Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018 — 7:30 p.m., Nova Scotia Archives
Charlie’s War: The Life and Death of a South African Soldier in the No. 2 Construction Company, 1917–1918
Kirrily Freeman, Saint Mary’s University
On the night of September 22-23, 1918 Private Charles Some died of wounds in France, but he did not die in battle or from war injuries: he was murdered on a narrow mountain road in eastern France, stabbed multiple times in the face, chest, back and neck, his throat severed. Although Charlie Some died a violent death in France in 1918, it was outside of battle and likely at the hands of an ally or comrade. Though he fought with the CEF, Charlie Some was not Canadian — he was born in the British colony of Natal in southern Africa. He joined the No. 2 and lived in Africville, but was a newcomer to that historic community. When he was hospitalized, it was a result of civilian encounters, and his service file is peppered with absences and punishments. In short, Charlie Some’s experience in the First World War differs significantly from the Great War stories familiar to most Canadians.
But Charlie Some’s experience is revealing when placed in a wider context. In his migration from Natal to Nova Scotia, his recruitment as a Black man into the military, his health and hospitalization, the labour he performed, and his non-compliance with the regulations and routines of military life, the influence of racism and empire are overwhelming, and illustrate the connections that existed between local, national, and imperial policies and practices. Ultimately, Charlie’s experience — which on the surface seems exceptional — is in fact remarkably representative of much broader global patterns.