Paying homage to a World War I decorated hero – John Henry Yahba

Southampton Cemetery entrance

Coming to the end of November, the month of Remembrance and, on a cold, blustery November 29th (2023), the granddaughters and great granddaughters of John Henry Yahba joined historian Bill Streeter, Saugeen First Nation Chief Conrad Ritchie, members of the Southampton Legion Branch 155 and several Saugeen First Nation residents at Southampton Cemetery.


They were there to lay a wreath and pay homage to John Henry Yahba of Saugeen First Nation and one of Bruce County’s most decorated soldiers from World War I.  Both John and his son are in the Cemetery.

Photo submitted

John Henry Yahba

John Henry Yahba was born in Saugeen First Nation on October 1, 1880. In 1915, he enlisted in the 135th Middlesex Battalion but transferred to the 160th Bruce Battalion when it was formed a few months later. In October 1916, he sailed to England on the S S Metagama with the 1,173 members of the 160th.

After a long period of training in Britain he transferred to the 18th Western Ontario Battalion and in 1918 arrived at the wars front in France. On August 10th, the 100 Day Offensive began that brought about the end of WWI on November 11 that year.

Private Yahba played a leading role by making his own significant contribution to helping to bring an end to this horrible conflict. The story is told briefly in the 1934 reunion booklet “Bruce in Khaki” as copied from the story in the London Gazette Publication dated March 9, 1920 Supplement 31819 Page:3128.

Quote:  “During the operation at Iwuy, on the 10th/11th October, 1918, he took command of the section when his section commander was killed, and led them forward. Throughout, he showed great gallantry and initiative and rendered valuable service.”

He received a battlefield promotion to Lance Corporal.

For his Bravery and Gallantry, Private John Henry Yahba was awarded the “Canadian Distinguished Conduct Medal”. This medal is second only to the Victoria Cross. Instituted in 1854, the Distinguished Conduct Medal was awarded to Warrant Officers, non-commissioned officers, and men, serving in any of the sovereign’s military forces, for distinguished conduct in the field. It was the second highest award for gallantry in action (after the Victoria Cross) for all army ranks below commissioned officers and was available to navy and air force personnel also for distinguished conduct in the field. Recipients were entitled to the post-nominal letters DCM.

John returned to Canada and was discharged in London on May 24, 1919.

He died on November 28, 1953, at 73 years of age.


By: G. William Streeter
With the support of Bryant John, Saugeen First Nation

Author’s Note:  There was only 1 Distinguished Conduct Medal awarded to a local soldier, John Yahba.  There have been 10 in Bruce County – four in Walkerton, three in Wiarton and two in Kincardine and our Mr. Yahba.
In reality no one ‘from” Bruce County has ever won a higher Military award than these 10 men.

As explained by Chief Conrad Ritchie, YAHBA in Ojibwa means, “lead buck” and members of the Yahba clan have been leaders in their community.

Therefore, there is no doubt that when his commanding officer was killed, John Henry Yahba became the “lead buck”.