Private Jeremiah (Jerry) Jones single-handedly captured a German machine gun nest and its crew during the 1917 battle for Vimy Ridge in France. Though suffering an arm wound, he took the surviving prisoners to the Allied Lines and handed them over to his commanding officer.
“I threw a hand bomb into the nest and killed about seven of them,” Jones said of the events of that day. “I was going to throw another bomb when they threw up their arms and called for mercy.”
Last week, Jones – who died in 1950 – was posthumously honoured for his bravery with the Canadian Forces Medallion for Distinguished Service.
He was one of 16 Black Nova Scotians recruited by the 106th Battalion Nova Scotia Rifles in 1915 after the Canadian government announced its non-discriminatory policy.
Jones joined the battalion in June 1916 at age 56 and was posted overseas where he volunteered for combat duty and was transferred to the Royal Canadian Regiment.
To recognize his bravery, Jones’ commanding officer recommended the Truro native for the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM), but he never received it.
“But, most regrettably and, I think, clearly attributable to the bigoted social attitudes of the time, Mr. Jones was never awarded the medal which his comrades and his family always believed he so rightfully deserved,” said Rear Admiral Paul Maddison.
The DCM was, until 1993, the second highest medal decoration after the Victoria Cross. The DCM along with the Distinguished Service Order and the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal were replaced by the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross.
Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay described Jones as a military hero, a remarkable Canadian and a giant figure in the history of African-Canadians who have served their country.
“This ceremony is about rectifying an historic wrong and recognizing a historic Canadian figure,” said MacKay. “For countless years, the historic acts and deeds of some Black soldiers, sailors, airmen and women were not appropriately noticed or recognized.”
Nova Scotia’s first Black Lieutenant-Governor Mayann Francis said Jones was a pioneer.
“It was his willingness to defend his country at a time when his country really did not want him,” she said. “Jones looked beyond the ingrained racism he undoubtedly faced on a daily basis and sought to serve in a noble and valiant manner.”
Historian and curator Dr. Sheldon Taylor said Jones is not the only African-Canadian soldier whose significant military service has been overlooked.
“I hope the Canadian military will go back and search the records for other Black soldiers with distinguished records, some of whom ended up working on the trains after they de-enlisted,” Taylor said.
William Hall, the first African Canadian to receive the Victoria Cross for bravery during combat, was honoured with a Canada Post commemorative stamp last month
Nova Scotia-born Hall, who was also the first Canadian sailor and just the third soldier in this country to be awarded the highest military decoration, was presented with the Victoria Cross by the British Royal Navy on October 28, 1859 after he valiantly defended a British garrison in Lucknow, India.