Black WWI war hero Jeremiah Jones honoured Saturday

Black WWI war hero Jeremiah Jones honoured Saturday

Jeremiah Jones was a Canadian war hero, but he wasn't treated like one by the federal government until more than 50 years after his death. 

The Nova Scotian who lied about his age to sign up for the military helped lead Canadian troops to victory in the Battle of Vimy Ridge in 1917. He was 58, too old to fight, so he said he was much younger. 

He was recommended for the Distinguished Conduct Medal, second only to the Victoria Cross, but he never lived to see the prestigious award. 

It wasn't until 2010 — 52 years after he died — that the Canadian government posthumously awarded Jones, who was black, a Canadian Forces Medallion for Distinguished Service. 

It took decades of campaigning by supporters to make it happen and Adam Jones, the veteran's great-great-grandson, said it was because of institutionalized racism in Canada that was running rampant at the time.  

"It was felt that black Canadians were physically strong but not intellectually able. So they were employed for rear-echelon duties like clearing trees and clearing roads," Jones told CBC News on Friday at the National War Memorial in Ottawa. 

Captured enemy soldiers

But his great-great-grandfather proved his comrades wrong. 

Jeremiah Jones led an attack and captured an entire German machine gun detachment and their weapons, forcing them to march back to Canadian lines. He also fought in the Battle of Passchendaele with his fellow troops from the 106th infantry battalion from his hometown of Truro, N.S. 

Now, Adam Jones is set to lay a wreath Saturday at the cenotaph for Ottawa's national Remembrance Day ceremony in honour of his illustrious ancestor and his service to Canada. Jones, who currently serves with the Canadian Armed Forces, said attitudes in Canada about soldiers of colour have changed since the 1950s and Canadians are more open to recognize their sacrifices. 

If Jeremiah Jones were still around today, Adam Jones said he would be proud of what Canada's military looks like. 

"We're one of the most diverse and inclusive fighting forces in the world. When it comes to representation to religion, ethnicity and gender, I'm extremely proud to be a Canadian soldier and I know that black Canadians now have an entirely different experience than those who went before us," he said. 

It's why he said he comes from a multi-generational military family to this day and why he's proud to participate in Saturday's ceremony.

"It's indescribable," he said of the honour. 

"My experience has been so positive. I want to both recognize those who went before and also show my appreciation for the military I serve in today."