Explore the records of No. 2 Construction Battalion

By Andrew Horrall

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

Textual records

Records that may be consulted at LAC (not available digitally)

Department of Militia and Defence

Department of National Defence


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.

Serving despite segregation: No. 2 Construction Battalion

By Andrew Horrall

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) holds the largest collection of records documenting No. 2 Construction Battalion, a segregated unit of the Canadian Expeditionary Force in the First World War. Over 800 Black men served with the unit. They wanted to fight, but racist attitudes among political and military leaders, and in society in general, prevented them from serving in the front lines. Instead, the unit was assigned to the Canadian Forestry Corps. The men spent the war in the French Alps, cutting down trees, milling raw logs into finished lumber and transporting the wood to the railway. The work was vital, since huge quantities of wood were needed to build and reinforce front-line defences, but it was far from the type of service that the men had hoped for.

A black-and-white drawing of a badge in the shape of a shield. At the top is a royal crown and a banner reading “Canada Overseas.” Beneath are the words “No. 2” above another banner with the word “construction.” Maple leaves adorn each side, and a wooden bridge below the crown and a tool under the second banner symbolize that the unit’s members were builders.

The cap badge for No. 2 Construction Battalion (e011395922)

LAC has identified about 830 men who served in the unit at some point during the war. This is about 200 more names than are generally associated with the unit. The discrepancy reflects the fact that most studies have relied on the “nominal roll” compiled on the day that the unit left Canada for England, in March 1917. By re-examining the records in the collection, LAC experts identified many men who served with the unit after it sailed. Their names do not appear on the nominal roll because they were not in the unit on the day it left Canada. While we believe that every man who served with the unit has been identified, additional members may come to light.

The unit was mobilized at Truro, Nova Scotia, in July 1916. It recruited from established Black communities in the Maritimes, southwestern Ontario, and across Canada, the Caribbean and the United States. At least two members were from much farther away: Cowasjee Karachi (regimental number 931759) came from modern-day Yemen, and Valdo Schita (regimental number 931643) was born near Johannesburg, South Africa.

A black-and-white photograph depicting 21 soldiers. They are casually posed outdoors, either sitting or standing on a pile of long wooden planks. Eight of the men appear to be in Russian uniforms, and the rest are Canadians, including two Black men.

Lt. F.N. Ritchie, Lt. Courtney and a few of the enlisted men of the Canadian Forestry Corps in France. This is the only photo of the unit held in the collection at LAC (a022752)

While the unit was composed of Black men, the officers were white, apart from the chaplain, Captain William “Andrew” White.

The unit is referred to by both the terms “battalion” and “company” in archival documents and published sources. It was originally created as a battalion, a unit composed of about 1,000 men in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. When only about 600 men arrived in England in 1917, military authorities redesignated it as a company, which better reflected its size.

The unit returned to Canada at the end of the war and was officially disbanded in September 1920. The story of No. 2 Construction Battalion faded over time, until families, community members and historians began recovering it in the early 1980s. By that time, there were only a handful of surviving members.

A note about terms used in the records

Many of the records documenting No. 2 Construction Company contain terms that were commonly used during the First World War but are no longer acceptable. LAC has replaced such terms in descriptions, but they are still found in many of the original documents. The use of these terms by military authorities is evidence of the racism faced by the men in the unit.


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

A day in the life of a reference librarian

By Kristen Frame

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has a vast collection of published material that includes fiction and non-fiction, newspapers, government reports, Parliamentary debates, maps and atlases, music scores and recordings, and films. This blog article will give you an idea of how this vast collection helps reference librarians to answer research questions.

As a reference librarian, I receive questions on a wide variety of topics, which require different types of published material to answer. I recently received a request to find a copy of a Militia General Order from the First World War. This specific General Order from August 1915 cancelled a regulation that required married men to have consent from their wives in order to enlist. To answer this particular question, I had to make use of multiple sources of published material from our collection.

General Orders

A photograph of the title page of a book.
Department of National Defence, General Orders, 1915

I began my search with LAC’s bound copies of published General Orders from 1897 to 1945. These can be requested using our online catalogue, Aurora.

I consulted the volume from 1915, but the General Order that cancelled the requirement to have consent from wives to enlist was not in this volume.

Canada Gazette

A typed page with two columns from the Canada Gazette.
Page from Canada Gazette, August 21, 1915, that includes General Orders; image from A Nation’s Chronicle: The Canada Gazette

Next, I decided to check to see if the Canada Gazette published this General Order, as it regularly published General Orders during wartime. Issues of the Canada Gazette from 1941 to 1997 are available online in our A Nation’s Chronicle: The Canada Gazette database. Again, my search came up empty, as there was no mention of the order in the 1915 Canada Gazette.

Secondary sources

My next step was to consult secondary sources (books and articles) to see if any research had already been done on this General Order. I did find references to the General Order in the following publications:

However, these references did not include any information about where—or whether—this General Order was published. This General Order was becoming a real mystery!

Newspapers

Two newspaper articles side by side.
The Toronto Daily Star, August 20, 1915, page 7; The Globe, August 21, 1915, page 6

At this point in my research, I decided to search newspapers to confirm that this order was passed in August 1915. I searched the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail from August 1915 and found articles from both newspapers reporting that the regulations for enlistment had changed, and men were now free to enlist in the Canadian Expeditionary Force without the consent of their wives (if married) or parents (if under 17).

Orders in Council

A typed page with General Orders 1915 at the top.
P.C. 1915–1948, Overseas Expeditionary Forces, Regulations Enlistment 1915/08/19, Actg M. M. and D. [Acting Minister of Militia and Defence], 1915/08/14 (e010920460)

Now that I had confirmation that the General Order was passed in August 1915, I felt it was likely that the government did not publish this General Order. But as a last resort, I searched our Orders-in-Council database using Collection Search. At that time, some General Orders were approved by Orders-in-Council. And there it was! At long last, I had found the General Order that cancelled the regulation requiring married men to have consent from their wives to enlist.

As you can see, the General Order was not easy to find. This particular search illustrates how many different kinds of published material can be used to answer a research question.

Do you have a question that could use the assistance of a librarian or archivist? Submit your question in writing to us today .


Kristen Frame is a Reference Librarian in the Reference Services Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Lieutenant Wallace Lloyd Algie, VC

By Emily Monks-Leeson

On this day in 1918, Lieutenant Wallace Lloyd Algie was killed in action northeast of Cambrai, France. His actions on that day would lead to his posthumous award of the Victoria Cross.

Wallace Lloyd Algie was born on June 10, 1891, in Alton, Ontario, the son of James and Rachel Algie of Toronto. He graduated from the Royal Military College of Canada and volunteered in the active militia with the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada and the 40th Regiment, serving as a lieutenant.

A black-and-white photograph of an officer wearing a peak cap.

Lieutenant Wallace Lloyd Algie, undated. Source: Directorate of History and Heritage (National Defence and the Canadian Forces)

Algie was a bank clerk in Toronto before enlisting as an officer in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) on April 19, 1916. He sailed on the SS Laconia on September 25, 1916, and was attached to the 95th Battalion upon arrival at Seaford, England. He proceeded to the European theatre with the 20th Canadian Infantry Battalion on May 26, 1917. He completed various officer training courses, including one on the Lewis Gun.

On October 11, 1918, the 27-year-old lieutenant was leading his troops in the 20th Battalion of the CEF near the village of Cambrai, France, when they came under intense machine-gun fire from a nearby village. His citation in the London Gazette, January 28, 1919, tells the story of the actions that led to his death and the awarding of the Victoria Cross:

“For most conspicuous bravery and self-sacrifice on the 11th October, 1918, north-east of Cambrai, when the attaching troops which came under heavy enfilade machine-gun fire from a neighbouring village. Rushing forward with nine volunteers, he shot the crew of an enemy machine gun, and, turning it on the enemy, enabled his party to reach the village. He then rushed another machine gun, killed the crew, captured an officer and 10 enemy, and thereby cleared the end of the village. Lt. Algie, having established his party, went back for reinforcements, but was killed when leading them forward. His valour and personal initiative in the face of intense fire saved many lives and enabled the position to be held.”

Lieutenant Wallace Lloyd Algie is buried in Niagara Cemetery, Iwuy, France.

A typed page detailing the events of October 10 to 11, 1918.

War diary page of the 20th Canadian Infantry Battalion explaining Lieutenant Algie’s actions for the day (e000960948)

Library and Archives Canada holds the CEF service file for Lieutenant Wallace Lloyd Algie.


Emily Monks-Leeson is an archivist in the Digital Operations and Preservation Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Captain Coulson Norman Mitchell, VC

By Ashley Dunk

In Library and Archives Canada’s Victoria Cross blog series, we profile Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients on the 100th anniversary of the day they performed heroically in battle, for which they were awarded the Victoria Cross. Today, we remember Captain Coulson Norman Mitchell and his courageous acts at the Canal de l’Escaut, France, from October 8 to 9, 1918.

A black-and-white photograph of an officer in uniform.

Captain Coulson Norman Mitchell, VC, ca. 1918 (c001595)

Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on December 11, 1889, Mitchell was a civil engineer before enlisting as a private with the Canadian Railway Construction Corps on January 21, 1915. In 1916, he became a lieutenant and joined the 1st Tunneling Company, Canadian Engineers. Mitchell was promoted to captain in 1917 after receiving the Military Cross for his gallantry. In 1918, Mitchell was posted to the 4th Battalion, Canadian Engineers. During his time with the 4th Battalion, he performed a heroic feat that helped to ensure Allied success at the Canal de l’Escaut, northeast of Cambrai, France.

A black-and-white photograph of a dried-out canal with a crooked bridge in the background. A bridge in the middle distance has a horse-drawn carriage crossing it with supplies. Throughout the photo, soldiers are moving about, and some are carrying supplies.

Canadians constructing a bridge to move supports and supplies, Canal du Nord, France, September 1918 (a003285)

After the end of the Battle of Canal du Nord on October 1, 1918, Allied soldiers were intent on entering and clearing the town of Cambrai. Previous offensives had opened some roads into the town, and now a further manoeuvre was needed to bring in the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division. German resistance was strong to the northeast of Cambrai, and the Canadians aimed to capture and move beyond the town. The following days would see a Canadian offensive, with Canadian forces liberating French villages against stubborn German resistance.

On the night of October 8 to 9, 1918, Mitchell led a party of sappers (soldiers responsible for building and repairing roads and bridges, and clearing mines) on a reconnaissance mission near Cambrai. Their task was to go beyond the security of the Canadian front lines to inspect bridges over which the Canadian 5th Infantry Brigade planned to advance. The goal was to prevent these bridges from being demolished. After coming across one bridge that had been destroyed, Mitchell and his team moved on to the next bridge, which stretched across the Canal de l’Escaut.

A black-and-white photograph of a town with damaged buildings, with stone and rubble heaped in the middle. One soldier is bent to the ground beside a large pile of debris. A nearby soldier standing to the left is watching him.

Canadian Engineers looking for mines in Cambria, France, October 1918 (a003271)

Under heavy barrage and in total darkness, Mitchell ran across the bridge, unaware of the enemy’s positions or strength. He discovered that the Germans had prepared it for demolition. With the assistance of a non-commissioned officer, he cut the detonation wires and removed the explosive charge. When the Germans realized that their explosives were being removed, they moved toward the bridge to set off the detonations. Seeing that his sentry was wounded, Mitchell rushed forward to assist. He killed three German soldiers and took 12 prisoners. Saving the bridge helped to assure the later success of the 5th Infantry Brigade’s operations.

As recounted in the London Gazette:

Then under heavy fire he continued his task of cutting wires and removing charges, which he well knew might at any moment have been fired by the enemy. It was entirely due to his valour and decisive action that this important bridge across the canal was saved from destruction.

London Gazette, no. 31155, January 31, 1919, pp. 1503.

A black-and-white photograph of an officer in uniform.

Captain Coulson Norman Mitchell, VC, ca. 1918 (c001594)

Mitchell served in the Canadian Engineers until April 28, 1919, when he left during general demobilization. He returned to Canada after the war and resumed his career as a civil engineer. During the Second World War, he commanded engineering units in Britain. In 1943, he returned to Canada as a lieutenant-colonel in charge of an engineering training centre. After the war, he returned to his civilian career once again.

Mitchell’s service in both world wars has been commemorated in a variety of locations. In Manitoba, Coulson Mitchell Lake was named in his honour. In Montréal, a street and a branch of the Royal Canadian Legion bear his name. The main building of the Canadian Forces School of Military Engineering at the Canadian Army Base in Gagetown, New Brunswick, also carries his name.

Mitchell passed away at his home in Montréal on November 17, 1978.

Library and Archives Canada holds the digitized service file of Captain Coulson Norman Mitchell.

Transcribe war diaries or tag pictures, and give history a hand!

The War Diaries of the Canadian Engineers are open for you to transcribe, tag, translate and describe their contents. Every addition to a record becomes new metadata, searchable within 24 hours, helping Library and Archives Canada’s records become more “discoverable” day after day. Visit the blog article explaining how you can give a hand to history!


Ashley Dunk is a project assistant in the Online Content Division of the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Sergeant William Merrifield, VC

By Ashley Dunk

In Library and Archives Canada’s Victoria Cross blog series, we profile Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients on the 100th anniversary of the day they performed heroically in battle, for which they were awarded the Victoria Cross. Today, we remember Sergeant William Merrifield and his gallant actions near Abancourt, France, on October 1, 1918.

A black-and-white photograph of a soldier in uniform.

Sergeant William Merrifield, VC, undated. Source: National Defence and the Canadian Forces

Born in Brentwood, Essex, England, on October 9, 1890, Merrifield was a firefighter before the outbreak of the First World War. He enlisted on September 23, 1914, at Valcartier, Quebec, joining the 2nd Battalion (Canadian Mounted Rifles) of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. In 1917, he joined the 4th Canadian Infantry Battalion. For his bravery in November 1917 during the Battle of Passchendaele, Merrifield received the Military Medal.

As September 1918 drew to a close, the Battle of Canal du Nord in France was also near its end. The Canadians stationed around the battlefield were engaged in regular patrols and reconnaissance missions. Allied artillery, including 6-inch guns and 60-pounders, fired continually, but the shells often fell short of their targets in the German trenches. In one instance, the Allies accidentally shelled and destroyed one of their own Lewis guns and caused casualties among their own soldiers. The Germans stubbornly defended their trenches, making the Canadians’ objective of breaking through the lines very difficult.

On October 1, 1918, near Abancourt, Merrifield and his men were under fire from two enemy machine-gun posts. Unable to advance further because of the German guns, Merrifield decided to attack both posts single-handedly to eliminate them. Dashing from shell hole to shell hole, he killed the enemy soldiers in the first post and sustained wounds during the assault. In spite of his injuries, he pressed on to the second post, killing its occupants with a hand grenade. He remained in battle and continued to lead his platoon until he was severely wounded.

A black-and-white copy of a typed textual record, with handwritten signatures down the right side of the page.

War Diaries, 4th Canadian Infantry Battalion, describing some events from October 1, 1918, page 4 (e001078521)

Merrifield survived the remainder of the war and was discharged on April 24, 1919, in general demobilization. He moved to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. He died in Toronto on August 8, 1943.

A public elementary school in Sault Ste. Marie was named after Merrifield; William Merrifield V.C. Public School in the Algoma District School Board was open from 1946 until June 2015. And Merrifield Outdoor Rink is located at the corner of Henrietta Avenue and Patrick Street in Sault Ste. Marie.

As well, the 56th Field Artillery Regiment in Brantford, Ontario, dedicated its armoury (Sergeant William Merrifield VC Armoury) to his memory.

Merrifield’s Victoria Cross was donated to the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.

Library and Archives Canada holds the digitized service file of Sergeant William Merrifield.

Want to experience life during a time of war?

The War Diaries of the 4th Canadian Infantry Battalion are open for you to transcribe, tag, translate and describe their contents. Every addition to a record becomes new metadata, searchable within 24 hours, helping Library and Archives Canada’s records become more “discoverable” day after day. Visit the blog article explaining how you can give a hand to history!

Ashley Dunk is a project assistant in the Online Content Division of the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Captain John MacGregor, VC

By Ashley Dunk

In Library and Archives Canada’s Victoria Cross blog series, we profile Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients on the 100th anniversary of the day they performed heroically in battle, for which they were awarded the Victoria Cross. Today, we remember Captain John MacGregor and his bravery during the Battle of Canal du Nord near Cambrai, France, between September 29 and October 3, 1918.

A black-and-white photograph of a smiling soldier in his service dress uniform.

Captain John MacGregor, VC, April 1919 (a004598-v8)

Born near Nairn, Scotland, on February 11, 1888, John MacGregor moved to Canada in 1909. He was a carpenter before he enlisted with the 11th Canadian Mounted Rifles of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) on March 26, 1915. MacGregor had served for three years with the Garrison Artillery in Nairn. During the First World War, he was a decorated soldier, earning several military awards including the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his actions during the Battle of Vimy Ridge, the Military Cross and the Bar to Military Cross.

MacGregor rose quickly through the ranks in the CEF, starting with a promotion to sergeant in 1916, then to lieutenant in 1917, and finally to captain in 1918. He was wounded twice in the line of duty and invalided for a period with influenza; his resilience helped him through the war and served him well in combat. By September 1918, he was assigned to the 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles Battalion in France, fighting as part of Canadian Corps operations to break across the Canal du Nord and capture the roads leading into Cambrai.

A black-and-white photograph of four people standing and looking toward the camera.

Captain John MacGregor, VC, between two unidentified women, with Lieutenant R. Darcus, MC (a006914-v8)

During the Battle of Canal du Nord, MacGregor led the battalion’s “C” Company under intense pressure from the German defences. With the company’s advance hampered by debilitating machine-gun fire, he pushed on and located the enemy guns, despite being wounded during the fight. In broad daylight, he ran forward, armed with a rifle and bayonet, coming under heavy fire from all directions, and single-handedly put the enemy crew out of action. His bravery resulted in the deaths of four German soldiers and eight taken prisoner. MacGregor’s quick thinking and initiative saved his men from danger and allowed the advance to continue.

Afterward, he reorganized his command while facing continued heavy fire, and he offered support to neighbouring troops. As the German lines continued to resist, he defiantly moved along the front lines. Many other officers were wounded or killed in action, so MacGregor took command of platoons, organized waves of soldiers and pushed the advance forward.

During daytime reconnaissance under suppressive fire, MacGregor established his company in Neuville-St.-Remy, which greatly assisted the advance into Tilloy. Throughout the operation across the Canal du Nord and leading toward Cambrai, MacGregor showed strong leadership and bravery in the face of danger.

A black-and-white photograph of a soldier in service dress uniform, squinting in the sun and turned slightly away from the camera.

Captain John MacGregor, VC, date unknown (a007507-v8)

MacGregor survived the remainder of the war and was “struck off strength,” or released from service, in general demobilization on April 9, 1919. He went on to serve in the Second World War, rising to the rank of lieutenant-colonel; he commanded the Canadian Scottish Regiment (Princess Mary’s), a reservist infantry regiment based on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. He died on June 9, 1952, and was buried at Cranberry Lake cemetery in Powell River, British Columbia.

A black-and-white copy of a typed textual record with titles underlined and some text organized into columns.

War Diaries from the 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles Battalion, with McGregor’s name under “C” Company, September 1918, p. 26 (e001126713)

MacGregor’s Victoria Cross and other medals are on display at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.

Library and Archives Canada holds the digitized service file of Captain John MacGregor.

Do you want to experience military life during the First World War?

The War Diaries of the 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles Battalion are open for you to transcribe, tag, translate and describe their contents. Every addition to a record becomes new metadata, searchable within 24 hours, helping Library and Archives Canada’s records become more “discoverable” day after day. Visit the blog article explaining how you can give a hand to history!


Ashley Dunk was a project assistant in the Online Content Division of the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Samuel Lewis Honey, VC

By Ashley Dunk

In Library and Archives Canada’s Victoria Cross blog series, we profile Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients on the 100th anniversary of the day they performed heroically in battle, for which they were awarded the Victoria Cross. Today, we remember Lieutenant Samuel Lewis Honey and his bravery during the Bourlon Wood operations between September 27 and September 30, 1918.

A colour poster with “Fall in the Grenadiers” in large red text, with varying other black and red text. On the right, a uniformed soldier with a tall black hat, a red coat and a rifle slung over his shoulder stands at attention.

Recruitment campaign poster for the 78th Battalion, undated (e010697069)

Born in Conn, Ontario, on February 9, 1894, Samuel Lewis Honey was a schoolteacher when he enlisted as a private on January 22, 1915, joining the 34th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. He was a decorated and accomplished soldier, receiving the Distinguished Conduct Medal and the Military Medal, and was later commissioned as an officer on July 2, 1917. In autumn 1918, he was serving in France as a lieutenant in the 78th Infantry Battalion.

On September 27, 1918, Honey was fighting alongside thousands of Canadian soldiers under heavy machine-gun fire from the German lines at Bourlon Wood. The operation to reach across the Canal du Nord with the ultimate objective of capturing Bourlon Wood and Village was vital for opening the road leading to Cambrai. When the commander and officers in his company became casualties to the unrelenting German attacks, Honey took charge. He commanded and reorganized the company and continued with the advance.

A black-and-white photograph of a soldier wearing a cap and a Sam Brown belt, part of an officer’s uniform.

Lieutenant Samuel Lewis Honey, undated. Source: National Defence and the Canadian Forces.

Under his leadership, the objective of capturing Bourlon Wood was achieved; however, it came at the expense of severe casualties. Machine-gun fire was causing significant damage and loss to his company. Honey located the machine-gun nest and rushed it alone, single-handedly capturing the guns and taking 10 prisoners.

Following this feat, Honey successfully resisted four enemy counterattacks. He later went out alone in the dark and located an enemy post. Honey and a party of soldiers captured the post and an additional three guns.

As recounted in the London Gazette:

On the 29th September he led his company against a strong enemy position with great skill and daring and continued in the succeeding days of the battle to display the same high example of valour and self-sacrifice.

London Gazette, no. 31108, January 6, 1919

A black-and-white photograph of three soldiers bent at the waist, searching around trees and through bushes for blackberries.

Canadian soldiers picking blackberries in Bourlon Wood after capturing it, France, October 1918 (a003275)

During this attack, Honey received fatal wounds and died at No. 12 Canadian Field Ambulance on September 30, 1918. Buried at the Queant Communal Cemetery in Pas de Calais, France, he was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously.

His Victoria Cross is displayed at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. A plaque is dedicated to Honey in Mount Forest, Ontario.

Library and Archives Canada holds the digitized service file of Lieutenant Samuel Lewis Honey.

Tag pictures and give a hand to history!

The images in this blog post are open for tagging! Immerse yourself in the Canadian Expeditionary Force digitized files and transcribe, tag, translate and describe their contents. Every addition to a record becomes new metadata, searchable within 24 hours, helping Library and Archives Canada’s records become more “discoverable” day after day. Read the blog article explaining how you can give a hand to history!


Ashley Dunk was a project assistant in the Online Content Division of the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Lieutenant Milton Fowler Gregg, VC

By Ashley Dunk

In Library and Archives Canada’s Victoria Cross blog series, we profile Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients on the 100th anniversary of the day they performed heroically in battle, for which they were awarded the Victoria Cross. Today, we remember Lieutenant Milton Fowler Gregg and his courageous actions during the Battle of Canal du Nord on September 28, 1918.

Born on April 10, 1892, in Mountain Dale, Kings County, New Brunswick, Milton Fowler Gregg was a student before enlisting with the Canadian Expeditionary Force on November 5, 1914. Gregg earned the Military Cross in 1917 and was awarded a bar for the Cross for gallant actions in 1918. A decorated soldier, Gregg was serving as a Lieutenant with the Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR) in September 1918.

A black-and-white photograph of a soldier.

Lieutenant Milton Fowler Gregg, VC, undated (a006811)

From September 28 to September 30, 1918, the RCR was moving with the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division on operations to cross the Canal du Nord, capture Bourlon Wood and Village, and advance to Cambrai, France. With the ultimate objective of opening the road to Cambrai, it was essential for the RCR to advance and gain a foothold. The RCR assault began at 5:40 a.m. and faced little opposition until it was met with heavy machine-gun fire from enemy soldiers positioned in nearby buildings. Three tanks were brought up as reinforcements; however, the persistent machine guns and anti-tank guns put them out of action.

During the Battle of Canal du Nord, Gregg performed heroically, as in previous operations. On September 28, 1918, both flanks of the brigade were held up by heavy enemy fire, pinned down by rapid machine-gun bursts, and trapped by twisted, uncut barbed wire. Crawling forward alone, Gregg eventually found a small gap in the wire. He led his men through the hole and forced his way into the enemy trench.

A black-and-white photograph of large mortars pointing upward, as a soldier leans over one to look down its barrel.

Trench mortar referred to as “minenwerfers” were used by the German armies in the Canal du Nord during the Canadian advance east of Arras, September 1918 (a003200)

A heavy counterattack from German soldiers saw increasing RCR casualties, and dwindling bomb supplies, leaving the brigade vulnerable. Gregg, who had been wounded during his forward push, retreated in order to retrieve additional grenades. He rejoined his party with much-needed supplies but suffered a second wound in the effort. Despite his injuries, he reorganized the men and led them against the enemy trenches. Under his leadership, they cleared the enemy trench and gained a footing in the Marcoing Line.

A black-and-white copy of a page with paragraphs of texts typed in black ink.

War Diaries, Royal Canadian Regiment, describing operations, September 1918, page 28 (e001072260)

As detailed in the London Gazette:

He personally killed or wounded 11 of the enemy and took 25 prisoners, in addition to 12 machine guns captured in this trench. Remaining with his company in spite of wounds, he again on the 30th September led his men in attack until severely wounded. The outstanding valour of this officer saved many casualties and enabled the advance to continue.

London Gazette, no. 31108, January 6, 1919

Gregg survived the remainder of the war, held a variety of political positions, and served overseas during the Second World War. He passed away on March 13, 1978, at the age of 85. His Victoria Cross is on display at the Royal Canadian Regiment Museum in London, Ontario.

Library and Archives Canada holds the digitized service file of Lieutenant Milton Fowler Gregg.

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Ashley Dunk was a project assistant in the Online Content Division of the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Charles Smith Rutherford, VC

By Ashley Dunk

Today in Library and Archives Canada’s blog series on Canadian Victoria Cross recipients, we remember Charles Smith Rutherford, who earned his Victoria Cross one hundred years ago today for his heroic actions on the battlefield.

A black-and-white photograph of a military officer standing with a cane.

Lieutenant Charles S. Rutherford, VC, ca. 1914–1919 (a006703)

Born on January 9, 1892, in Colborne, Ontario, Rutherford was a farmer before the war. On March 2, 1916, he enlisted in Toronto, Ontario, joining the 83rd Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force as a private. He arrived in France on June 10, 1916. Rutherford was a decorated soldier, earning the Military Medal on February 23, 1918, and the Military Cross on January 11, 1919. He was promoted to Lieutenant on April 28, 1918.

On August 26, 1918, while serving in the 5th Battle of the Scarpe, near Monchy, France, Rutherford was in command of an assault party. Finding himself noticeably ahead of his men, he observed an enemy party standing outside a pillbox. With his revolver, Rutherford beckoned them to come to him. Instead, they waved for him to approach. Through skillful bluffing, he convinced the enemy soldiers that they were surrounded. The party of 45 men, which included two officers and three machine guns, surrendered to him.

A black-and-white photograph of three people standing and posing for a photograph: a woman in a fur coat, a military officer with a cane, and a soldier with a cane and beret.

Lt. C.S. Rutherford, VC (centre), ca. 1914–1919 (a006705)

After capturing the party, he persuaded one of the enemy officers to stop a nearby machine gun from firing, which then allowed Rutherford’s men to advance to his position.

Beyond the pillbox, Rutherford saw that some of his assault party was held up by heavy machine-gun fire from another pillbox. With the support of the rest of his party, he attacked the pillbox with a Lewis gun section, successfully capturing an additional 35 prisoners and their machine guns. His leadership enabled his assault party to continue its advance.

As reported in the London Gazette two months later:

The bold and gallant action of this officer contributed very materially to the capture of the main objective and was a wonderful inspiration to all ranks in pressing home the attack on a very strong position.

London Gazette, No. 31012, November 12, 1918

On March 20, 1919, Rutherford was discharged through general demobilization.

He died in Ottawa, Ontario, on June 11, 1989, at the age of 97.

A black-and-white photograph of a military officer in a ceremonial uniform.

Captain Charles S. Rutherford, VC, Sergeant-at-Arms, Ontario Legislature, 1937 (a053785)

Library and Archives Canada holds the digitized service file of Lieutenant Charles Smith Rutherford.


Ashley Dunk is a project assistant in the Exhibitions and Online Content Division of the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.