Frank Narcisse Jérome, Mi'kmaq, war hero (born 1886 in Maria, Gaspésie-Îles-de-la-Madeleine Region, QC; died 1934 in Gesgapegiag, Gaspésie-Îles-de-la-Madeleine Region, QC). Frank Narcisse Jérome was a First World War veteran from the Gesgapegiag First Nation in the Gaspé peninsula region who was recognized multiple times during the First World War for his bravery. Jérome was one of only 39 Canadian soldiers to win the Military Medal three times during the First World War, and is now recognized as one of the most honoured Indigenous veterans of the war (see Indigenous Peoples and the World Wars and Indigenous Peoples and the First World War). Jérome’s name appears on the war memorial in Gesgapegiag, Quebec.
Frank Narcisse Jérome, a Mi'kmaq member of the Gesgapegiag First Nation, was born near the town of Maria on Quebec's Gaspé peninsula in 1886. Before joining the army, Jérome worked as a labourer and lumberjack. While working, he suffered an axe injury to his right hand. Despite the injury, he was accepted by the Canadian army when he volunteered to fight in the First World War in 1916 at the age of 29.
The First World War
The First World War began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918. Canada, then a dominion of the British Empire, entered the war automatically on 4 August 1914 when Great Britain declared war on Germany.
Over the course of the First World War, policies shifted regarding Indigenous recruitment in Canada. Indigenous individuals, who were sometimes turned away at recruiting stations at the beginning of the war because they were not considered British subjects, were encouraged by the Canadian government to enlist by December 1915 as casualty rates rose (see Canada and the Second Battle of Ypres and Canada and the Battle of the Somme).
In June 1916, in the middle of the war and one year before conscription was enacted by the Canadian government in August 1917 (see Military Service Act and Conscription in Canada), Jérome volunteered to serve with the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF). He initially joined the 189th Battalion, a francophone unit based in Rivière-du-Loup, Quebec. Despite barriers to volunteering for service during the war, however, more than 4000 First Nations soldiers fought for the CEF in the First World War. Historians and other researchers estimate that a few thousand more First Nations, Métis, and Inuit soldiers enlisted without self-identifying as Indigenous.
In a 1917 government pamphlet titled Canadian Expeditionary Force, 189th Battalion, Nominal Roll of Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers and Men, now in the collection of Library and Archives Canada, Jérome’s rank is identified as “Private.” His Former Corps is listed as “Nil” and his next of kin is identified as “Younglouis Jerome.” In the “Taken on Strength” column, the place of Jérome’s enrollment is listed as New Carlisle and the date of volunteering for service is given as 6 June 1916. Jérome departed Canada from Halifax, Nova Scotia on the S.S. Lapland on 27 September 1916, bound for England.
When he arrived in England, Jérome was transferred to the 14th Battalion (Royal Montreal Regiment). In November 1916, after several weeks of training, he was sent to the Western Front. Jérome eventually fought in both France and Belgium. He fought at Vimy Ridge, a watershed battle for Canadian soldiers in April 1917 that turned the tide of the war in favour of the Allies (a coalition of countries led by Great Britain and France). Jérome also fought at Hill 70, Passchendaele, and in the series of battles now known as “Canada’s Hundred Days,” which took place in the final months of the First World War and began with the Battle of Amiens in August 1918.
Monument dedicated to Indigenous soldiers, like Frank Narcisse Jérome, who fought in the First World War and Second World War for Canada (Courtesy of Wikipedia).
Military Awards and Honours
Jérome was recognized multiple times during the war for his bravery. Despite likely discrimination, he rose through the enlisted ranks. He was promoted from private to lance corporal in May 1918 and then to corporal in November 1918. He ended his military service as a sergeant.
In late November 1917, the 14th Battalion was helping to hold the front lines near Avion, France. Jérome was a member of a Lewis machine gun crew when the Germans launched repeated trench attacks. During the battle, German shells exploded near Jérome twice. German soldiers continued to attack his position, and he fought them back twice. Following the explosions, Jérome collected a group of volunteers to go into No Man’s Land (the deadly area of land between Canadian and enemy trenches) and identify the bodies of their comrades who had been killed during the battle.
As a result of these actions, Jérome received the Military Medal. His first Military Medal citation reads: “For bravery and devotion to duty near Avion on the nights of November 27th, 28th, 29th and 30th 1917, w[h]ilst a member of a Lewis gun crew. Badly shaken twice by explosion of shells, this man continued at duty, assisted in repulsing two enemy raids, and later voluntarily formed one of a patrol to obtain identifications. His coolness under fire was a brilliant incentive to all ranks.” The citation is dated 28 December 1917.
In the late summer and fall of 1918, during the final months of the war, the Canadian Corps (see Canadian Command during the Great War) was at the forefront of a series of Allied attacks. Jérome received the Military Medal for the second time (i.e. his first military bar) because of his fighting in August or early September of 1918. A month later, during the crossing of the Canal du Nord by the Canadian Corps on 27 September 1918, Jérome committed another act of bravery. Despite having been wounded, he remained on the front lines helping another wounded man, and earned the second bar to his Military Medal for his actions during this battle. On his military record, the date given for his first military bar is 14 September 1918. On another hand-written line is inscribed “2nd Bar Military Medal,” which refers to his second military bar. All told, Jérome received the Military Medal three times (or as it is sometimes described, he received the Military Medal and two bars).
Jérome was discharged from the army in Montreal on 17 September 1919. He had become seriously ill with the Spanish flu (see Pandemic and Influenza) in February 1919 and needed months to recover. Nothing is currently known of Jérome’s civilian life after the war; he died of pneumonia in 1934 at the age of 47 or 48. His gravestone can be found in the old cemetery at Gesgapegiag, Quebec, and his name appears on the war memorial there.
Although Jérome was one of the most decorated of Canadian soldiers during the First World War, and one of the most honoured Indigenous veterans on record, he is only recently receiving the attention he deserves. At present, there is no known photograph of Jérome. Al Martin Sr., the coordinator for the Gesgapegiag Historical Centre, first became aware of Jérome when Martin was undertaking research for a plaque commemorating soldiers from Gesgapegiag who fought in the First World War.
Much of the currently available information about Jérome has become public thanks to amateur French historian Yann Castelnot, who is now based in Quebec. Castelnot began researching Indigenous veterans in 1998. Unlike some other decorated Indigenous veterans of the First World War, Jérome was not being written about in the media and history books. In large part due to Castelnot’s research, Jérome is now mentioned in the same breath as Indigenous veterans such as Company Sergeant-Major Francis Pegahmagabow and Sergeant Tommy Prince. Jérome is now recognized as one of only 39 Canadian soldiers who received the Military Medal with two bars during the First World War.