“At the eleventh hour, on the eleventh day of the eleventh month…”
”In Flanders fields…”
”Would you like to buy a poppy?”
”The war to end all wars.”
“Tomb of the unknown soldier.”
Just when you think you’ve heard it all, there’s more. William Hall VC, the No. 2 Construction Battalion and many soldiers of colour have often been left out of the narrative recited every Remembrance Day.
The documentary “Forgotten Soldiers of Empire” from the BBC chronicles the non-white soldiers who were recruited to fight for the European powers who had colonized their homelands. The irony is that they were denied liberty under colonial rule but were expected to fight for it overseas for their colonizers.
In Canada during World War I, a number of men wanted to support the war effort. Their attempts to enlist in the army were thwarted by the racist attitudes of many military personnel. They were able to participate anyway by joining the No. 2 Construction Battalion, a labour unit who did such things as building trenches. Thanks in part to their efforts, by World War II soldiers of colour were allowed to join the army.
William Hall VC was awarded the prestigious Victoria Cross, a medal given for bravery and bestowed on very few Canadians. Hall was a Nova Scotian man of colour. He was a seaman and put his skills to use in the British Navy. Hall was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions in the siege then relief of Lucknow in India. Hall returned to Nova Scotia where he lived with his sisters in a small farmhouse near Hantsport. When he passed he was buried without military honours and his grave neglected. Later his body was exhumed then buried adjacent the Baptist church in Hantsport. For more on the life of William Hall VC, see the following links.
The soldiers of colour fortunate enough to return home often did so without the fanfare that was given to their white counterparts. Defeating the spread of fascism and imperialism was supposed to improve the lives of all but little changed for these soldiers back home. Life was just as oppressive and rife with barriers as it had been before. Many soldiers weren’t officially recognized nor credited for their actions, bravery and courage during the great wars.
And now that we know, lest we forget.
William Hall VC
The No. 2 Construction Battalion
The Forgotten Soldiers of the empires