The Nova Scotia-based No. 2 Construction Battalion, formed in 1916 sum 106 years ago, is held as the first Black army squad to fight in World War I. This group of courageous individuals takes part of the military burdens along with the unjust treatment or recognition for their acts of bravery during a pivotal part of the 20th century.
This past July 5th marks the anniversary of the Battalion’s forming in Pictou, Nova Scotia. Leader of the Battalion, Captain Kenneth Allan Morrison, and his Lieutenants are the only members of the battalion who make up the only White his men headed for the battlefield on March 28th, 1917, aboard the SS Southland out of Halifax.
This July 9th, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau officially apologized on behalf of Canada for this disenfranchisement experienced by those who served in the Battalion during WWI. According to documentation, soldiers of the Battalion were forced to live in segregated camps with lesser treatment by the military on an individual level and systemic one, having subpar equipment, food, and medical attention. These blatant acts of racism were acknowledged this past week by the federal government of Canada; “We are committed to meaningful change, where the dignity of all service members in the Canadian Armed Forces is upheld,” (Justin Trudeau).
Registration information on all soldiers of the Battalion is in the Attestation Papers on the Archives of Canada (13 pages long). The names, addresses, kin, date of registry, and military rank can be found among hundreds of entries.
The No. 2 Construction Battalion is not the first Canadian military regiment to involve Black soldiers. During the 1812 war, Captain Runchey’s Company of Coloured Men served under the old rulers of the English (U.K) army over 200 years ago. Not to forget the Black soldiers who were involved in combat during the 1850s (also under British rule) in the Crimean War.
This apology is long overdue but needed for an under-discussed part of Canadian history.