No. 8 Company – Canadian Forestry Corps

No. 8 Company, Canadian Forestry Corps (CFC) was the second Black unit formed in the First World War, after No. 2 Construction Battalion. From November 1918 to March 1919, No. 8 Company improved and repaired airfields and roads in northern Belgium and Germany, providing valuable support to the Royal Air Force (RAF).

Canadian Forestry Corps

Black Soldiers in the Canadian Forestry Corps

From mid-1917 onward, increasing numbers of Black volunteers and then conscripts were posted to the Canadian Forestry Corps (CFC) Depot at Sunningdale, England. About half of all Black soldiers arriving in the United Kingdom were posted to the Depot instead of the infantry battalion they had originally joined in Canada. This was a deliberate policy on the part of the Headquarters, Overseas Military Forces of Canada, the organization that administered the Canadian troops overseas. By the end of August 1918 an estimated 200 Black soldiers were stationed at the CFC Depot; most waited for an assignment as only a few served in CFC companies that were logging.

CFC Airfield Construction for the RAF

In June 1918, Major General Hugh Trenchard became commanding officer of the new Independent Air Force (IAF) — a strategic bombing force that was part of the RAF. Trenchard asked the CFC if they could provide support to his force in Belgium and France. The CFC had previously provided companies to the Royal Flying Corps, one of the RAF's predecessors, and helped improve or build airfields in England to counter the German Zeppelin and aircraft raids. The CFC now agreed to provide the same assistance to the IAF. Seven new companies were formed, Nos. 7 to 13, each with about 180 soldiers.

CFC companies constructed and improved airfields in France and Belgium using a combination of mechanical power and horsepower. They used scrapers, ploughs, harrows and discs to level and sod fields to turn into them into operational airstrips. The RAF considered the work a priority and provided the units with scarce tractors and steam rollers.

No. 8 Company

On 10 October 1918, No. 8 Company began to receive personnel. Its complement included two white officers, 169 Black soldiers and 11 white soldiers. When non-commissioned officers were selected, 10 of the 15 were white while only five were Black. The majority of these Black soldiers were conscripts, although 41 were volunteers. The company also included seven soldiers from No. 2 Construction Battalion, who had remained in England when that unit was reduced in size and sent to France in May 1917.

War Diary, No. 8 Company, CFC

Airfield Construction in Belgium and Germany

By November 1918, No. 8 Company had improved and repaired airfields at Herseaux, Pecq, and La Louvière in Belgium and Leers in France. This allowed the RAF to operate closer to the front lines in support of the British Army. Even after the Armistice ended hostilities on 11 November 1918, No. 8 Company continued its work, moving to Tournai on 21 November and to Belgrade, Belgium, at the end of the month. On 4 December, No. 8 Company completed the hangars and airfield at Belgrade. They then marched towards Cologne, Germany, with their horses and equipment and were billeted in villages and towns overnight.

Did you know?
Although the Armistice brought an end to hostilities on 11 November 1918, the First World War had not officially ended. In fact, the armistice was extended three times while the peace treaty was negotiated. The Treaty of Versailles was finally signed in June 1919 and took effect in January 1920.

On 13 December, the 1st and 2nd Canadian Divisions crossed the Rhine River to become part of the Army of Occupation. That day, No. 8 Company crossed the river and arrived in Bickendorf (referred to by Germans as Butzweilerhof, now a suburb of Cologne). They were the only CFC company to cross the Rhine; No. 9 Company had marched into Germany but remained on the west side.

At Bickendorf, No. 8 Company supported No. 4 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps, a fighter unit; No. 79 Squadron, RAF, a fighter unit; and No. 149 Squadron, RAF, a night bomber unit. No. 8 Company leveled and drained two airfields, removed the debris of damaged and destroyed Gotha bombers and improved a road to the Zeppelin shed. They also built machine gun butts and targets for a range at the nearby town of Spich to the east, where No. 7 Squadron, RAF was stationed. In early January 1919, they started work on a rifle range in a gravel pit, also near Spich, and began work at Hangelar erecting Nissen huts for the RAF.

By 15 January 1919, No. 8 Company had completed work in the Spich area and moved to Ludendorf, Germany, to set up Nissen and Alvin huts for No. 9 Squadron, RAF at the airfield there. Then, they leveled and repaired the airfield and the roads around the hangars. The men of No. 8 Company worked every day while in Germany except 15 December, 25 December (Christmas) and 29 December, to get the airfields ready as quickly as possible. They finally had a day off on 26 January. From October to the end of January, they worked more days than any other company in No. 11 District.

On 2 February, the company moved to Longerich, where they worked on grading and leveling the airfields and doing roadwork at Methein airfield; they also built a machine gun range at Bickendorf. They only suspended work once, because of a hard frost on Sunday, 9 February.

No. 8 Company returned to England in late March 1919. The company was demobilized on 2 April, along with No. 9 and No. 11 Companies. They were the last of the CFC airfield construction companies to operate. By 16 April, its personnel had been transferred to demobilization units of the CEF in preparation for their return to Canada.


No. 8 Company provided valuable support to the RAF as it moved across northern Belgium and then into Germany in 1918 and 1919. It was also the last Canadian unit to leave Germany; while the two Canadian divisions returned to Belgium in early January 1919, No. 8 Company remained in Germany into late March. The men of No. 8 Company, like those of No. 2 Construction Battalion, demonstrated the loyalty and ability of Black soldiers in an age of ongoing racial discrimination both at home and abroad.