Moving Mountains: The No. 2 Construction Battalion and African Canadian Experience During the First World War

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Pittman, Danielle
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Excerpt from introduction: "This thesis will help clarify the history of racism in the CEF by exploring the enlistment issues, training, and overseas experience of the men who served in the No. 2 CB. A number of sources focus on the struggle to enlist because of the racism experienced by African Canadians; but they say little about the experience of African Canadians when they served overseas. Among the most significant studies of the No. 2 CB is Calvin Ruck’s book which provides a brief overview of the battalion. It is essentially a commemorative work, thus its most valuable section includes summaries and quotes from interviews Ruck performed with members of the battalion before they died. The most extensive scholarly study is Sean Flynn Foyn’s Master’s thesis, which focuses mainly on the recruitment of African Canadians in the No. 2 CB and the key personalities involved with the formation of the unit. Neither of these important works explore the unit’s overseas experience in appreciable detail. James W. St. G Walker’s work examines how racism affected the enlistment of visible minorities in the CEF as a whole, including the enlistment of African Canadians. Finally, John G. Armstrong’s essay provides a brief analysis of resistance to the enlistment of African Canadians, and the subsequent overseas service of the No. 2 CB. However, neither Walker nor Armstrong analyze the degree to which racist attitudes changed over the duration of the war, particularly with respect to contrasting service conditions in Canada and France. Primary sources for this study include the content of No. 2 CB’s official war diary, the routine orders of No. 5 District, Canadian Forestry Corps, Jura Group, and the soldiers’ service records. These documents were not employed as extensively in earlier studies of the No. 2 CB. In addition, this thesis analyzes Reverend Captain William Andrew White’s personal war diary, a source that was not utilized previously in scholarship regarding No. 2 CB."
Racism - Military , First World War , African Canadians , Number 2 Construction Battalion