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Remembering a Mi’kmaw soldier who spent years as a prisoner of war

Patrick Metallic was captured while fighting in Hong Kong during the Second World War and spent nearly four years as a prisoner of war.

Patrick Metallic was a part of the 1st Bn of the Royal Rifles of Canada during the Second World War. (Submitted by Jane Gray)

Life was not easy for Patrick Metallic, a Mi’kmaq veteran from Listuguj, Que., when he returned home from the Second World War.

As a part of the Royal Rifles of Canada, a rifle regiment in the Canadian Army out of Quebec City, Metallic was one of 1,975 troops in Canada who fought in the Defence of Hong Kong and spent nearly four years as a prisoner of war.

Hong Kong was the first place Canadians fought a land battle in the Second World War. In November 1941, troops from Winnipeg and Quebec City were sent to reinforce the British colony. 

On Dec. 8, Japanese forces invaded and overran Hong Kong’s defences in 17 days, killing 290 Canadians. Metallic was captured on Christmas Day and spent time in three different POW camps in Hong Kong before being sent to Sham Shui Po Camp in Japan on Jan. 19, 1943, where he was imprisoned in foul conditions and endured brutal treatment.

“He was severely beaten,” said his grandson Patrick Denny Isaac.

“He was beaten so bad that he swallowed his fake teeth and they had to surgically remove them from his chest.”

During one of the camps, he was slave labour on ships.

A letter Patrick Metallic wrote home. (Submitted by Patrick Denny Isaac)

The POWs were liberated in August 1945 after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki forced Japan’s surrender and ended the war in the Pacific.

Returning home

When Metallic returned home to Listuguj, he was a different person. The undiagnosed post-traumatic stress from his experience caused struggles with alcoholism and violence. He died at the age of 55 on May 19, 1971. 

Patricia Metallic-Gray, 80, is one of Metallic’s nine children. She describes her childhood as a troubling time when her father returned home.

“It was not very nice. My father had flashbacks all the time. He thought he was still in the war.” said Metallic-Gray.

“That went on for years and years. I hated him because I never understood.”

Patricia Metallic-Gray and her daughter Jane Gray. (Submitted by Jane Gray)

In 2010, Metallic-Gray​​​​​​​ travelled to Hong Kong to learn about what her father experienced as a POW. She said after her trip, she went to the graveyard in Listuguj to apologize to him.

“It lifted a big load off my back,” she said. 

“I finally understood after why he did the things he did, and nobody was around to help him.”

Scott Sheffield, an associate professor of history at the University of the Fraser Valley, has spent the better part of the last two decades researching the military service by Indigenous people in Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the United States. 

“A lot of veterans retreated into alcoholism as a way to deal with demons that they returned home with,” said Sheffield.

“Post-traumatic stress disorder was something that was not well understood. People had a sense that they might be haunted by their experience, but there was no clinical understanding.”

He said that left a lot of veterans falling through the cracks.

“For Indigenous veterans, they were doubly falling through the cracks in that regards,” said Sheffield.

“First Nations in theory could access equal support [as] any other veteran in Canada, but the reality in which those benefits were administered made that really difficult.”

That’s because Indian Affairs was involved with the process. Rather than dealing with someone at Veterans Affairs, First Nations veterans had to go through the Indian agent in their community.

“A lot of [Indian agents] didn’t really understand all of the programs; they were still sending in incomplete applications as late as 1949, 1950, and as a result a lot of veterans faced delays or didn’t get very good information,” said Sheffield.

Patricia Metallic-Gray talks about her father’s WWII service and aftermath 8:57

Indigenous contributions to the Second World War

Nov. 8 marks National Aboriginal Veterans Day, which was first observed in Winnipeg in 1994 as a way to separately honour Indigenous contributions to Canada’s military service.

And every year on Remembrance Day, the Listuguj Veterans Memorial Committee organizes a mass, ceremony, and feast to honour the community’s veterans. 

“It’s a big deal for our family. Every year since I was a little kid, we always honoured our grandfather,” said Patrick Denny Isaac, who also volunteers with the committee.

Patrick Metallic was a boxer before he enlisted. (Submitted by Patrick Denny Isaac)

“Every year we honour that sacrifice and what he’s been through. “

Mary Bradstreet Metallic is another volunteer on the committee. She said Metallic’s story is one the community cannot forget. According to Veterans Affairs Canada, at least 3,000 First Nations members enlisted in the Armed Forces during the Second World War, and that included several men from Listuguj.

“We have a large, long history of veterans in our community. It’s important so that we don’t forget,” she said. 

“My sister-in-law is the one who continues to remind me what it was like when her brother was a prisoner of war and what he was like when he came back. He was a big, big man. He was a boxer in our region and when he came home, he was nothing but skin and bones.”

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