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Sunday, 13 June 2021

Guysborough County's No. 2 Construction Battalion Enlistments, Part 2

 This blog post is the second of a series of posts, summarizing the information available on the life and First World War service of Guysborough County's 28 No. 2 Construction Battalion enlistments. Readers are asked to notify the blog author if there are any errors, or if a reader has additional information on any of the men profiled in these posts.


4. Private George Borden:

George Borden was born at Goldenville, Guysborough County, the son of James and Alice (Parris) Borden. While his attestation papers list his year of birth as 1896, a medical document in his service file records the date as September 20, 1899. George’s father James was a native of Guysborough, the son of James Frederick and Mary Borden. His mother Alice was born at Goldenville, the daughter of Jeremiah and Jane (Dismal) Parris.

George was a late enlistment with No. 2 Construction Battalion, joining the unit at Truro, NS, on February 10, 1917. At the time, he claimed that both of his parents were deceased, although genealogical sources indicate that this was not the case. George listed his aunt—his mother’s sister, Mrs. Norman (Rosa Ann Parris) Parris, Grammar St., New Glasgow, NS—as his next of kin.

Six weeks after his enlistment, George departed from Halifax aboard SS Southland and disembarked at Liverpool, UK, with his No. 2 Construction mates in early April. On May 25, George proceeded to France as part of a large group of No. 2 Construction personnel assigned to the Canadian Forestry Corps’ Jura District.

No. 2 Construction’s men worked in aspects of timber harvesting operations—logging, sawmill, lumberyard and shipping—alongside CFC personnel. While small groups of No. 2 Construction men were transferred to two other CFC locations in France in late 1917, George spent his entire overseas service at Jura.

In February 1918, shortly after the first anniversary of his enlistment, George was granted three weeks’ leave. In mid-June, he was “admonished and placed under stoppage of pay to make good the value of missing articles,” specifically “one pair puttees [and] one jacket” that he had lost “by neglect.” With the exception of a brief stay in hospital in late July, the remainder of George’s time at Jura was uneventful.

On December 12, 1918, George returned to the UK with his comrades and was attached to the Nova Scotia Regimental Depot, Camp Bramshott, two days later. While the remainder of No. 2 Construction’s personnel departed for Canada on January 12, 1919, George remained in the UK, were he was promoted to the rank of “Acting Corporal without pay and allowances while specially employed.”

On February 1, George was “taken on strength” for sentry duty at No. 6 Military District, Rhyl. The location contained thousands of Canadian soldiers awaiting orders to return to Canada. Five days after reporting for duty, George was placed in the camp’s isolation unit with a case of mumps. Discharged on March 1, he served at Rhyl for four weeks, at which time he proceeded by train to Glasgow, Scotland, and boarded SS Saturnia for the return journey to Canada.

George was discharged at Halifax on April 14, 1919. Three months later, he crossed into the United States at McAdam, NB, and proceeded to Boston, MA. George found employment as a cook and established residence in the suburb of Roxbury. Two years later, he travelled by train from Boston to New Glasgow, and visited family in Goldenville before returning to the US.

On June 21, 1928, George married Hilda Wilson, a native of The Crawl, Hamilton, Bermuda, who had immigrated to the US with her family in 1910. The couple established residence at 7 Copeland St., Roxbury, where George was building custodian. Three children soon joined the Borden family—a daughter Lois (November 22, 1930) and twin boys Donald and Douglas (October 8, 1932).

Six years into George’s and Hilda’s marriage, a routine incident spiralled out of control, resulting in tragedy for the Borden family. At 1:30 pm Sunday, July 8, 1934, Registry of Motor Vehicles Inspector Everett T. Gardner and Special Officer William R. Harmon arrived at the Borden residence at 7 Copeland St., Roxbury. While on official business, neither was in uniform at the time.

Apparently, Inspector Gardner had attempted to stop George for a motor vehicle infraction, but he sped away. Gardner and Harmon intended to serve George with an arrest warrant for three motor vehicle infractions: operating a motor vehicle after his license was revoked, failing to stop when signalled by a motor vehicle inspector, and driving in a manner that endangered the lives and safety of the public.

While Harmon went into the building, Gardner guarded a rear entrance. Harmon knocked on the door of the Borden family apartment and identified himself as a police officer. At first, George denied that he was the man they were seeking, but soon acknowledged his identity and asked permission to make a phone call from a suite on the second floor. As he made his way up the stairs, he attempted to flee, exiting the building and running across the street into another tenement with Harmon in pursuit.

As George entered the second building, Harmon fired two warning shots, one into the air and a second into the ground. Gardner, hearing the shots, made his way into the street and remained there while Harmon followed George into the building. A few minutes later, Gardner heard the sound of glass breaking. Peering down an alley beside the building, he saw George climb out of a basement window and attempt to flee.

Harmon aimed his weapon at George and fired three shots, striking him in the left side, right ankle and right wrist. George managed to make his way to the rear of the building, where he collapsed. He was rushed to City Hospital, where he immediately received a blood transfusion and was placed on the “serious condition” list. According to the Boston Globe, the incident was believed to have been the first time that a motor vehicles inspector fired his weapon in an attempt to execute an arrest.

Events in the aftermath of George’s shooting followed a predictable pattern. Police claimed that Borden had placed his right hand in a rear trouser pocket after climbing out of the cellar and appeared to be drawing a weapon when Gardner fired. A later statement claimed that George had a “black object” in his hand. While a search of the area behind the building failed to locate a weapon of any kind, police later claimed that a knife found in the cellar belonged to George.

Two days after the incident, The Boston Globe reported that a Roxbury Court would examine the facts surrounding the incident, to determine whether Inspector Gardner acted in self-defence. The news item also reported that George, in “fair” condition in hospital, was interviewed by a Motor Vehicles Inspector and Boston Police Lieutenant. He denied owning a revolver and declared that he did not have a weapon in his possession when he was shot. Meanwhile, the Roxbury Court ruled that Inspector Gardner had acted in self-defence and absolved him from all responsibility.

On the night of Friday, July 13, 1934, George Borden passed away at City Hospital. His death had a dramatic impact on an already tense situation. Several community organizations—the League of Struggle for Negro Rights, the Boston branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, and the National Equal Rights League—had already held meetings, demanding a full public inquiry into the shooting.

Under considerable pressure to act, Boston Police announced that an investigation into the incident would take place before a magistrate in Roxbury Court on July 16. When the hearing convened, Inspector Gardner was formally charged with manslaughter pending the outcome of the investigation, and released on $1,000 bail.

The following day, George’s funeral took place at the International Hall, Shawmut Ave., Roxbury. A total of 14 automobiles and more than 200 friends and sympathizers, consisting of white and black citizens, formed a parade behind his casket as it traveled from the funeral home to the hall. Amplifiers broadcast the service to a crowd of 500 who stood outside the packed hall. Several representatives of the Boston Police also attended the ceremony.

George Borden was laid to rest in Mount Hope Cemetery, Boston, MA. A Boston Globe article, dated October 31, 1934, indicated that the inquiry into George’s death continued for more than three months. The news item reported that Special Officer William R. Harmon saw a “dark object” in George’s hand shortly before he was shot, suggesting that the manslaughter charges brought against Inspector Gardner were likely to be dismissed, on “self-defence” grounds.

George’s widow Hilda never re-married. Predeceased by her twin sons, she passed away at Roxbury on October 22, 1983.

Special thanks to Marie Terese, Redican, Allentown, PA, who provided a series of Boston Globe articles concerning George's tragic shooting and information on George's wife, Hilda Wilson.

5. Private Norman Arthur Bowden:

Norman Arthur Bowden was born at Guysborough, Nova Scotia, on October 26, 1885, the son of William Arthur and Margaret A. (Skinner) Bowden. William was the son of Levi and Elizabeth Bowden, while Margaret was the daughter of George and Eliza Skinner. Norman was living in his parents’ household in the 1891 and 1901 censuses, but had left home by 1911. His whereabouts at that time are unknown, but by 1915 he was residing at Victoria, British Columbia, where he was employed as a “bootblack” and porter at a saloon operated by Scottish proprietors.

After relocating to Victoria, Norman met Della Daisy (Gibson) Bishop, a widow and native of San Angelo, Texas. Della was the oldest of 13 children—her son later described her as a “go-getter” who “could see that there was no future at that time for black people in Texas.” Della made her way to Victoria, BC, where she met Norman at a weekly Sunday gathering held in one of the local black community’s homes.

Norman and Della established residence at 1009 Fort St., where their son, Norman Leland, was born during the summer of 1915. Life continued as normal for more than a year, until Norman made a decision that significantly impacted his young family. On November 6, 1916, he attested for service with No. 2 Construction Battalion at Victoria.

Unlike other military units, No. 2 Construction Battalion received official permission to conduct a nation-wide recruitment campaign. Norman was one of a small number of British Columbia enlistments. Leaving his 14-month-old son in Della’s care, he traveled across the country by rail to Truro, NS, where he joined the unit’s ranks.

After spending the winter of 1916-17 training at Truro, No. 2 Construction’s personnel made their way to Halifax in late March 1917, boarded SS Southland and departed for overseas. The unit arrived in the United Kingdom on April 7 and remained there for six weeks. On March 17, 1917, Norman departed for France with a large detachment of No. 2 Construction personnel. The group made its way to the Canadian Forestry Corps’ Jura District, where Norman and his comrades served alongside CFC units, participating in all aspects of harvesting and processing timber, as well as shipping lumber products to the forward area.

Norman’s time overseas was largely uneventful. On February 12, 1918, he was granted 14 days’ leave to the United Kingdom and rejoined his unit on March 3. On June 1, 1918, he was hospitalized at La Joux, Jura, with a case of mumps and discharged to duty three weeks later.

A second 14-day leave to the United Kingdom on November 25, 1918 was somewhat more eventful. On December 7, Norman was admitted to 5th London General Hospital, Lambeth, suffering from a “concussion of [the] brain.” The brief note stated that he had been “injured in [the] street” and was “brought in suffering from concussion.” Norman’s service file contains no other details on the incident.

Norman was discharged from hospital on December, but remained in the United Kingdom as his No. 2 Construction mates departed France that same day. Instead of rejoining the unit’s ranks, Norman was posted to the Nova Scotia Regimental Depot, Bramshott, where he was attached to the Depot Company. As a result, he did not depart for Canada with his former unit, which returned to Canada on January 12.

Norman remained overseas for another month, departing the United Kingdom aboard the Empress of Britain on February 17, 1919. Upon arriving in Canada eight days later, he made the long train journey to Vancouver, where he was discharged from military service on March 22, 1919. He then returned to his Victoria residence.

Norman’s young son later recalled his father’s return home:

“I don’t remember when he left for the war, but I do remember when he came back. All the time he was overseas, my mother used to constantly show me a picture of ‘your father.’ When the soldiers came back, they’re all in a mess hall—this was 1918 [actually March 1919]—all there drinking coffee, and I took one look and I could recognize him from the picture that my mother kept showing me.”

Norman and Della were formally married at Christ Church Cathedral, Victoria, BC, on August 19, 1919. His son Norman Jr. later recalled their family home on Fort St. and the nearby Empress Hotel on waterfront, where “you can sit right there on the bench and look out over the ocean where the boat [from the British Columbia mainland] comes in.”

Several years after Norman Sr.’s return from overseas, the family relocated to Los Angeles, California, in stages. According to Norman Jr.:

“My mother had got her mother and her baby sister up from Texas to take care of them in Canada. Then we all left and came to the States. This was December 22, 1921. My auntie and her mother came here first, my mother and I came second, and 10 months or a year later, my father came last. [Later immigration records indicate that Norman Sr. arrived in California in 1923.] We all came at different times. When my mother and I got here, her younger sister was already here and married and was established so we lived with them until we sorted ourselves.”

Della insisted that her son receive a proper education. Norman Jr. started his schooling in Victoria, where most of his classmates were white. After arriving in Los Angeles, he continued his studies in a segregated school. He described the experience as “a strange thing for me,” as “I’d never gone to school with black children before.” It was in this new school setting that Norman Jr. was introduced to the world of music, an experience that was life-altering.

The school’s music teacher, a Welshman, was a violinist and introduced his students to the instrument. Norman Jr. described him as a marvelous musician—“He’d take a violin and make it sound like magic”—and a “wonderful teacher.” However, the two “did not get along… too well because I was wanting to improvise and play jazz. He didn’t like that. He’d tap me on the fingers and say, ‘That kind of music you play, you’ll never amount to a thing; you’ll never amount to nothin.’ He was always telling me that. He didn’t want to let jazz into the school.”

The spark did not take long to become a fire. Inspired by American jazz legend Louis Armstrong, “Norm”—as he was known in music circles—took up the trumpet in his mid-teens and as a young man frequented the jazz clubs located along Los Angeles’ Central Avenue. By the 1940s, he was a fixture in the vibrant music scene known as “West Coast Harlem.” Norm played at dance halls and after-hour clubs, and toured with several bands, covering such musical genres as big band, rhythm and blues and Dixieland.

Norman Leland Bowden

Meanwhile, Norman Sr. settled into life in Los Angeles, where he found work as a machinist. While far from his Guysborough County roots, he made at least one trip to Nova Scotia, visiting his younger sister, Mabel Augusta (Mrs. George Howard Lawrence) in New Glasgow during the summer of 1947. Norman returned to Los Angeles in early August, and spent his remaining years there.

Norman Arthur Borden passed away at Los Angeles on May 19, 1964. His son Norm lived a long and productive life in the city’s music scene, his final public performance taking place at La Louisanne Creole Restaurant, Los Angeles, in 2007 at the age of 91. Norman Leland Borden passed away at Los Angeles on June 1, 2017.

Special thanks to Marie Terese, Redican, Allentown, PA, who provided valuable information on Norman's wife Della.

6. Private Joseph Clyke (aka Brodie):

Joseph “Joe” Clyke (aka Brodie) was born at Guysborough, Nova Scotia, on February 14, 1900. His parents’ names are unknown. Joe was the grandson of John and Eliza (Skinner) Brodie. John, a mariner by occupation and the son of William and Eunice Brodie, married Eliza, the daughter of William and Ellen Skinner, at Guysborough on May 14, 1870.

John passed away sometime before 1901, as that year’s census records list Eliza Brodie, widow, age 50, as head of the family, residing at Guysborough with her daughters Mary, Annie, Sarah, and Harly, son Burton, and grandson Joseph, age one. In 1907, Eliza married Archibald “Archie” Clyke, a 54-year-old widower and son of William and Johanna Clyke.

The 1911 census lists 58-year-old Archibald Clyke as head of a household that included his wife Eliza, age 61, and “adopted son” Joseph Brodie, age 11. Living next door to the Clyke family were Eliza’s son Burton, his wife Nellie (Clyke), and their children Gertie, age seven, and Annie, age four.

On September 22, 1916, Joe enlisted with No. 2 Construction Battalion at Truro, NS. At the time, he gave his birth year as 1899, exaggerating his age by one year—he was actually 16 years old at the time. Joe also gave his last name as “Clyke” and listed his grandmother, Elizabeth “Eliza” (Mrs. Archie) Clyke, as his next of kin.

Joe departed for overseas with No. 2 Construction Battalion on March 25, 1917, and disembarked at Liverpool, United Kingdom, 12 days later. On May 17, 1917, he departed for France with a large group of No. 2 Construction personnel, who made their way to the Canadian Forestry Corps (CFC) Jura District, near the France - Switzerland border.

Throughout the remainder of 1917, No. 2 Construction personnel served alongside men from several CFC companies, working in the Jura area’s forests, the mill that processed harvested logs, and the shipping facility that loaded lumber onto rail cars for transport to the forward area. One of the mill’s major products was railroad ties for small-gauge lines constructed immediately behind the front trenches.

On December 30, 1917, Joe was among a group of No. 2 Construction men transferred to the CFC’s Alençon District, west of Paris and north of Le Mans, France, where several CFC companies harvested and processed timber from the nearby Forêt d’Écouvres. The majority of the transfers were natives of the Caribbean Islands and authorities at Jura were concerned that the colder weather at Jura might have a harmful impact on their health.

The fact that these men had worked throughout the months of November and December without any health issues raised questions as to whether such a move was necessary. CFC authorities, however, decided to follow the recommendations of Jura District’s medical officer and relocated the selected men to the area, where winter conditions were considerably less harsh.

Joe worked in the Alençon District for the remainder of his time overseas. Several entries in his service file suggest that youthful exuberance may have resulted in several discipline infractions. In mid-November 1918, he was confined to barracks for two weeks for “creating a disturbance.” As this punishment expired, Joe earned another 10 days’ confinement for being “AWL [absent without leave] from 22.00 26-11-18 to 07.00 27-11-18,” a fairly common occurrence among personnel at CFC camps.

On December 14, Joe returned to the United Kingdom with the rest of No. 2 Construction’s personnel. One month later, he and his comrades departed for Canada aboard the Empress of Britain. Joe disembarked at Halifax on January 22, 1919, and was formally discharged from military service on February 15, 1919.

Joe listed “Guysborough” as his address on discharge and his British War and Victory service medals were dispatched to that location on December 12, 1922. Unfortunately, no further information is currently available on his later life.

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