Wilfred Matthew, a Simpcw First Nation man who served with the Canadian Armed Forces during World War II, is being remembered in his own words and by his son Keith, who recently shared a very special document with Black Press regarding his father’s wartime service in the run-up to this year’s Remembrance Day service.
“My dad, my uncles all fought for our freedom,” says Keith. “They would be happy that here in our community of Simpcw First Nation, we welcome everyone from other communities to our services on Remembrance Day. That’s what they fought for.
“I have a write-up from [my dad’s] experience during World War II. My dad said they were treated like men when they would go to the pub with the ‘boys’, and when they took the uniforms off they were treated like second-class citizens. To a man, that is what they said. There are so many injustices our people have endured. That is only one example.”
Keith believes that some may not know that First Nations people, as legal wards of the federal government, couldn’t be drafted. “Our family members volunteered to go in the First and Second World Wars. If you look at this from a per capita basis, considering how many of our men and women volunteered to serve, it’s quite astounding. Very significant.”
Wilf Matthew was already married and living in Chu Chua in the North Thompson Valley when he enlisted at age 22 with the Canadian Armed Forces. Wilf’s wife Delores came from the Jules family from Skeetchestn Indian Band and the couple had eight children together: Bertha, Eleanor, Ron, Martha, Willy, Sam, Keith, and Norma.
In his own transcribed words, recorded by a family member, Wilf shared memories of his enlistment.
“I joined the army around Christmas of 1941, staying around Kamloops during the holidays at the expense of the government. Following that we were sent to Vancouver for medical and I signed on the ‘dotted line’, as a gunner, an artillery man.
“From there we went to Vernon for basic training and at the end of two months wrote an I.Q. test. Then I had an interview with the ‘powers that be’ and I volunteered to go overseas as a reinforcement for the Seaforth Highlanders and was told that I should give the artillery a try, with more chances for different things and no footslogging.”
Wilf transferred to a regiment for advanced artillery training in Brandon, Manitoba, expecting to be sent overseas. He was then asked to attend classes to become a non-commissioned officer, joining a regiment that would be mobilized in Canada and would then go overseas as soon as the regiment was up to strength. Two-and-a-half months later, after extensive classroom work on gunnery and learning how to give commands and conduct drills, he completed the course, gaining “my three stripes as a Gun Sergeant” and headed home to Simpcw for a two-week furlough.
“After my two weeks at home, I went back and joined the outfit called the 84th Independent Field Battery RCA, 24th Regiment. We were equipped with 25-pounder guns. These guns fired 25-pound shells, to about nine miles.
“A couple of days after we joined the battery, the C.O. [commanding officer Major Smith] had us paraded, telling us we had to take our stripes off and that we would get them back when we proved that we could handle them. A day later, we were again paraded before him, and he told us to put them back on. Military District #10 must have heard what Major Smith had done, probably from the school in Brandon, and Major Smith was ‘told off’ in no uncertain terms.”
Training continued at the Canadian Forces base in Shilo, Manitoba for the summer of 1942, during which time the Japanese shelled Esquimalt harbour off the coast of B.C. apparently from a submarine, although some reports state it was from a warship, and no injury or damage sustained. Read more about the incident at https://bit.ly/49nqao7.
“That’s when orders for the 24th Field Regiment changed from overseas to ‘home defence’, and come October we were headed for the West Coast,” said Wilf. “We stayed in Vancouver for the winter, and in early April of 1943 we went to Nanaimo. About June we were equipped with American 75-pack howitzers and in July about 5,000 Canadians — the 84th Battery was amongst that bunch — joined about 35,000 American troops and sailed for the Aleutian Islands.
“We landed on Kiska Island in August, arriving about two weeks after the Japanese had left. I guess they heard the Canadians were coming. I would say they would have made it pretty hot for us if they had stayed to fight. I think a lot of us could thank our lucky stars they decided to leave.
“We landed back in Vancouver on New Year’s morning of 1944, staying in Canada for that summer. The regiment was disbanded in October and most of us were on our way to Europe as reinforcements for the army over there. Replacement for casualties was getting critical in Europe at that time.
“I landed in Liverpool, England on New Year’s morning of 1945. I never got to where the fighting was going on. I got ‘categorised’ in the late part of 1944 as my legs couldn’t stand up to infantry training. I spent all my time in England, and I did not get to see the continent of Europe, arriving back in Kamloops on Dec. 17, 1945.”
Wilf’s son Keith explains how the recording and transcription of his father’s memories and experiences came about.
”This was kind of our dad’s final goodbye for our family. A legacy. It was recorded for our Indigenous research and history at the time. Many of the men and women who served were also Residential School survivors, experiencing more than one type of trauma and PTSD during their lifetimes.
“I loved my dad. I honour him and all those who served. We welcome everyone in our valley to our Remembrance Ceremony. He would have liked that. It’s why they all served. To protect our freedom.”