Private John Benjamin French

This is one of two essays about the First World War casualties commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in Kentucky.

The grave of Private John Benjamin French - note the second, original gravestone behind
The grave of Private John Benjamin French – note the second, original gravestone behind

John Benjamin French was an African-American born on 22 July 1896 in Lexington, Kentucky, the son of Ash and Lula French of 325 Race Street.[1] Little is known of his family but John French was working as a ‘shoe shiner and jockey ’ when he enlisted in 1918. Continue reading

Private Sylvester Williams

This is part of a series of essays about the First World War casualties commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in Ohio.

The grave of Private Sylvester Williams
The grave of Private Sylvester Williams

Private Sylvester Williams was one of about 165 African-Americans—one of seven from Ohio—who served with No.2 Construction Company (Coloured) in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Continue reading

Private James Doval Stewart

This essay is about the single First World War casualty commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in Georgia.

This is not for you fellows, this is a white man’s war.” [1]

The grave of Private James Doval Stewart
The grave of Private James Doval Stewart

The recruitment of Black Canadians for service with the Canadian Expeditionary Force caused much debate in Canada. Many Black Canadians, swept along by patriotic fervour at the beginning of the war wanted to volunteer but prejudice prevented widespread recruitment. By November 1915 orders had been issued to allow recruitment of Black soldiers; it was largely ignored. Although small numbers of Black Canadians had managed to enlist from early in the war, it was not until after the introduction of conscription that Black soldiers served in any numbers; even then few made it to front-line battalions. The largest group of Black Canadians to serve with the Canadian Expeditionary Force did so in No.2 Construction Battalion.[2]

Continue reading