Since this is Black History Month, I thought we should look at how they have served Canada in peace and in war. I have selected a few individuals to show their stories although it is not possible to include all those who have served. There are many who showed enormous bravery and service who are not mentioned here.
The first reference is about the many who served to defend Canada in 1780. A number were offered their freedom if they fought against the Americans. Then in 1812, they formed a “Company of Coloured Men” who fought at Queenston Heights.
During the rebellion in Upper Canada 1837-1839, about 1000 black militia formed 5 companies and helped put down the uprising.
In World War I, military enlistment personnel made it difficult for black Canadians to join up but in spite of these barriers many wanted to serve.
Reverend William White played a large role in the formation in Pictou, N.S. of No. 2 Construction Battalion. The Rev. White was the Battalion chaplain who was given the Honorary rank of Captain, one of the few black commissioned officers to serve. The unit served in a non-combat role in France.
In World War II, Michael Manley served as aircrew in the RCAF and subsequently in 1972, he became Prime Minister of Jamaica.
Lincoln Alexander, Leonard Braithwaite and Lloyd Perry all became lawyers. Lincoln Alexander became the first black Member of Parliament and later, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. Eric Watts served in the RCAF and rose from airman to squadron leader. He served as Wing Air Armaments Officer with 1 Wing Merville France and made his wing the best in the RCAF.
Also in World War II, many like Cecilia Butler worked for John Inglis Co., a munitions plant.
Ordinary Seaman Lisa Nelson worked on HMCS Regina which was patrolling the Gulf of Oman.
Profile of Courage, Pre-First World War ~ William Hall
William Hall, who served on the British Royal Navy Ship HMS (Her Majesty’s Ship) Shannon, was the first black person – and the first Nova Scotian – to receive the Victoria Cross, the British Empire’s highest award for military valour.
In 1857, Hall, was sent with a brigade of soldiers to Lucknow, India, to relieve the besieged British garrison that was fighting a rebellion there. As a member of one of four gun crews, Hall was attempting to help break through the walls of an important enemy stronghold. It was a very dangerous mission and heavy enemy gunfire eventually left only Hall and one other officer still alive. However, they continued to load and fire the last gun until the wall was finally broken through, allowing the soldiers of the British garrison to escape.
Hall survived the battle and returned to Nova Scotia where he died in 1904 at his farm in Avonport. Today, his Victoria Cross is on display at the Nova Scotia Museum, alongside his other medals.