As I thought about doing this presentation on the No2 Construction Battalion, (Black Battalion) the one person that kept coming to my mind was my Grandfather Private John Roland Sparks. Private Sparks was a member of the No 2 Construction Battalion. As I sat there at my kitchen table, out of nowhere I started to daydream and my mind wandered back to the days of growing up in a little community called Lake Loon which is just on the outskirts of Dartmouh, NS. I remembered the dusty old roads and the weathered old houses along them that still stand to this day although I’m not sure how or why. At the time, as a child, I though to myself they must have been built with crocked nails. Then my mind went back to my Grandfather, he was an honest, hard working Christian man, large in stature even though he walked with a cane.
He and my Grandmother lived in a tiny two-story house with a barn in the back yard bigger than the house. As kids we would often wander into that old barn just to explore the nooks and crannies and climb in the loft. Oh yes! I can still remember the pasture behind the barn where it got so hot in the summer you would almost swear it was the hottest place in the community. I remember the field where my Grandfather planted his crops and the old nag of a horse he had to plough it with. I remember running from our house up the edge of the field to the rocky path, than past the big old apple tree which stood tall beside my Grand parents house. Life was good and the memories of my childhood around my grandparents is sure sweet to look back on.
I myself had my first experience when I was just past my 9th birthday with the ugly face of racism and when I realized what it was it hit me like a ton of bricks.
It was when my whole family packed into my dads old Chevy and headed for a visit to town. When we arrived I remember for the first time I noticed seeing the signs which read “whites only” or “no Negros allowed”. There were even separate water fountains for blacks and whites. You see back in those days segregation was still law. I went to a segregated school, a segregated church and we were not allowed to associate too closely with white people.
Though all of this I still had no idea what my Grand Father (Private John Roland Sparks) of the No2 Construction Battalion most must have endured. He and many others of our race only wanted to fight for their country and with the hope that someday there country would appreciate that when they were needed they were there. Grand Father never spoke about the war or the days leading up to them going to war. But I came to realize years later that a lot of men who went off to war talked very little about it. I guess like so many, they found “Honor before Glory” in what they had to do.
One of the pictures that often came to mine was of my Grandfather dressed in his uniform. He looked so tall, strong and proud in that uniform, which he fought so hard and so long to wear. You see the No. 2 Construction had to partition the Government of the day, not once, but twice before they gave in and allowed the Blacks to enlist. And after all that the Government would still not allow them to fight along side of their white fellow soldiers. No! They had to form their own Battalion and so came the birth of the No 2. Battalion. Today it is hard to imagine what must have went though their minds. They knew that they were equal to other men and more than ready and able to fight for there country. However, the fight against racism was a day in and day out occurrence here in their homeland, Canada strong and free. One might have though that these men, who where told they were not equal and not good enough, that they would be filled with hate. But what I saw from my Grandfather Private John Roland Sparks was quite the opposite. I never heard my Grandparents ever speak a word of hate or of racism. They just went on each day fighting this war at home by living life ever day and not spending the short time they had this world hating. Could it be that as a people they had such a strong faith in God “in whom we Trust”, that they knew God would see them though those bad days. Maybe my Grandparents knew more than they let on.
Time passed and the day came when my beloved Grandfather passed. He died as he had lived a proud man, a good man, a man who stood for what is right and who refused to hate even when hatred seemed justified. There was no last call, no marching soldiers and no bugler playing “The Last Post” over a flag draped coffin. There was maybe a solder standing at attention because he knew what my grandfather stood for and what he had been willing to die for his country. My grandfather died and they buried him in a simple wooden box along side those went before him who had known and loved him.
Some years later I joined the air cadets, I’m not sure why! Maybe because I could never get the images of my Grandfather in those pictures hanging on the walls out of my mind. My Grand Father standing there so tall, strong and proud. At this time in my life I began to understand at least one of the reasons why my Grand father wanted to fight for their country.
I felt it!…..
The pride they felt….I felt it too.
By putting on that uniform that said: “I AM A CANADIAN”.
That’s what the brave men of the 2nd Construction Battalion felt!!!
These men like my Grand Father Private John Roland Sparks, my uncle Private William Henry Sparks, Private William Paris, Captian William A White. Private George Reddick, Private Jeremiah Jones and so many others who had to fight at home in order to be allowed to fight abroad………….. For…. My… Country.
I don’t think that back in 1800 when the Black Loyalists first came to Birchtown, Nova Scotia, that they knew some years later in 1914 there descendents would have to help lead the way to Equality for Black Canadians. Yet those men who petitioned for the right to fight for their country were the vanguard of the fight against racism in Canada.