Norwest, Henrv Louis (Louie)

Henry Louis Norwest was born on May 1st, 1884, in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta. He was of French-Cree ancestry. Before the war, Norwest worked as a saddler and cowpuncher.

He first enlisted at Wetaskiwin, on January 2, 1915, joining the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) as a private with the 3rd Canadian Mounted Rifles. Discharged for drunkenness after three months, he was employed by the Royal North-West Mounted Police for a period of five months. He then re-enlisted in the CEF on September 8, 1915 in Calgary. His unit, the 50th Canadian Infantry Battalion, left for England two months later and proceeded to France in August 1916.

Private Norwest was said to be reserved rather than effusive. Whatever the situation, his calmness of manner and detachment never deserted him, and he served as an inspiration to his comrades at arms. He was nicknamed Ducky when, while on leave in London, he had had to “duck” the girls there.

Norwest was soon to become one of the most famous snipers in the First World War. Having achieved the rank of lance-corporal, he was even known to the German troops who feared him. He is officially credited with at least 115 observed hits. He possessed all the skills required of a sniper: excellent marksmanship, an ability to keep perfectly still for very long periods and superb camouflage techniques. As a result of his exceptional abilities his superiors frequently sent him on reconnaissance missions into "No Man's Land" or behind enemy lines. At night, he often crossed the enemy lines to make a kill in the early hours. He earned the Military Medal (MM) in 1917 during the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

Just prior to the last drive at Amiens, France, in August 1918, Norwest was sent behind the lines. At his request, however, he joined the attack and made himself invaluable in eliminating snipers and disabling machine-gun posts. Less than three months before the end of the war, his luck gave out. On August 18th, Norwest and two others were looking for a nest of troublesome enemy snipers in Fouquescourt (Somme, France). A German sniper's bullet hit the Métis marksman, killing him instantly. On his temporary grave marker his comrades inscribed, “It must have been a damned good sniper that got Norwest.” He was posthumously awarded a bar to his Military Medal “for Gallantry in the Field”, making him one of roughly 830 members of the CEF to be awarded this double honour.

A fellow soldier wrote of him:

“Our famous sniper no doubt understood better than most of us the cost of life and the price of death. Henry Norwest carried out his terrible duty superbly because he believed his special skill gave him no choice but to fulfil his indispensable mission. Our 50th [Battalion] sniper went about his work with passionate dedication and showed complete detachment from everything while he was in the line . . . . Yet when we had the rare opportunity to see our comrade at close quarters, we found him pleasant and kindly, quite naturally one of us, and always an inspiration”.

Married and the father of three children, Norwest was reinterred in Warvillers Churchyard Extension, a small village he had helped wrest from the enemy near Amiens. One of his sniper rifles is on exhibit at the King’s Own Calgary Regiment Museum, Museum of the Regiments, in Calgary.

Further Reading

  • James Dempsey, “Henry Norwest” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003. Retrieved March 8, 2016
  • Veterans Affairs Canada. Native Soldiers, Foreign Battlefields. [Ottawa]: Veterans Affairs Canada, 2005. Retrieved March 7, 2016
  • Wikipedia. “Henry Norwest” Retrieved March 7, 2016
Biographical Record
Full Name Norwest, Henrv Louis (Louie)
Also Known As Louie, Henry
Heritage Métis
Band Location Frog Lake/Duck Lake, SK
Birth Date 1884-05-01, 1884-05-08, 1915-01-02, 1915-09-08, 1917-07-09, 1918-10-07
Birthplace Prince Albert, SK
Date of Death 1918-08-18
Next of Kin Father: Henry Norwest
Married before Enlistment Single
Occupation before Enlistment Saddler, Cowpuncher
Biographical Notes Son of Mrs. Genevieve Norwest, of Sacred Heart, Alberta.
Cause of Death On Aug. 18th, 1918, three months before the war ended, Norwest and two others were looking for a nest of troublesome enemy snipers. A sniper's bullet hit Norwest, killing him instantly. CF. Native soldiers, Foreign battlefields, p. 13
Religion Roman Catholic
Conflict WWI
Service Number 3474, 435684
Service Files http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/military-heritage/first-world-war/first-world-war-1914-1918-cef/Pages/item.aspx?IdNumber=550938
CEF Unit 50th Bn
Rank Private
Previous Military Experience RNWMP - 5 months
Date of Enlistment 1884-05-01, 1884-05-08, 1915-01-02, 1915-09-08, 1917-07-09, 1918-10-07
Location of Enlistment Wetaskiwin, AB, Calgary, AB
Age at Enlistment 31
Service History He was killed at the Battle of Amiens., Norwest was one of the most famous Canadian snipers in WWI. He achieved a sniping record of 115 fatal shots in this three years with the 50th Batt. Cf. Native soldiers, Foreign battlefields, p 11, His career in the army didn't begin so gloriously. He enlisted in Jan. 1915 under the name Henry Louie and was discharged after three months for misbehaviour. Eight months later, he signed up again, under a new name with a fresh slate. Cf. Native soldiers, Foreign battlefields, p. 11
Date of Discharge 1915-01-01
Reason for Discharge Misbehaviour
Commonwealth War Graves Commission http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/308861/NORWEST,%20H
Age at death 30
Burial location Warvillers Churchyard Extention, Somme, France
Medals http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/military-heritage/military-medals-1812-1969/Pages/item.aspx?IdNumber=86146&, http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/military-heritage/military-medals-1812-1969/Pages/item.aspx?IdNumber=86147&
Medal awarded MM and Bar
Date Medal is awarded 1884-05-01, 1884-05-08, 1915-01-02, 1915-09-08, 1917-07-09, 1918-10-07
Other links http://www.metismuseum.ca/resource.php/14128
Identifier 4338