Sunday, September 21, 2008

I remember Sam Estwick

During the First World War, patriotic black Canadians lined up to join the armed forces but weren’t allowed to enlist. In 1916, the Second Construction Battalion out of Pictou, Nova Scotia was formed, the first black battalion in Canadian history. They were responsible for crucial work building bridges, digging trenches and clearing roads. In the Second World War, black Canadians tried to enlist again. This time, men like Sam Estwick were allowed to join.Served: As a Leading Aircraftman in the Second World WarSam Estwick immigrated to Canada from Barbados at the age of four and his family settled in Glace Bay, N.S. When war broke out, Mr. Estwick heard the Air Force was looking for fighter pilots. But when he showed up in Halifax to enlist, the officers at the recruiting office wouldn’t take him. “What do you mean? There’s a war,” Mr. Estwick said. “We can’t trust a black pilot,” they told him.Top-secret radar work: Rejected by the Halifax recruiting station, Mr. Estwick went home and wrote a letter to his MP who brought the issue up in Parliament. Still, nothing changed. But his high-school diploma and strong academic record showed he was just what the Air Force was looking for in its top-secret radar program.
Thousands of radar technicians were trained and sent around the world to serve on aircraft, ships and air strips. Mr. Estwick was the top of his class in radar school at Clinton, Ont. He was sent overseas in December 1942.Why he joined: Mr. Estwick will never forget what his church minister said to him when he won a school award the age of 14. “He said to me, ‘That goes to prove that a young lad of your colour can be as good as any other colour.’” Mr. Estwick also remembers meeting members of the Second Construction Battalion from the First World War.
“My family was from Barbados so we had a very strong allegiance to the British,” Mr. Estwick said. “Everyone would say how handsome they all looked in uniform.”The longest layover of his life: After advanced training in England, Mr. Estwick was assigned to duty in India by ship, with a 10-day layover in Durban, South Africa. Despite the red maple leaf sewn onto his uniform, Mr. Estwick was continuously denied entry into the local restaurants. One night when he and a group of his radar buddies went into a bar, a beefy bartender ordered Mr. Estwick out. Mr. Estwick was only 5-foot-7 but he had a reputation as a feisty boxer with an attitude. He was ready to fight the bartender when a British commando stepped in. “He said: ‘Hold on, Canada. He’s too big. That guy’s more my size. Let me do it.’” Mr. Estwick recalled. “And he took the guy down.”

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