suffered 430 casualties, including 111 dead. The lieutenant was one of the wounded; however, he recovered and later returned to his unit. In April 1917, after falling ill, Smith returned to Canada. The following October, he was posted to a training camp at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. Many soldiers from Poland trained here. Smith had been promoted captain and served as adjutant, the commanding officer's assistant. When the war ended, the captain was named an Officer of the Order of the Black Star, a Polish order, for his distinguished service at the camp. He became one of only five Canadians to receive this honour.40

In July 1918, Captain Smith returned to his home in Hagersville on the Six Nations Grand River Reserve, where he later became chief.

Like his older brother, Charles Denton Smith began the war with the 20th Battalion, although he ended up with the 18th. Between his service with the two battalions he was a recruiting officer on the reserve. With 10 years of experience in the militia, he quickly rose to the rank of captain. Smith earned his MC in France on November 9, 1918—two days before the war ended.

The Allies had finally broken through the enemy defences along the Western Front and were advancing steadily eastward. Smith's battalion was fighting its way toward Mons, Belgium. According to his citation, he "led his platoon forward with such rapidity that he surprised a party of [enemy] sappers41 preparing to blow up a road mine." The party was stopped as the fuse was being ignited. As well, Smith personally captured an enemy machine-gun from its crew later that day.

The 18th Battalion arrived in Mons November 11, 1918, officially the last day of the war. Captain Smith returned safely to Canada six months later.

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