Tom “Little Chief” Settee was born in Cumberland House, Saskatchewan on 29 October 1914. Settee was born with a lung disorder, but this never held him back from pushing himself in his career and later joining the army.
When he was 7, Settee was sent to Elkorn Residential School. He then moved with his family to Prince Albert. As a young adult, he turned to boxing to help improve his lung capacity. In 1937, Settee began training and entering competitions with the hope of one day becoming a welterweight champion. In 1939, the start of the Second World War put that dream on hold.
Prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, Settee had already enlisted in the Militia and was a part of the North Saskatchewan Regiment. When the war began, Settee was transferred another regiment – the Regina Rifles – who were sent to train in Britain in 1941. They were nicknamed the “Farmer Johns” because of the many Saskatchewan farmers and trappers that constituted the regiment.
Alongside serving his country, sport was also very important for Settee. He continued his boxing career within the Canadian Army and made three consecutive appearances in the Canadian Army overseas boxing championship, winning his third time in 1944.
Settee was one of the 14,000 Canadian soldiers who landed at Normandy on D-Day, 6 June 1944. He fought alongside The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada and Le Regiment de la Chaudiere in the town of Courseulles-sur-Mer. He survived the initial assault but was later injured near Caen while running between slit trenches. Settee sustained shrapnel to the hip that was never removed.
Following the war, Settee returned home and continued his boxing career. He won most of the professional fights he entered, claiming the Western Canadian welterweight and middleweight championships. In 1956, he married Jean Wilson, whom Settee met while in Britain during the war. Following his retirement, he opened a barbershop, but his love for boxing never left him. Settee continued to mentor young boxers and teach them the values he had learned in the profession.
In 1991, Settee was inducted into the Canadian Boxing Hall of Fame and, in 1992, into the Prince Albert Sports Hall of Fame. He passed away at the age of 97 in April 2012.
Settee was interviewed by The Memory Project and described his experiences on D-Day.
Main Photo: Tom Settee and his painting of Juno Beach (Credit: Historica Canada, via The Memory Project).