THE WORLD WARS
No. 2 Construction Battalion \ World War II
The declarations of War in 1914 and 1939 changed the lives of all Canadians. To some it meant prosperity as industry expanded to serve the military and as jobs left behind by soldiers, sailors and airmen had to be filled. The Black community of Pictou County grew during the war years as newcomers came to the area seeking jobs. But war also took away many from their families and communities, to help in the war effort in Canada and overseas.
No. 2 Construction Battalion
In 1914 Blacks were not wanted for the war effort. Several local Black men tried in vain to join up but were turned away because of their colour. By 1915 this had changed with authorization given to enlist Blacks in the 106th Battalion, Nova Scotia Rifles.
By 1916 No. 2 Construction Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force was formed. It was the first and only Black Battalion in Canadian military history and the first such all Black unit since the Pioneer Corps, the all Black Loyalist Corps that fought for the British during the American War of Independence. For three months the headquarters for the Battalion was on the Market Wharf in Pictou.
A number of volunteers from Pictou County joined No. 2 Battalion and served overseas in some of the war's most famous battles. As a construction unit they were called upon to do many things to support the front lines, such as caring for the wounded, building roads and bridges and diffusing land mines. Often working in unprotected areas just behind the lines, they faced mustard gas and the danger of enemy field guns. Some were killed in action. Many others were wounded in representing their province and country with distinction.
World War II
When World War II broke out Black volunteers were still rejected for service in some instances in the initial stages of the conflict. But, by 1945 many had been accepted in the service of King and Country and again served with distinction. About 20 Blacks from the county joined the King's army.
On the home front the Black community got behind the war effort. The Men's Brotherhood prepared and sent Christmas boxes to the forces overseas. The women of the community organized a Victory Club to support the purchase of government war bonds and a local Sewing Circle was organized to do work for the Red Cross and other organizations. A number of local Black women went to work in the Pictou shipyard to help in the war effort and Black men were employed in the Shell Shop at Maritime Steel.