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Honour Before Glory – Shining a light on Canada’s only all-black battalion

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February 28, 2024

On February 12, the Embassy of Canada hosted a screening of the award-winning Canadian docudrama “Honour Before Glory”, which delves into the history of the No. 2 Construction Battalion, Canada’s only Black military battalion. Drawing on the personal diary of Captain William White, written during the First World War, the film sheds light on his role as the Chaplain for the No.2 Construction Battalion, as well as on the 600 men who overcame tremendous discrimination to become an important part of Canadian history. Of those 600 men, 167 were from the United States, and many came from Caribbean nations.

Their struggle against prejudice began long before they reached the shores of Europe. Initially rejected by recruiters and deemed unfit for service or combat due to the color of their skin, they persevered. On July 5, 1916, No. 2 Construction Battalion was formed in Pictou, Nova Scotia. The segregated unit performed vital non-combat support roles in Canada, the United Kingdom, and eastern France.  After the end of the First World War in November 1918, its men sailed to Halifax to return to civilian life without recognition for their service. The unit was officially disbanded in 1920.

Canadian director, writer, and producer Anthony Sherwood presented at the screening and shared his deeply personal connection to the story. During the mid-1990s, he had stumbled upon the diary of his great uncle, Captain William Andrew White, who had detailed the discrimination black soldiers faced at that time. This diary served as a first-handwritten account of history and inspiration to tell the story.

Over the past few decades, commendable efforts have been made to recognize the Battalion. Exhibitions, publications, Parks Canada events, a commemorative stamp and coin have all contributed to honouring their legacy. In the summer of 2022, a significant moment unfolded when the Prime Minister issued a formal apology to the descendants of the Battalion on behalf of the Government of Canada.

This year, Canada’s Black History Month theme was “Black Excellence: A Heritage to Celebrate; a Future to Build”. This film screening was a moment to celebrate diversity, honour our unsung heroes, and amplify the voices of those that have so often been overlooked, ensuring that their stories, like those of the Number Two Construction Battalion, are etched into the fabric of our collective memory.

Gwen Tolbart of FOX5 News in Washington, DC covered this incredible story at the Embassy, one that transcends borders. Watch here:

Discover the stories of Black Canadians in uniform on the Veterans Affairs Canada website.