There are countless stories about soldiers who were significantly under the age requirement for service who fought in the First World War. Not many are told however, about soldiers who were much older than the age limit. Jeremiah Jones, a Black Canadian, was 58 years old when he enlisted with the 106 Battalion (Bn.) in 1916 – 13 years over the age limit.
Born March 30, 1858, in East Mountain, Nova Scotia, Jones would have been one of the oldest combatants of the First World War. The rural life of East Mountain kept Jones in particularly good physical condition, and he could easily pass for a man 20 years his junior. When the 106 Bn. was authorized and began recruitment in November 1915, there was significant resistance to Black soldiers being allowed to fight alongside White soldiers. An all-Black battalion would be authorized in July 1916, but not before approximately 16 Black volunteers were accepted into the 106 Bn., including Jones. Jones listed his birthdate as March 29, 1877, on his enlistment papers, a lie which would have made him 39 years old (19 years younger than he actually was).
In France, Jones was transferred to the Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR). This put Jones on the front lines in 1917, during the battle of Vimy Ridge. During the assault on the ridge, Jones’ unit was pinned under heavy German machine gun fire. Jones volunteered to attack the position on his own. In a daring rush, he sprinted towards the machine gun nest and threw a grenade inside. The explosion killed several German soldiers, and the rest were forced to surrender during his onslaught. Jones made the captured soldiers carry their empty machine gun and other weapons back across Canadian lines and drop them at the feet of his commanding officer.
Jones was wounded later in action at Vimy Ridge and spent almost a year in the hospital before his medical discharge in 1918. He was recommended for a Distinguished Conduct Medal, an award for valour second only to the Victoria Cross, but never received one – likely due to racist attitudes at the time. Like many Black soldiers, Jones’ heroism went unrecognized for many years, despite efforts by his family and Nova Scotian Senator Calvin Ruck.
Years of campaigning by Jones’ family and other activists did eventually bear fruit. Jones was awarded the Canadian Forces Medallion for Distinguished Service on February 22, 2010. Although Jeremiah Jones had passed 60 years earlier on November 23, 1950, the recognition of his bravery was an important moment for his family and the Black Canadian community.
Additional Information & Further Reading:
Samuel Watts – Another Black Canadian soldier who served during the First World War.
Rocky Jones – A famous Black Canadian activist, descendent of Jeremiah Jones.
Main photo: Cropped photo of Jones in his uniform during the First World War. (Credit: The Canadian Encyclopedia)
Library and Archives Canada. 2016. “Jeremiah “Jerry” Jones.” Accessed August 2023. https://thediscoverblog.com/2016/02/01/jeremiah-jerry-jones/.
Oyeniran, Channon. 2018. “Jeremiah Jones.” The Canadian Encyclopedia. Accessed August 2023. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/jeremiah-jones.