I am the descendant of escaped slaves who arrived in this country in the mid nineteenth century via the Underground Railroad. I had the honour of serving my country during World War II as a member of the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps. I was employed as an Operating Room Assistant in Surgery in the Vancouver Military Hospital. At the time, I had completed one year of Medicine at the University of Toronto.
There was no money left in the family coffers to continue this ambition and subsequently, I was conscripted into the Army. This was in the year 1941. By entering the army, I was continuing a tradition in our family that began with my Great Uncle George Jacobs who rose to become a Sergeant in the Militia in the mid- Eighteenth Century and served in the Essex-Kent area of the Province of Ontario. Sgt George Jacobs was one of the very few Black soldiers, indeed he was one of the very few adult men who could read and write in those days and I venture to say that had he been white, he would have risen to great heights. His is a remarkable and very sad story that remains to be told another day.
During the First World War all able bodied men were expected to enter the service of the King either voluntarily or through conscription. My father served in France in the 18th Bn and was wounded in action in 1918. My Great Uncle who was one of my mentors, and a Cousin served in the #2 Construction Bn during the years 1917 - 1918.
My own service began with Cadets in my high school, Kennedy Collegiate, Windsor, Ontario in the years 1939 and 1940, followed by the Canadian Officer Training Corps, University of Toronto, 1941, the Royal Canadian Medical Corps, 1942 - 1945 and later as a career member in the Royal Canadian Air Force from 1954 to 1972 rising from Flight Cadet to Wing Commander in the RCAF (Regular) and Lieutenant Colonel in the unified Canadian Forces.
Following WWII, I returned to University - the University of Western Ontario where I earned a BA degree and proceeded to the University of Toronto where I earned a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work. I began work in the Toronto Children’s Aid Society when I learned that a new Social Work Branch was opening in the RCAF(Regular).
I joined the RCAF(Regular) in 1954 and became one of eleven original Social Workers who developed the RCAF Welfare Services Branch. This was during the Cold War and four of our personnel were deployed to Europe while the remaining seven were deployed throughout Canada. My first posting was to 5 Air Division Headquarters, Vancouver, BC. I was responsible for providing a Social Work Service to all RCAF personnel in the Province of British Columbia and for five years from 1955 - 1960 I travelled the length and breadth of that beautiful Province. During that period, I became associated with members of the Black Community. My home became a meeting place for African and West Indian students among them Rosemary Brown, her husband and (at the time) two children.
In 1960, I was transferred to Air Defence Command Headquarters in St-Hubert, Québec where I became responsible for the provision of services to all RCAF units in that Province. It was during this time that the Forces were unified and in 1967, I was attached to Mobile Command HQ which displaced RCAF Air Defence Command, that Command having moved to North Bay. In effect, Mobile Command was the Army and so my responsibility for being the advisor to the Air Officer Commanding Air Defence Command became that of advisor to the General Officer Commanding Mobile Command.
In actuality, Mobile Command was the Army, in those years. Again I was responsible for travelling to all units within the Province of Québec. As some of you will know, the Canadian Forces went through a period of severe transition in which all three services were unified. As expected there was considerable confusion but the result for me was an increase in workload to include the three services - Navy, Army and RCAF.
In 1972, I was transferred to National Defence Headquarters where I became second in command in the Directorate of Social Development Services. Eventually, I became the Director in the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. This career spans some nineteen years of combined war time and peace time service and I have had the honour of travelling the length and breadth of this beautiful country. In those travels I have attempted to establish contact with local Black communities if such existed.
I learned that there are Black people to be found in every Territory and Province of this country.
Kenneth Jacobs passed away August 19th 2016