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Dame: Canada’s Black Soldiers Break Color Barriers with Baseball

In 1914, racist recruiters turned down many blacks who wanted to fight for their country. But for those who were accepted, baseball often became an equalizer.

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When Canada was called to war in the late summer of 1914, black men from all parts of the country arrived at their local recruiting offices willing and able to fight. did. Racist recruiters refused to hire black people, invented disqualifications, and blatant railings against the “checkered army.”

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By 1917, only 400 black men had successfully applied. In addition to the painstaking integration of the Canadian military, they also integrated the national game of the time, baseball. If Foxhole is no place for atheists, the same can be said for baseball diamonds and bigots.

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When John Howard, Canada’s first black Olympian, enlisted in the military, he was welcomed by a team of soldiers playing baseball at Niagara Camp. Howard captained the team and traveled the Golden Horseshoe to try out other military ball clubs. Howard continued to play with and oppose white soldiers before being sent abroad to work as a sapper and stretcher bearer during the conflict.

John 'Army' Howard being decorated by the King of Montenegro at the Inter Allied Games at the Pershing Stadium in Paris, July 1919.
John ‘Army’ Howard being decorated by the King of Montenegro at the Inter Allied Games at the Pershing Stadium in Paris, July 1919. Photo credit: 3385453, ecopy number a006626-v8) /(Collections and Fonds Library and Archives Canada.

Rankin Wheeley enlisted in New Brunswick in the winter of 1916. His recreational baseball season was going well when he arrived at his training center in Shauncliffe, England. One soldier wrote that at Seancliffe, in all the uncertainties of war, he was always certain of one thing.

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Rankin Wheeley immediately stood out, breaking through Shawncliffe’s color barrier with the 104th Battalion. He appeared in dozens of consolidated baseball games, often as the only black player on the field. Hoyerly, who transferred to the 13th Reserve Battalion, led his club to his second place in the Canadian Legion Championship at Ball. After surviving the Battle of Vimy Ridge, Hoyary played baseball in France with the 26th Battalion. Private Jimmy Adams, the 26th white soldier, wrote home and mentioned his teammate. ’” Adams wrote. “I remember him calling battalion baseball ‘little moments of happiness snatched from all this death and destruction.'” Rankin Wheeley was killed in action at Cambrai just 32 days before the armistice.

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Howard and Weary were among the relatively few black volunteers who accepted service in the war’s first years. Most black recruits had to wait for the creation of Canada’s first and only black battalion. The 2nd Construction Battalion, chartered in 1916, was a labor group of about 500 black soldiers. A select few of those men formed Canada’s only All Black Army baseball team.

Rankin Wheeley called battalion baseball
Rankin Wheeley called battalion baseball “a little moment of happiness snatched away from all this death and destruction.” jpg

Captain William A. White kept a detailed war diary for the 2nd Construction Corps. In it, he recorded more baseball games than any other sport or recreation. Unfortunately, White did not record his name, so the identity of the No. 2 baseball team remains a mystery. The All Black No. 2 played against teams of white soldiers throughout England and France during the war and usually won. On August 11, 1918, Reverend White gave his usual Sunday sermon to his Constructivists in La His Joux, France. He related Corinthians 9:24 to baseball and told the warriors to “get the prize” during the game that afternoon. No. 2’s force defeated Quebec’s vaunted Royal 22nd Regiment by his score of 13 to 5 and obliged.

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The construction battalion’s 300 members were soon diverted to logging, milling and transport work. These men soon transformed the Canadian Forestry Corps into a deeper and more fully integrated force, perfecting a baseball team in which blacks and whites played together. , the Foresters were able to host night games on a regular basis.

The star of the Forestry Corps team was Charlie Kelly from Ingersoll, Ontario. On September 7, 1917, Kelly was the only black player in a match played before King George V. On a field near Windsor Castle, the Forestry Corps defeated a team representing Orpington Canadian Military Hospital, where he defeated him 2–1. Charlie Kelly pitched a complete game to win the game. King George took to the field to announce that he had impressed his Canadian compatriots on the field of both baseball and combat.

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The integration of baseball in the Canadian Forces was far from universal, but it at least showed a rare willingness to set aside the narcissism of minor differences within the Canadian Expeditionary Force. More notably, they played together on the same team and bonded as part of a common cause. There is no evidence of a consolidated game among the US military.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with descendants of the 2nd Construction Battalion in Truro, New South Wales, after apologizing on behalf of the Canadian government.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with descendants of the 2nd Construction Battalion in Truro, New South Wales, after apologizing on behalf of the Canadian government. Photo by Lars Hagberg /Reuters

Although taunts and insults were not often recorded in game reports, black military baseball players in Canada, Great Britain and France must tolerate the same ignorance as black civilians and soldiers elsewhere. They risked their lives for a nation not yet ready to call themselves men. While they’re taking a break from their more heroic duties, while standing firm between lines, on the mound, or in the batter’s box, we hope these black men have found peace and been welcomed home. I’m here.

Also: We are the Dead: Call for Help to Honor One of Canada’s War Dead

Steven No good I teach Humanities at Royal St. George’s College in Toronto. This article is taken from a presentation at the Canadian Baseball History Conference at the University of Windsor this weekend.

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Dame: Canada’s Black Soldiers Break Color Barriers with Baseball

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