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Wed, 07.05.1916

The No. 2 Construction Battalion is Formed

*On this date in 1916, the No. 2 Construction Battalion was formed. Raised in Nova Scotia, the No. 2 Construction Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) was one of two predominantly black battalions in Canadian military history.

It was the only Canadian battalion composed of black soldiers to serve in World War I. With the First World War outbreak, Canadians were excited to serve their country, and many flocked to recruiting stations from British Columbia to Nova Scotia. Enlistment included hundreds of black Canadians who were ready and willing to serve. However, at the time, few blacks served in the Canadian military because of racism. Blacks attempting to enlist in the Canadian Expeditionary Force were rejected and told that it was a "White man's war."

The Department of Militia and Defense's policy towards recruitment was to defer to the judgment of the individual commanding officer. Since many held deeply ingrained beliefs about the inferiority of blacks, very few were accepted. The original intention was to recruit the unit primarily from the Maritimes, with companies also being raised in Ontario and Western Canada. A little over a month after the unit was authorized, however, only 180 recruits had been obtained. By November 1916, the recruiting situation had improved little, leading Lieutenant Colonel Sutherland to propose raising a company in the British West Indies.

While nothing came of this, the battalion obtained about 165 men from the United States. When the men were finally assembled in March 1917 to prepare for departure overseas, the battalion's overall strength was just over 729 soldiers. Commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Hugh Sutherland, formerly of the 193rd Battalion, CEF, all but one of the unit's 19 officers were white, the exception being Captain William A. White, the unit's chaplain.

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