Douglas Ruck feels Nova Scotia students should learn about the No. 2 Construction Battalion.
“The time has come to make it happen; the time is long past to make it happen,” said Ruck, at the 25th annual ceremony honouring the battalion in Pictou.
Held since 1993 the event recognizes the legacy of black soldiers who had to battle just to join the fight with their fellow countrymen during the First World War.
Anxious to support their fellow Canadians in a time of war, the black men at the time had to convince the Canadian Militia Council they were worthy of contributing to the cause.
“They were told ‘this isn’t your war, this is a white man’s war’,” Ruck said Saturday.
But by 1916, with manpower starting to become an issue, the Council gave the go-ahead to form a black construction battalion.
The unit was trained in Pictou starting on July 5, 1916 – and later, in Truro – before being shipped overseas, where they were given shovels instead of rifles. However, they were able to help the cause with infrastructure work: building and repair of trenches, roads, bridges and railways. They were the first and only black unit ever established in Canada, with roughly half of the 600 men from Nova Scotia. When the war ended, they would return to Canada in 1919, with the unit disbanded the next year.
Ruck is son of former Senator Calvin Ruck, whose 1987 book, The Black Battalion 1916-1920: Canada’s Best Kept Military Secret, brought the Battalion’s efforts to light.
“He had an undying commitment – to make sure the No. 2 Construction Battalion’s story was told,” Ruck said of his late father.
“He is the reason I’m here today. The No.2 Battalion opened doors for us and because of that, we owe a debt of gratitude.”
Douglas Ruck told attendees Saturday – the deCoste was about three-quarters full – that he recently wrote to Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil, urging him to take a look at making the story part of curriculum in Nova Scotia schools.
“They deserve it. You must raise your voice, as well. If one voice can make a difference, then many voices can make a change.”
Other dignitaries in attendance Saturday included Pictou Mayor Jim Ryan, Elizabeth Douglas of Veterans Affairs, Brigadier-General and former Lt-Gov. J.J. Grant, a native of New Glasgow, and MLA Tony Ince, the Minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs for the Province of Nova Scotia.