Canada Post has chosen to honour No. 2 Construction Battalion, Canadian Engineers as part of its annual Black History month campaign. Here is an extract from their site:
Celebrate Black History Month and pay tribute to the pride, determination and sacrifice of Canada’s only predominantly black battalion – founded 100 years ago – with a new stamp and Official First Day Cover.
During the First World War, racial prejudice among some recruiters saw many black applicants turned away when they tried to enlist. Protests by Black Canadians, and a growing need for manpower in Europe, led to the creation of No. 2 Construction Battalion one hundred years ago on July 5, 1916. The following year, the Battalion was deployed to France, where they were attached to the Canadian Forestry Corps and stationed at Lajoux in the Jura Mountains. Some men from the Battalion joined combat units, while the rest worked to harvest and mill timber. Their product was shipped to the front, where it was used to build trenches, camps and railways.
Largely commanded by white officers, the men of No. 2 Construction Battalion faced segregation during their deployment, and saw their battalion disbanded after the war ended. Still, their patriotism and dedicated service helped break down racial barriers, paving the way for Black Canadians to freely enlist during the Second World War and subsequent conflicts.
Over the years, the CMEA has encouraged efforts to recognize this part of our heritage and has captured events and history concerning the Battalion:
As well, there have been many public tributes to the Battalion including the following:
Full Length Movie: In 2002, the film "Honour Before Glory", a one hour docudrama about Canada’s one and only all-Black army unit was released. The film depicts the tremendous obstacles the battalion overcame to become an important part of Canadian history. The battalion was affectionately known as the "Black Battalion".
The film is based on the diary of Captain William White who was the Chaplain for the battalion and the only black commissioned officer in the entire British Armed Forces during World War I. Aside from official archival records, his diary is the only existing account of hat happened to the black soldiers while they were serving their country. Poetic and eloquent descriptions from William White’s diary provide an emotional narrative for the film. Through compelling dramatizations, details of his story come to life in the film.
Above all, the film pays homage to the black soldiers of the Number two Construction Battalion who showed that the measure of a man is made through the courage in his heart and not by the colour of his skin.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW ABOUT CANADA: Zanana Akande: Former Canadian politician Zanana Akande tells the story of how Capt. William White and the Segregated No. 2 Construction Battalion paved the way for African-Canadian soldiers.
The Black Battalion (1916-1920): Canada's Best-Kept Military Secret by Calvin W. Ruck (ISBN 0-920852-92-0). Black military heritage in Canada is still generally unknown and unwritten. Most Canadians have no idea that Blacks served, fought, and died on European battlefields, all in the name of freedom. The story of the overt racist treatment of Black volunteers is a shameful chapter in Canadian history. It does, however, represent an important part of the Black legacy and the Black experience. It is a story worth reporting and worth sharing. This book is available on both Amazon and Chapters-Indigo.