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Finding the “Black Battalion” aka No. 2 Construction Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF)

I am late posting this item because the site was unavailable for a few days. Apologies.

Two weeks ago, I went with my wife to a hairdressing salon. Lois was to have a perm and I waited for a haircut (much needed). It turns out that the hairdresser was born in Saint John, New Brunswick, and grew up in Africville, Halifax County, Nova Scotia. Serendipity can bring unexpected opportunities to give back. In this case, my interest in genealogy and family history kicked in and I asked about her experience. Like me, the lady has a grandfather who served Canada in the Canadian Expeditionary Force during World War I. Unlike the experience of my grandfathers Grant and Bennett, “my hairdresser’s” grandfather was not permitted to join a combat battalion. With an earnest heart and a desire to serve, George Richard Dixon joined the now-well-known No. 2 Construction Battalion at Truro, Nova Scotia on 1 December 1916. My grandfather Grant had joined a year earlier in December 1915 and was in France by the early autumn of 1916 – he served in the 25th Nova Scotia Battalion until the end of the war. Grandfather Grant, married, a farmer, “signed” his Attestation Papers with an X, witnessed by an officer of the militia. George Dixon was a single seaman and signed his name with a clear, cursive hand. My grandfather Grant served with Caucasian men under Caucasian officers. George Dixon served with men of African descent under Caucasian officers. He was discharged from the CEF in April 1919 in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Eunice once had a copy of the book, The Black Battalion, noted in the source summary below, but it was borrowed and not returned by a “friend.” When Lois and I returned home, I set up a new research project: To summarize the wartime experience of George Dixon and provide as much new information as possible to Eunice – surprise! While gardening and pleasant Ottawa weather has taken me away from my desk for much of the day, I have managed to find a significant cache of research material for the summary. You’ll be able to read some of it here once I gift the document to Eunice.

For those of you interested in Canadian World War I personnel files and unit war diaries, see https://library-archives.canada.ca/eng/collection/Pages/collection.aspx; or visit https://archives.novascotia.ca/virtual/ where you can find information about No 2 Construction Battalion, including a nominal roll and a link to individual service records at Library and Archives Canada; at Internet Archive you can borrow the book “The black battalion: 1916-1920: Canada’s best kept military secret” by Calvin W. Ruck (Calvin Woodrow), 1925-2004; if you are interested in a copy of the book, it can be purchased at amazon.ca for 26.64CAD. Finally, a Google search will lead you to many other sources of information about this historic unit.

… The above draft of this post was written on 13 May. I followed my instructions and purchased a softcover version of the book mentioned in the preceding paragraph. Alas, two days later, Amazon refunded my payment without comment. Following the clues in the website link, I landed in Dublin, Ireland at a bookstore that features this book – they were out of stock, as is Chapters Indigo, a Canadian online and storefront bookseller. Undeterred, I have traced the granddaughter of Calvin Ruck, a journalist and author living in Halifax. More about that later.

It is time to wake my supervisor and prepare for a day refreshing our flowerbeds and shrubbery. Have a blessed weekend! Allen.

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