He enlisted in the Canadian ARMY on 3 June 1940 and was assigned to the 1st Field Park Company of the Royal Canadian Engineers. By 1942 Prince was a sergeant with the Canadian Parachute Battalion. Posted to the 1st Canadian Special Service Battalion, he was among a select group of Canadian soldiers sent to train with an American unit to form a specialized assault team. They became the 1st Special Service Force (1st SSF), known to the enemy as the "Devil's Brigade." The name was adopted by Hollywood as the title of a 1968 portrayal of the elite unit. Prince was portrayed as "Chief."
Tommy Prince distinguished himself with the 1st SSF in Italy and France, using the skills he'd learned growing up on the Reserve. In Italy he was responsible for the destruction of four German tanks that had been firing on Allied troops. In France, Prince endured a gruelling trek across rugged terrain to locate an enemy bivouac area. He led the brigade to the encampment, resulting in the capture of over 1000 German soldiers.
When the fighting ended in southern France, Prince was summoned to Buckingham Palace, where King George VI decorated him with the Military Medal (MM) and, on behalf of the American president, the Silver Star with ribbon. Prince was one of 59 Canadians who were awarded the Silver Star during WORLD WAR II, only three of whom also possessed the MM.
Tommy Prince was honourably discharged on 15 June 1945 and returned to Canada. He came home to discover that the business he'd entrusted to friends had failed in his absence. Facing unemployment and discrimination, he re-enlisted and served with the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI). During two tours of duty in the KOREAN WAR he won the Korean, Canadian Volunteer Service and United Nations Service medals. He was wounded and was honourably discharged on 28 Oct 1953.
In civilian life, Prince had to fight his own demons, including alcoholism, a battle he won. He had a strong sense of civic duty and a fierce pride in his people. He dedicated himself to attaining increased educational and economic opportunities for Aboriginal peoples. He spent his last years living in a Salvation Army shelter and died at the Deer Lodge Hospital in Winnipeg.
Author LAURA NEILSON
Links to Other Sites
Watch the Heritage Minute about Tommy Prince from the Historica-Dominion Institute. See also related online learning resources.
A Soldier’s Life: Tommy Prince
A profile of Sergeant Thomas George Prince, M.M from the website for History 103: Canadian Military History through Biography.
A display of decorations awarded to Sgt. Tommy Prince. From the Airborne Regiment Association of Canada.
'We Never Lost a Battle': Devil's Brigade honoured
Watch a CTV News feature about the Canadian-American First Special Service Force, an elite Second World War commando unit also known as the "Devil's Brigade".
The First Special Service Force: Waste of an Elite Unit or Mountain 'Rangers' at the Perfect Time?
A review of two books that examine the Canada's role in the Second World War First Special Service Force. From "The Journal of Conflict Studies".
The Memory Project: Aboriginal Veterans
Listen to interviews with Canadian veterans about their wartime military service. Also check out related digitized artefacts and memorabilia. From the Historica-Dominion Institute.