Explore the records of No. 2 Construction Battalion

By Andrew Horrall

A note to users

Many of these records contain terms that were commonly used during the First World War but are now unacceptable and offensive. The use of these terms by military authorities is evidence of the racism faced by Black Canadian soldiers.

As described in the “Serving despite segregation” blog, No. 2 Construction Battalion was the first and only segregated Canadian Expeditionary Force unit in the First World War. Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has identified and digitized records relating to the unit to make its story, and the individual stories of the men who belonged to it, easy to explore and understand.

A printed form completed by men joining the Canadian Expeditionary Force. The form includes 12 questions about the individual, including name, date of birth and next of kin. At the bottom are a declaration and oath sworn and signed by the man, and a magistrate’s statement and signature confirming that the man had enlisted.

Attestation page for Arthur Bright, Canadian Expeditionary Force, RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 1066 – 39

Individual experiences

Archival records contain details about the individuals who served in No. 2 Construction Battalion. Each story is unique and evocative.

You can find the men’s individual personnel records by searching their names, or by entering “No. 2 Construction Battalion” in the “Unit” field in our database. Each file has been completely digitized and includes detailed information about the individual’s life, family and military service.

Friends and families serving together

Personnel records can also tell collective stories. We know that men often joined-up in small groups of family, friends or co-workers in hopes of serving together.

Here are two strategies to find and explore these small groups within the unit. Start by identifying all of the men, by entering “No. 2 Construction Battalion” in the “Unit” field in our database, then:

  • Sort the list in alphabetical order. You will see that many surnames appear more than once. Open the individual files of men with shared names and look at their places of birth, addresses and next of kin (often a parent) to explore whether and how they were related.

For example, we can see that these two men were brothers:

  • Sort the list by regimental service number. These were assigned to men in numerical order. Sorting the list in numerical order can recreate the lines of men as they enlisted at a recruiting station. Open the individual files to explore whether a man joined up alone or with a group.

For example, we know that the Bright brothers joined up together because they were assigned sequential service numbers. We also discover that the men with numbers on either side of them—who would have been standing next to them in the recruiting office in 1916—were all of similar age and occupation, and lived within a kilometre of one another in St. Catharines. How did they know each other?

Follow the men in civilian life

To explore Black Canadian history more widely, you can also find out about the civilian lives of many of the men by entering their names in other LAC databases in the “Ancestors Search” section of our website:

  • The 1911, 1916 and 1921 Canadian censuses; for example, the 1921 census lists Arthur and Norman Bright living together as lodgers at 3 Brown’s Lane, in downtown Toronto. Neither was married, and they were both working as labourers.
  • Passenger lists show when, where and with whom individuals immigrated to Canada.
  • Personnel records can open pathways for exploring Canada’s early-20th-century Black community and what it meant to serve in No. 2 Construction Battalion.
Two pages of a personal diary. The date is printed at the top of each page, October 30 and 31. Underneath it, Captain White wrote general observations about the weather, letters he wrote and received, and life in camp.

Two pages from the personal diary of Captain William  “Andrew” White, the unit’s chaplain (e011183038)

Day-to-day life in the unit

Two digitized documents allow you to explore the unit’s daily activities:

  • The personal diary of William “Andrew” White, No. 2 Construction Battalion’s chaplain. We believe that this is the only first-hand account written by a member of the unit.
  • The War Diary. Units on active service were required to keep a daily account of their activities. While war diaries do not focus on individuals, they describe the events that took place each day.

How the Canadian military managed the unit

LAC has digitized about half of the administrative, organizational and historical records relating to the unit. These documents provide insights into how the Canadian military managed the unit and the men belonging to it.

Digitized resources documenting No. 2 Construction Company held at LAC

Basic information about the unit

Other photographs depicting Black soldiers

Note that LAC holds many other photos showing Black soldiers, but these cannot be found in a regular search, since that information was not included in the original title.

Recruiting poster

Digitised textual records

Courts martial

Digitised records of courts martial involving members of No. 2 Construction Company and other Black men are available on Canadiana.org (Please note that the list below may not be complete)

Andrew Horrall is an archivist at Library and Archives Canada. He wrote the blog and, with Alexander Comber and Mary Margaret Johnston-Miller, identified records relating to the battalion.

10 thoughts on “Explore the records of No. 2 Construction Battalion

  1. Pingback: This week's crème de la crème - November 6, 2021 - Genealogy à la carteGenealogy à la carte

  2. Reference is made to No. 2 Construction Battalion in “Barker, C.A.V. and I.K. Barker, eds. 1999. A History of the Canadian Army Veterinary Corps in The Great World War 1914-1919, by Capt. Cecil French. Crest Books, Ontario Veterinary College, Guelph, Ontario. xiv, 302 pp.” An image from the Stubbs Collection in the CAV Barker Museum of Canadian Veterinary History (p. 82) shows 5 members of the unit with an officer of the CAVC. Note 8.2 briefly summarizes the history of No. 2 Construction Battalion and interaction with a member of the CAVC assigned to the Forestry Corps. Note 11.8 mentions the No. 2 Construction Battalion in relation to a discussion of racial discrimination in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, including the refusal of the officer commanding the CAVC to accept a black Veterinary Officer who had been sent to England to join the corps; he was returned to Canada.

  3. Hi. I’m on the committee that’s advising the Government of Canada on the apology that’s coming July 9, 2022 in Halifax to No. 2 Construction Battalion. With respect to terminology, there is no “the” before “No. 2”. Could this be corrected in the headline and throughout the article where the phrase “the No. 2 Construction Battalion” appears? As the granddaughter of Rev. Capt. Wm. Andrew White, I would also note that my grandfather went by his middle name “Andrew” and perhaps when citing his name it could be written as William “Andrew” White, with the quotation marks around the name he used. Historians err whenever they refer to him as William White. Thank you for the attention to No. 2 and its members. On Remembrance Day a special drive kicks off to locate relatives and descendants of No. 2’s members to involve them in the apology event. A commemorative poster has been created to aid this search.

  4. Forty years ago, Second World War veteran Thamis Gale whose father served in No.2,researched over 1300 Black soldiers in the CEF including those in the segregated No 2 Construction. The figure he had for soldiers was about 790. I inherited that research and have been sharing soldier stories on our Black Canadian Veterans page. Your article indicates 832 men identified. Where can we find this list. The Black Veterinary officer Ian is referring to was Lt Rooks .

    • One can visit http://www.no2-cef.ca to register for upcoming public Zoom consultation Dec. 9 as a search for relatives and persons of interest gets underway in advance of the government’s official apology to No. 2 descendants July 9, 2022. Toll-free registration at 1-833-407-7214.

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