No. 2 Construction Battalion Remembered

A photo of the No. 2 Construction Battalion on parade grounds in 1916 ipresented to Lt. Gov. Jim Grant, by Dr. Les Oliver, president of the Black Cultural Society. With them is Chief Warrant Officer Steven Milton.
In 1916, the government authorized the creation of the No 2 Construction Battalion, a unit primarily composed of black Canadian enlisted men. This move was in
Soldiers of No 2 Const Bn
Publication Date 
02 Nov 2011

Members of 14 Construction Engineering Squadron (14 CES) joined with members of LFAA and Maritime Forces Atlantic at the de Coste Center in Pictou NS on 9 May 2011 to mark the 18th anniversary of the un-veiling of a monument that honours the role of No. 2 Construction Battalion during the Great War of 1914-1919.

No. 2 Construction Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) was a segregated unit comprised of soldiers of African ancestry. In 1916 the Afro-Canadian community opted to form this racially segregated unit based primarily upon their desire to serve King and Country in the “Great War for Civilization” as well as in response to a Canadian army policies that allowed commanding officers to accept or reject “coloured” men who offered themselves for service. At that stage of the war there was an urgent requirement for a plethora support capabilities such as entrenching; road, railway and tramway construction and operations; forestry; water supply and purification; sanitation; wagon-erecting; and veterinary services. The Canadian army authorized the formation of No.2 Construction Battalion, to be raised and trained in Pictou, for service overseas in response to Britain’s request for more railway and construction troops. The unit drew recruits from all across Canada and also included soldiers from the USA and the British West Indies.

No. 2 Construction Battalion arrived in England in the spring of 1917 and was assigned to the Canadian Railway Troops (CRT). The unit was posted to No. 5 Group of the Canadian Forestry Corps located in Jura France where they were employed in water supply, structural maintenance/repair, and railway operations and construction. Canadian Railway and Forestry units, which comprised of over 30,000 soldiers, were known as “Army troops” within the British Army organizational system and were seldom under the control and commander of the Canadian Corps while serving in Europe.

The soldiers of No. 2 Construction Battalion served proudly and honourably during the Great War. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission notes that at least 15 men of that unit died while in service in France or the UK.

Amongst the dignitaries representing the CF were Rear Admiral D.C. Gardam (commander of Maritime Forces Atlantic) and Colonel J. Camsell (Commander LFAA).