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.
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.
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
- Washing day, September 1916
- Three Black soldiers in a German dug-out captured during the Canadian advance east of Arras
- Black soldiers, who with others, load Canadian Corps Tramways with ammunition, resting
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.
- Canadian Expeditionary Force service files (unit members are identified by “No. 2 Construction Battalion” in the database’s “Unit” field; 832 men identified)
- Sailing list (includes approximately 600 men only)
- Part II Daily Orders, No. 2 Canadian Construction Company
- 2 Construction Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force, composed of Black Canadian men
- Transfer of coloured soldiers to No. 2 Construction Battalion
- Documents – Selected re: No. 2 Construction Battalion
- 2 Construction Battalion
- Establishment – No. 2 Construction Company
- 2 Construction Battalion – Demobilization
- Organization – Canadian Overseas Railway Construction Corps
- Correspondence – re: location of depot
- Construction – No. 2 Company, Canadian Forestry Corps
- 2 Railway construction draft
- Correspondence re: reinforcements – No. 2 Construction Company
- Units – No. 2 Construction Company
- 2 Construction Battalion – Epidemic of pneumonia
- General correspondence, No. 2 Construction Company
- Historical Section files, No. 2 Construction Company
- 2 Construction Company – Badges
- 2 Construction Battalion – Battalion fund
- List of officers, No. 2 Construction Company – Jura group
- 2 Construction Battalion, RG9-II-B-10, vol. 51
Records that may be consulted at LAC (not available digitally)
Department of Militia and Defence
- 2 Construction Battalion, RG9-II-B-9, vol. 39
- 2 Construction Battalion, RG9-II-B-9, vol. 45
- Sailing list, RG9-II-B-9, vol. 50
- After Orders, RG9-II-F-9, vol. 11
- Daily Orders (July–October 1916), RG9-II-F-9, vol. 1079
- Daily Orders (October 1916–March 1917), RG9-II-F-9, vol. 1080
- Daily Orders (October 1916–March 1917), RG9-II-F-9, vol. 1081
- Canadian Record Office in London, RG9-III-B-1, vol. 1147, file R-175-4
- Financial conditions, RG9-III-B-1, vol. 1722, file F-22-13
- Argyll House, London, RG9-III-B-1, vol. 3010, file V-179-33
- 2 Construction Company, RG9-III-C-7, vol. 4464
Department of National Defence
- 2 Construction Battalion, RG24, vol. 1469, file HQ-600-10-35
- Band, RG24, vol. 1550, file HD-683-124-2
- Mobilization accounts, RG24, vol. 1695, file HQ-683-401-1
- Telephones, RG24, vol. 1695, file HQ-683-401-2
- Clothing and equipment, RG24, vol. 1695, file HQ-683-401-3
- Audit reports, RG24, vol. 1695, file HQ-683-401-5
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.