Canada’s only all-Black battalion that served in the First World War was awarded the France and Flanders, 1917-18’ Battle Honour in Ottawa on June 1, 2022.
The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) also recently announced the perpetuation of the Battalion by the Branch of Canadian Military Engineers and publicly recognized by 4 Engineer Support Regiment (4 ESR) located at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown, New Brunswick.
Battle Honour for No. 2 Construction Battalion
“The awarding of the ‘France and Flanders, 1917-18’ Battle Honour to No. 2 Construction Battalion and its perpetuation by The Branch of Canadian Military Engineers are significant honours. They commemorate the distinguished legacy of service of the Battalion’s members, while demonstrating our recognition of the injustices they suffered and our commitment to eliminating systemic racism in today’s armed forces. This is long overdue, and by righting this wrong we are ensuring that the Battalion takes its rightful place in Canada’s proud military history,” said Gen. Wayne Eyre, Chief of the Defence Staff.
A Recognition Long Overdue
Recognizing this battalion is a long-overdue act that celebrates the contributions of Black Canadians in the First World War. According to a Department of National Defence press release, “the perpetuation of No. 2 Construction Battalion will ensure that identity and honours gained by this unit will endure in the CAF, DND, and Canadian history.”
The ‘France and Flanders, 1917-18’ Battle Honour will be displayed at 4 Engineer Support Regiment (4 ESR), the unit honoured with the task of perpetuating the history and legacy of No. 2 Construction Battalion.
“4 Engineer Support Regiment is honoured to be part of perpetuating No. 2 Construction Battalion. We are proud to display their well-deserved Battle Honour within our unit lines and to have a role in telling the story of their service to Canada to new generations,” said LCol. William Dixon, Commanding Officer, 4 Engineer Support Regiment.
A national apology will take place on July 9 in Truro, Nova Scotia, to the descendants and families of No. 2 Construction Battalion.
The Battle Honour and perpetuation were informed by a review of historical records that determined the Battalion’s eligibility.
According to DND, Perpetuation is a unique Canadian system “which provides a means of preserving military operational honours for succeeding generations.”
Perpetuation institutionalizes the memory of the sacrifices made by military personnel, and it becomes safeguarded for future generations to look up to.
The ‘France and Flanders’ is awarded to units that served in France and Belgium between 1914-1918.
No. 2 Construction Battalion was created on July 5, 1916, in Pictou, Nova Scotia, during the First World War. It was created mainly due to the large-scale racial prejudice that prevented Black Canadians from enlisting in the First World War. After pressure was put on the government and military officials, the battalion was formed. However, it was a segregated non-combatant unit, the first and only all-Black battalion-sized formation in Canadian military history.
Unfortunately, throughout the war, No. 2 Construction Battalion members faced overt and unspoken systemic racism. However, the unit was still able to serve Canada with tremendous honour. They primarily served eastern France with the Canadian Forestry Corps in lumber operations.
The unit was disbanded on Sept. 15, 1920, without ceremony or recognition.
“The vital role played by No. 2 Construction Battalion in the First World War has been underestimated for over a century. Its perpetuation and the awarding of this new Battle Honour will ensure that its name, and all that its members achieved, are remembered properly and permanently,” said LGen. Jocelyn Paul, Commander Canadian Army.