While the Quebecois – thanks in part to the Orange Lodge bigotry of Sir Sam Hughes – were less inclined than other Canadians to fight in World War One, they were certainly not absent. The attitude carried over into the World War Two, but again, there were many Quebecois who fought for Canada and to liberate the captive nations of Nazi Germany and its allies.
Quebecois still serve, and frequently distinguish themselves. Here are few of the adornments to the glory of Quebec and of Canada that all of us should remember.
Sgt. Léo Major, DCM and Bar: One of the greatest Canadian fighting men in World War Two, from D-Day to VE Day in the Régiment de Chaudiére, he ignored severe wounds (including the loss of an eye) and twice single-handedly captured over a hundred Germans. He refused the first recommendation of the Distinguished Conduct Medal, a medal for courage by enlisted men second only to the Victoria Cross. He did accept it for the single-handed liberation of the Dutch town of Zwolle. His second DCM came from the Korean War, where this one-eyed NCO captured a key hill from the Chinese with 18 men.
General Jacques Alfred Dextraze, CC, CMM, CBE, DSO and Bar, CD. The awards of the Distinguished Service Order are the most telling; the medal is second to the VC as a medal for gallantry by officers but also recognizes superior leadership. Dextraze joined the Fusiliers Mont-Royal as a private in 1940 and came out of World War Two with both DSOs and the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. ‘Jadex’ would provide superior leadership again in the Korean War, in the Congo, and finished his military service as the Chief of Defence Staff from 1972-1977.
Major Talbot Mercer Papineau, MC. A glittering career lay before him as a lawyer and in politics in 1914, but he became one of the first officers of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. He was awarded the Military Cross and wounded in 1915 and was safe in a staff role after that, but he felt the need to return to his regiment and fell at Passchendaele in October 1917.
Brogadier General Paul Triquet, VC, CD. In December, 1943, as the 1st Canadian Division waded through fire and mud towards its ordeal in Ortona, Captain Triquet was a company commander in the Royal 22e Regiment. For the attack on Casa Berardi, casualties had shrunk his company to a tiny fraction of its normal strength, yet his sheer charisma and willpower impelled the 17 men left to him to take their objective and repel repeated German counter-attacks. He was awarded the VC.
Taumy St-Hilaire, SMV. Then a private in the Royal 22e Regiment, he was part of a patrol of 10 men in an Afghan village in 2011 when three groups of gunmen opened fire on them. Private St-Hilaire particularly distinguished himself that day for dashing into the open to rescue two Afghan civilians who were pinned down in the middle of the fire-fight. He ensured they got to safety. The Star of Military Valour is Canada’s second highest award for courage in battle.
Major General George Vanier, PCO, DSO, MC, CD. He came through the First World War with the DSO and the Military Cross appended to his chest, both earned for his noted bravery in combat. He also left a leg behind in France, but continued with the military before embarking on a distinguished career as a diplomat. He was Canada’s 19th Governor General – and one of the very best to ever hold that position.
LCol Charles de Salaberry, CB; a Quebecois who served in the British Army during the Napoleonic Wars with the 44th and 60th Regiments. He returned to Canada as tensions with the United States grew and raised a force of Quebec militia – Les Voltigeurs. In November 1813, his force of 1,800 Voltigeurs, redcoats and Mohawk Indians fended off 4,000 American troops at Chateauguay, saving Montreal from capture. A skilled and brave officer, he eventually became a Member of the Order of the Bath.
Je me souviens… the rest of us should too.