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A short article in today's Toronto paper suggests that the man probably the last Black Canadian D-Day vet passed this week at age 92. He was wounded a week after hitting the beach while supporting an armoured attack, shot in the leg and chin. In fact the small scar on his chin was evident in a photo with the story. He never spoke of his experience until the last few years, when his grandchildren urged him to tell them his story.

After the war he became a railway porter, a common occupation for Cdn Blacks, who couldn't be on the train crews but could serve the passengers. Similarly, for many years, blacks on the Great Lakes were cooks but not seamen. He retired to the Chatham area, which has a large-ish black population descended from some of the successful users of the Underground Railway.

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Personally, I never heard of a single segregated Canadian unit...

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No, there were no segregated units in War Two. The Queen's Own Rifles, was a Toronto unit and may well have had a number of black soldiers in it. There were all Black Construction battalions from the Maritimes, where there were large numbers of Black recruits - the descendants of Loyalists who came to Canada in 1776 - and it was felt 'unwise' to have mixed units.

Otherwise, individual Black, Chinese, Japanese and at least 10 Sikhs joined CEF units for WWI and served without any noticeable fanfare or officially recognized friction, though one of the Sikhs was accused of stealing money, having had cash in hand after a leave to Paris. That ended badly. He was apparently persecuted by the RSM, who'd made the original allegation, punched the RSM in the nose and was given 90 days confinement. After some weeks he went to hospital with a 'swollen face' - toothache or duffed up by the warders? - then back to his battalion, where he died on October 28th, 1918.

The Chatham district, as mentioned, has a fair population of 'old' Black families, so I assume someone was keeping track of all the Black servicemen they could and decided that this chap was the last, though our Veterans Affairs Dept. says they have no info. on that. Even for WWI, a search of individual records would be needed to ascertain race, so 'Singh' is an easy one and, presumably, 'Nakamura', 'Wong' or 'Cardinal' [common First Nations surname]. As the WWII records are not generally available from the gov't., one would be dependant on anecdotal evidence to determine which race.


Edited by peter monahan

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Here is the story in its entirety. Emphasis mine

Black Canadian soldier’s life and D-Day exploits remembered

Lester Brown, a black Canadian veteran who fought in D-Day kept nightmares from the war from his family. They pressed him to open up and he did.

Lester Brown, a Canadian Second World War veteran, had secrets he was keeping from his grandchildren and other close relatives.

Brown, 92, a Chatham-area resident believed by his family and local historians to be the last surviving black Canadian soldier to fight in the bloody D-Day invasion of 1944, passed away last week at a hospital in Wallaceburg, Ont.

For decades, all that grandchildren Tracey Brown, 42 and her cousin, Lamont, 41, knew as youngsters about their grandpa was that he was wounded in action in France.

“He was a man of few words and growing up we knew not to even ask about it (Brown’s war experiences),’’ Lamont Brown said in an interview Tuesday.

The grandchildren wanted more details, and pressed him. They needed to know, for the sake of family history.

Finally, about five years ago, Lester opened up to his family and a news reporter and told the harrowing tale of getting ambushed by German forces a few days after he and the other soldiers in his company stormed Juno Beach at Normandy.

Rifleman Lester Brown had been drafted at 23 and later assigned to the Queen’s Own Rifles before being shipped to Europe in 1944.

A few days after landing in Nazi-occupied France on June 6, he and his platoon were ordered to take Bretteville-sur-Laize. Seeing an Allied tank on the road, Brown and another soldier hurried towards it but came under fire by a German ambush. He managed to save himself but later found the other soldier dead, in a pool of blood from being shot in the head.

Brown was wounded in the knee and took a bullet to the chin, which looked terrible at first but left only a facial scar.

“I was lucky, no doubt about it’’ he told a CTV News reporter in the 2009 interview.

After sharing the stories, Lester told his brother that he experienced nightmares and had trouble sleeping.

Black soldiers were accepted into the Canadian forces in the Second World War, and though there were still some vestiges of segregation, hundreds of Canadian black fighters served alongside their white counterparts. Brown said he was treated fairly by his officers and fellow soldiers.

When he returned home he married and had three children. He worked as a railway porter, and later graduated to a conductor for Canadian Pacific Railway.

Brown’s family and the Buxton Museum, in North Buxton, Ont. — which features tributes to the achievements of blacks who came to Canada after fleeing slavery in the U.S., and their descendants — says Lester Brown was the last surviving black Canadian veteran to have fought in the D-Day invasion.

The Memory Project, and Veterans Affairs Canada said they couldn’t confirm whether Brown was the last survivor; a Veterans Affairs spokesperson said they don’t have race-based data from that conflict.

Tracey Brown says she understands why her grandfather would have been initially reticent about sharing the “death and gore’’ he witnessed in combat, but is glad for the family’s sake that the details came out in the end.

“He was a living history (lesson)’’ she says.

Brown’s funeral was last Sunday at the North Buxton Community Church, in the Chatham area.

Edited by peter monahan

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