National Indigenous Veterans Day

National Indigenous Veterans Day is honoured every year on November 8th. However, this was not always so. In fact, this day of remembrance has only been occurring since 1994. It is a memorial day observed here in Canada to recognize the contributions of Indigenous soldiers to military service, particularly in the First and Second World Wars and the Korean War.

This year I would like to share about one of my own Indigenous ancestors who served in World War II and never returned home. In fact, while doing research on my family, I discovered that he was killed in action just months away from the end of the war in 1945. So close to returning home to friends and family, but not quite. In fact, his death was so traumatic for my other Great Uncle, his brother, that he committed suicide because his grief was so deep. But today, we are going to focus on the life of my Métis Great Uncle Réal Joseph Serinack, Great-Great Grandson to Chipakijikokwe (Marie Louise Riel).

Réal Joseph Serinack was born on May 3, 1924, in Cochrane in Northern Ontario. Réal Joseph was the son of Mary Louise McGregor and Dominique Serinack. His father, a Romanian immigrant, had served in the First World War; his mother was Métis and 1st cousin 1x removed to Louis Riel, the famous Métis leader, the founder of Manitoba.

From his mother’s first marriage, Réal had a half brother Thomas Belanger and two half sisters from his mother’s second marriage, Dolores Gerard (nee Gauthier) and Irene Montpetit (nee Gauthier). From his mother’s third marriage, Réal had a sister, Clémence Serinack and a brother, Donald Serinack.

Réal, who was raised Roman Catholic, went to school from the age of six until he was 15. Like many kids during the era, he left school to help his dad, working in his dad’s bakery.

Prior to his military career he had two civilian jobs. He worked as a delivery truck/wagon driver for his dad’s bakery, for three months. After that, his trade was listed as powerhouse operator for the Northern Ontario Power company where he worked for a yearn and a half in New Liskeard, Ontario. After the war he had dreams of becoming an electrical mechanic.

His hobbies included electrical work, reading, hockey (playing defence), rugby, softball (playing outfield), hunting and horseback riding. He was also very musically inclined, being able to play the violin and most stringed instruments. Furthermore, he was fluent in French, English and Michif (the language spoken by the Métis people).

Réal Joseph Serinack enlisted on March 15, 1943, at the age of 18 ¾ years in Toronto, Ontario. He was assigned to the 1st Hussars of the 6th Canadian Armed Regiment. According to his Military Specialties and Trades document, his motive for enlisting was that his father, Dominique Serinack, served in the First World War.

According to his Certificate of Medical Examination, Trooper Serinack was reported to be five feet eight inches tall and weighed 156 pounds with dark skin, brown hair and brown eyes. He had a scar over his left eye and eyebrow.

In his Personnel Selection Record, Trooper Serinack was described as having “a healthy appearance, self-assured, fairly alert, cooperative manner that suggests confidence in his ability.” It is also stated that, “This youth is an energetic aggressive type who should be suitable for combat abilities.”

After completing his basic training in Toronto, he went to Orilla, Ontario, on April 1, 1943. He was then transferred to Camp Borden on June 4, 1943. There, he was qualified as a gunner operator in group “C” on October 22. He left Canada on November 24, 1943 and arrived in the United Kingdom on December 1, 1943.

According to his letters back home, Trooper Serinack had formed a relationship with a British woman. He referred to “my girlfriend in Scotland” who wrote him letters two or three times a week. He hoped to bring her back to Canada after the war ended.

Letters from war

His letters were signed as “Ray” rather than Réal but the family members knew him as Joseph.

Trooper Serinack went over to Normandy, on June 6, 1944 with his tank regiment, the Canadian 1st Hussars, who landed at Juno beach and fought as part of the invasion of France.

According to the 1st Hussars war diaries for this day, it stated, “So we close this great day satisfied that we have accomplished all that was possible and lived up to our motto “HODIE NON CRAS”.” Hodie non cras are the words of the 1st Hussars regiment meaning, “Today not tomorrow”.

Throughout the next eight months, Trooper Serinack fought in battle after battle as the Allied forces liberated many countries from the Nazi occupation.

Trooper Serinack’s regiment was part of Operation Blockbuster” which took place from February 26 to March 3, 1945 in Germany.

According to the 1st Hussars war diaries, February 26 was cloudy and rainy during a military action against the town of Üdem, Germany. It was on the first day of the assault, 26th of February, Trooper Serinack died along with 15 other men in his regiment. Trooper Serinack was only 20 years old.

His headstone would be mistakenly engraved with the age of 23 but the military records verified his age as 20 years old from a specially-issued birth certificate. But it is easy to understand that all of these young men were aged just from being at war–so perhaps in spirit, he was older.

Réal Joseph Serinack was buried temporarily in Üdem, Germany before being moved to Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery in the Netherlands. His headstone is located in XXIV. A. 16. His headstone was engraved with the words


Meanwhile, back in Cochrane, Ontario, my Great-Grandmother had this tombstone made to remember her son, Real Joseph Serinack, killed in action.

Credits for some of the information shared here today goes to: Isobel Pozzobon and Elexis Scott, students from All Saints H.S., Kanata, Canada for Faces to Graves courtesy of Vanessa Kirtz, a teacher at All Saints H.S. With additional research and editing provided by Kurt Johnson. Finally, myself, Great Niece of Real Joseph Serinack, Theresa (Belanger) Buker (Diligent Harvester).

Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Canadian Virtual War Memorial
The Gallant Hussars, A History of The 1st Hussars Regiment 1856-2004
Library and our Archives
Photographs and information provided by nephew Rhéal Cousineau and great niece Theresa Buker
Project 44 war diaries

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