Remembering Capt. Rev. William A. White

Megan jonesChaplain’s Corner

Padre Megan Jones

February is Black History Month. It’s a time to celebrate and honour the contributions of Black Canadians. Within the CAF we commemorate the sacrifices and achievements of Black Canadians who serve, including the incredible contributions of Captain the Reverend William A. White.

When the First World War broke out, thousands of Black Canadians would flock to enlist, only to be turned away and told there was no place for them in a “white man’s war.” They would not be deterred though, and Black Canadians across the country participated in a pro-enlistment campaign. Under this pressure, the No. 2 Construction Battalion (No. 2 CB) was created on 5 July 1916. Nearly 700 black men from across Canada enlisted in what would be the only segregated black battalion in the Canadian military. They trained in Truro and Pictou, N.S. before heading overseas on 28 March 1917. When they arrived in the Jura Region of France, the Battalion was attached to the Canadian Forestry Corps where they would serve with courage and great honour until the end of the war.

During the war, all but one of the No. 2 CB’s 19 officers were white. The only exception was their chaplain, Captain the Reverend William A. White. He would be the first and only black officer in the Canadian Expeditionary Force during WWI. White was born 16 June, 1874, to former slaves, James Andrew White and Elizabeth Walker. He grew up in a remote area of northeast Virginia, U.S.A. White moved to Nova Scotia in 1899 in order to attended Acadia University where he studied theology. He graduated in 1903 and became the pastor at the Zion Baptist Church in Truro, N.S. in 1905. When the war broke out, he championed the determination of men of colour to be able to serve king and country. White enlisted to provide spiritual care and support for the members of the No. 2 CB. He faced discrimination and difficulties, especially from white soldiers who would not accept his ministrations, even though they often lacked services of a clergyman. But White faced these challenges with courage and fortitude, consistently advocating for the welfare of the troops and once placing himself between his own unit and a group of white soldiers in order to avert a riot.

Captain the Reverend William A. White lived a life marked by firsts and his unrelenting dedication to the welfare of the troops continues to set the example for chaplains in the CAF who would follow in his footsteps.

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Rev. William White attended Acadia University and graduated with a BA in theology in 1903. He was presented with an Honorary Doctorate of Divinity in 1936.
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Capt. Rev. William A. White served as the chaplain for the No. 2 Construction Battalion