Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Sapper Percy Fenton, CoAAG 3nd Edition

Percy Fenton served in the Canada's only all-black battalion, the 2nd Construction Battalion based in Pictou, Nova Scotia, during World War I.  He was awarded the Battalion Victory Medal.

In February 2007 this medal went up for sale on E-Bay, creating something of an uproar.  I found at least 4 online reports (my apologies if these URL's expire)

CBC report, price hits about $1,800

CBC report, final sale report

Orders, Decorations and Medals of Canada (do a edit find search for 'Fenton' to locate the data fast)

Fenton Victory Medal to stay in Canada, the way I found this one was to simply scan down the page, date wise it is about February 21, 2007, the search function did not bring up the article when using only 'Fenton' as the search term.

After the sale I even find a report on the CTV.ca from which I have copied some of the text:

"The Victory Medals were given to every Allied soldier who served in the war. Canadians received 350,000 of the nearly six million that were handed out.
     Fenton's Nova Scotia-based battalion did logging, forestry and general construction work overseas. While all of 600-plus regular soldiers were black, all but one of its commanding officers were white.
     Fenton's enlistment papers indicate that he was 17 years old when he enlisted in the battalion in 1916.
     After serving as a sapper, a type of military engineer, Fenton returned home after the war and was discharged. He later died after falling ill.
     Fenton's relatives have objected to the sale, saying the medal belongs in a museum."

Percy's medal ended up in the collection of the Black Cultural Centre in Dartmouth Nova Scotia. The centre informs me that the medal is currently part of the main floor display.

Above: This photo of Percy Fenton is owned by Lawrence Patrick Fenton, grandnephew of Percy, and is used with his permission.  For years it was in a frame behind another photo.  The frame and photo came into Lawrence's possession in 2004.

I have been told that there is more information about Percy, including a photo of him as a young man, in the work, "Africa's Children, A History of Blacks in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia" by Sharon-Robart Johnson. The book can be ordered from Global Genealogy.  Another book on the subject is "The Black Battalion 1916 - 1920 Canada's Best kept Military Secret" by Calvin W. Ruck. I found this book listed on Amazon.com.  I have not seen either book.

Percy's death certificate which can be viewed at Nova Scotia Historical Vital Statistics reveals that his death was from pulmonary tuberculosis.  His parents were William Franklin Fenton and Ida Jarvis Fenton. 

This is my entry in the Carnival of African-American Genealogy, 3rd Edition, ~ They Served With Honor ~ In Memoriam, African-Americans In The Military 1914-1953.  Thank you to host Amy Cain of Reconnected Roots.  Percy was not an American, as in United States Citizen, however, I think the Carnival will allow my pushing the geographic limits to include this Canadian who honorably served.

*Contact information for Lawrence Patrick Fenton can be obtained from this blogger.  All permissions to use his photo of Percy Fenton must be obtained from Lawrence, please respect his ownership of this wonderful artifact.  Note:  I have edited/cropped the original photo for the purposes of this blog.

Copyright 2010, CABS for Reflections From the Fence


Dorene from Ohio said...

What an amazing story!

TennLady said...

Wow! Oops my typing and spelling is gone! (at least if you saw the original line.)

Kathleen Brandt, Professional Genealogist said...

Thanks for reminding your readers that there were Sapper Black Soldiers of Canada. Unfortunately, like in the USA, officers were traditionally white even for the all black divisions/troops.
Great entry.

Barbara said...

Carol, very interesting about Percy, and it was nice of you to research him and do the write-up. His family would be proud. How did you happen to hear of him in the first place...I hope I didn't miss it in your post.

Luckie. said...

First -- How the heck we missed you Carol I have NO clue! Huge, apologies for the error! Amy is adding you & Percy ASAP -- moving you both to the top of our 3rd Edition CoAAG list!

Second -- Thank you for sharing Percy's AMAZING story & I am so glad his Battalion Victory Medal ended up in safe hands. My heart stopped the minute I read eBay!

My apologies again, that doggone Blog Carnival Submission form has got to GO!:-)


Sandra Taliaferro said...


Let me also apologize for the oversight in missing your post. As Luckie said, we've had serious issues with the submission form this time around.

Thanks for shining the spotlight on Percy, and sharing this wounderful story. We are pleased to honor him in this 3rd Edition of the CoAAG.


Carol said...

Luckie and Sandra, Hey, stuff happens, as the Wild Ones say, won't it be wonderful when they perfect this internet thingy! LOL

Stay tuned for tthe "Rest of the Story" about Percy.

A. CAIN said...


This is great. Again, thanks for sharing. I was not previously familiar with Canada's only all-black battalion. Also, I enjoyed part II... More about Percy Post. Top Notch!

Mavis said...

What a great story! I know so little about Canadian history. This was an opportunity for me to get to know a little of it. Carol, thanks for sharing this with us.

Anonymous said...

What a fantastic story! Thanks for introducing us to Percy and this all-black battalion in Canada.

lindalee said...

EXCELLENT post friend.

Craig Manson said...

Thanks so much for letting us in on part of "Canada's Best Kept Military Secret"! This great stuff!