Last week CBC had a feel-good story on the keel-laying for HMCS William Hall, the first Canadian navy vessel to be named after a Black Canadian. Here’s a taste;
Knowing and seeing a Canadian naval vessel bearing the name of a Black Nova Scotian, a Black Canadian and a Black naval hero will allow those Blacks and other minorities throughout Canada to feel maybe there is a place for them within our ranks.
William Hall was also the first Black man to be awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery in breaking the siege of Lucknow. Let’s explore the context. It’s the mid 19th century and the British Empire is approaching full bloom. Unfortunately, the natives are restless all over the place. The Chinese were in a tizzy about Britain forcing the opium trade on the country. Hall’s ship was enroute to China for a bit of “imposing of law and order,” otherwise known as “flogging the wogs,” when the Lucknow rebellion broke out, and the crew was diverted to India instead.
The Brits had a close call at Lucknow. Their garrison had been under siege for months and the situation was dire. Fortunately, the Black Canadian and many other minorities in the employ of British arms came through, and Britain’s colonial rule over India was to continue for almost another hundred years. Hall and 23 others were awarded the Victoria Cross for their valour in breaking the siege and thereby ensuring the survival of the British Empire.
In other words, Mr. Hall got his reward for being a loyal servant of the colonial masters in putting down a rebellion by the oppressed, and that, not his skin-tone, is why is is being honoured with an eponymous navy ship.
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