Search This Blog

Thursday, June 26, 2014


For tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousand of volunteer soldiers enrolled in the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the First War, they did not partake in bloody battles, suffer live ending gun shot wounds, become maimed for life or die of some fatal disease. The vast majority volunteered to serve their term, employed in a wide variety of non-infantry/artillery Canadian Corps and returned to Canada to restart lives and raise families. So it was with my topic of this blog, Hughie Norval Powless, a Canadian-born Mohawk native who left school at the age of 15, married and had a son by the age of 21, while after the war providing for his family the best he could with a variety of jobs and addresses. What made Hugh a little different than most others and possibly to ensure consistent income, he enlisted  in World War II. No doubt this action was also due to Hughie's proud Mohawk warrior heritage.

The World War One and Two medals issued to H.N.Powless
So when I found the grimy and tattered grouping of six medals on Ebay several months ago covering two World Wars, named to a Powless family member, I had no idea that either I would be taking on such an interesting story or that in fact, these medals had been issued to a Canadian Mohawk soldier. I was familiar with the name from my youthful short lived lacrosse career. After a short research period I found enough information on the man to confirm my suspicions that indeed this fine grouping of six military medals (2 -WW I; 4 - WWII) over two wars was indeed issued to Hugh Norval Powless, a native of Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, west of the town of Deseronto on Ontario's Bay of Quinte. Nor would I know that Hughie's World War II service would turn out to be more interesting than his World War I service.
Hughie Powless Canadian Army (Active) 1939
Hugh Powless was born on January 5, 1896 on the Tyendinaga Reserve to parents John Powless and Margaret (Maggie) Brant, one of at least six children. The family in the 1901 census are shown as living on a farm on the reserve however 10 years later in the 1911 Census they are alone with the children gone. Apparently, Hugh Powless was sent to Six Nations to attend the Mohawk Institute in what is now the Woodland Cultural Centre. His name is inscribed on the Centre's Memorial Plaque (along with member of the Lickers' Family, whom I have blogged previously) Hugh Powless later shows up as living in Hamilton, ON, and serving in the 13th Regiment (RHLI). By Hughie's attestation in 1916 to the 173rd (Highlanders) Battalion, he is working as a carpenter and claims three years service with the 13rd Royal Highlanders Light Infantry. However Hughie's Casualty Form states that he was transferred to the 215th Battalion before leaving Canada to "close out the Regiment". Shortly before departing Canada, Hugh Powless married Louisa (Lula) Ethel English, daughter of John English and Ester Ethel Sherry, living in Jordan Harbour, west of Hamilton. Before his departure from Canada, son Francis Norval Powless had been born. Hughie embarked Canada April 28, 1917, arriving England May 7, 1917 being assigned to the 2nd Canadian Reserve Battalion in East Sandling. Two weeks later our man was again transferred this time to the 125th Canadian Infantry Battalion in Witley. His record jumps to March 15, 1918 at which time Hughie was sent to the Canadian Railway Troops Depot in Purfleet. One week later, he was assigned to the 7th Battalion, C.R.T. in the field in France April 4, 1918. Sapper Powless spent several of weeks hospitalized with pneumonia July 1918 and treated two weeks for "extreme" diarrhoea September 1918 which seemed to be an ongoing concern.  By January 1, 1919, Hughie had been posted to the C.R.T. Demobilization Depot in Knotty Ash (Liverpool) for return to Canada on the HMT Scotian, St. John, NB ultimately being discharged May 22, 1919 as "medically unfit" and receiving out patient treatment in Hamilton.  For his service in World War I, H.N. Powless received both the Canadian Victory medal and the British War Medal.

Present-day Woodland Cultural Centre previously the infamous
Mohawk Institute, 1828-1970
The between war years were difficult for the Powless family. At various times, Hughie work at a number of jobs, including quarry labourer, truck driver, teamster, metal riveter, and chauffeur. Lula and Hughie had three more children and changed addresses frequently. His militia service guaranteed a small source of regular income. When war was declared, 44 year old Hughie Norval Powless mobilized with his city's Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada August 26, 1939. Promoted in the Regiment to rank of Corporal September 28, 1944 he formally attested to the Canadian Active Service Force  as B-88317 on December 11, 1939, with Category "A". Here is where Hughie's service get particularly interesting. For this same day he was assigned to #2 District Depot in Toronto, two days later be transferred to 1st Petrol Company (1st Canadian Division).Six days later, Private Hugh Norval Powless embarked with his unit from the Port of Halifax for England. Hugh had returned to the land he had visited last +20 years ago in another war, this time with the 1st Brigade Group, 1st Canadian Infantry Division. Most of Hughie's time was spent training. He was briefly hospitalized Connaught Hospital Aldershot in February and qualified as a Class III driver.

Hughie and Lulu Powless
Private Powless's record shows that June 3, 1940 he embarked Plymouth, England for Brest, Brittany, France. He disembarked the next day in Brest.The same day he re-embarked in Brest.. On June 16, 1940 he dis-embarked in Plymouth. This abnormal sequence of events was in fact the ill-fated reaction by Great Britain and a 2nd British Expeditionary Force to counter the Germany invasion of France in the south of the country after the original British Expeditionary Force was evacuated at Dunkirk.  It included the Canadian 1st Infantry division and Powless's 1st Brigade Canadian Group which had landed in Brittany and was immediately withdrawn because of Germany's rapid advance in France. The entire division never actually made it to France, only individual units. The Canadian Brigade was forced to abandon most of it's vehicles, but it was able to save all it's artillery. The withdrawal action was called Operation Ariel and can be read in more detail HERE. The entire operation and background involving the 1st Canadian Infantry Division and their actual and intended actions on the Continental in 1940 can be read in great detail in Six Years of War, Colonel C.P.Stacy, Queen's Printer, 1955, Ottawa. Hughie continued training in the UK with the 1st Division. He was attached to the 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade November 16 and January 1-9 was granted privilege leave in the UK. On return he was assigned to 1st Canadian Petrol Park. His record shows being assigned to "Driver & Maintenance Camp", UK May 1941 while in July 1941 he was sent to the Canadian Army Service Corps holding unit in Bordon with an "E" category at his own request in order to facilitate a return to Canada in order to serve his military obligations closer to home. Hughie headed home in August and was attached to duty as an Officer's Mess waiter at the Canadian Army Training School in Hamilton, in order to be closer to his young family. However Private Powless was involved in a Court of Inquiry June 1942 in which he fell breaking his leg while "running to catch a streetcar home while on a pass after work at 23:00". It appears Hughie was found at fault as he was subject to repaying $51.93 for cost of hospitalization, his pay; allowances while off work and his dependants' allowance. He continued in this service until his discharge from the Canadian Army (Active) on October 3, 1942 due to being "unable to meet the required military physical standards".

For his service in World War II, Hugh Norval Powless received: the Canadian War Medal 1939-1945;  Canadian Defence Medal; Canadian Volunteer Service Medal with clasp; and for active service on the Continent, the campaign medal 1939-45 Star. After the war Hughie and family continued to live in Hamilton on York Street, working as a truck driver (1949 age 53) He is later show as living on both Rebbecca St. (1963 age 67) and Park St. (1972 age 75). However the story of Hugh Norval Powless seems to end January 1978 with his death in Pomona, Los Angeles County, California, U.S.A. Trish Rae, researcher at Tyendinaga advises that "Hughie Norval Powles, wife Lulu Ethel and children Francis Norval and Healthena enfranchised as a family 27th July, 1922. Enfranchised files are restricted so I don't have the file itself. I have the family on a summary list of enfranchisements for MBQ".

At this point I need to comment once more on the interest factor in completing this blog. In researching the founding of Tyendinaga and Six Nations, I found myself reading volumes on Aboriginal roles during the American War of Independence, War of 1812 and subsequent uprisings. Books and papers on Joseph Brant, Mohawk families, Canadian Army in WWII and the settlement of Southern Ontario were consulted, the net result increasing my knowledge factor of Canadian History substantially.

As well I need to warmly thank and express my appreciation to the following people for their knowledge and contributions: Tammy Martin, Volunteer Researcher at Woodland Cultural Centre; Amanda Hill, Archivist, Deseranto Archives; Paula Whitlow, Museum Director, Woodland Cultural Centre; Trish Rae, researcher at Tyendinaga.



Anonymous said...

Excellent Article :)

Museum Strathroy-Caradoc said...

Well done Bob.