Lt. Hugh Gaskin
Courtesy of Mathias Joost, CD
In the Canadian Militia prior to the First World War, there was little opportunity for Black men to become officers. The Militia was very much based on social status and not on competency. With the start of the First World War too many of the Militia officers who manned the first battalions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force had limited abilities. Slowly they were weeded out – some were killed in action, others were replaced, and more were sent back to Canada. Towards 1916 the Canadian Expeditionary Force began to select officers based on their abilities rather than their social status. In this new atmosphere, some Black soldiers were given a chance.
There were but a handful of Black officers in the Canadian Expeditionary Force and the Canadian Militia during the First World War. Some became officers by virtue of their professional appointments, such as doctors and chaplains. Others became officers through their abilities. The following describes one of the Black officers of the Canadian Expeditionary Force.
Hugh Allan Gaskin
Originally from Georgetown, British Guiana, where he had served in the militia, Hugh Gaskin was married and serving as a pharmacist in Sydney, Nova Scotia at the start of the war. He enlisted with the 106th Battalion in Sydney on 13 December 1915, one of 16 Black men who sailed to England with the battalion, arriving there on 25 July 1916. The 106th was broken up to provide reinforcements. After that he remained in the 26th Reserve Battalion until November 1917 when he was sent to serve with the 78th Battalion. From hereon his service takes some remarkable steps. Private Gaskin was quickly promoted to corporal in February 1918, and to sergeant that July. This was not a period when the unit was taking the heavy casualties, they would experience during the 100 Days that ended the war. Hence, he was promoted because he was good, so good in fact that he was recommended for a commission. In August 1918 Sergeant Gaskin was posted to the officers’ school in the UK from which he graduated on 23 November as a lieutenant. He thus missed the last days of the war, but he did return to the battalion in time to cross the bridge at Cologne on 13 December as part of the Army of Occupation. He returned to Canada in July 1919.
View the Canadian Great War Project’s entry on Gaskin here.
Main photo: A section of Gaskin’s attestation papers (Credit: LAC – Personnel Records of the First World War – CEF 345061a, 345061b).
Our thank you to Mathias Joost, CD, for allowing us to post this article.