Charlie Some, the lone black South African in the Canadian army, was known for going AWOL on certain occasions. So when he went missing on September 22, 1918, no one expected anything remarkable.
Authorities would need approximately two days to find his body, which had been abandoned on Road 45, a tiny road near the French-Swiss border.
Then something odd happened. According to New Frame, when his body was delivered to the Canadian camp, a postmortem revealed that he had been “stabbed in the face, back, and neck, and his throat cut with such power that it ruptured his windpipe.”
Unlike many of his friends who had served in World War I, where victims were murdered primarily by bombs or machine-gun fire, this was not the case. In practice, no one knows who was responsible for his unexplained death, but sources suggest it was ethnically motivated.
For historians, what was equally noteworthy about Charlie Some was how he arrived in Canada as a black South African. Charlie Some was born in the then-colony of Natal in 1886, according to Canadian historian and associate professor Kirrily Freeman of Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Canada, who has been investigating his life.
Freeman believes that Some entered Canada about 1911 when blacks entering the country were believed to be doing so illegally because there are no records of when he left South Africa and entered Canada.
By January 1917, Charlie Some had fled the severe conditions that many black South Africans endured at the time and had established in Africville, a black hamlet north of Halifax, Nova Scotia. According to Freeman, he married a white woman, reported his work as a laborer, and “kept under the radar.”
Charlie Some joined in the Canadian Expeditionary Force at the same time, notably the No. 2 Construction Battalion, a largely black element of the Force. According to several sources, soldiers in the No. 2 battalion were not authorized to carry weaponry and were instead assigned to work behind the lines, cutting down trees for timber or unloading ships.
Charlie Some began having problems with his superiors soon after joining the army, including becoming intoxicated, for which he had to forfeit two days’ salary, and being confined to barracks after going AWOL.
When he got to Seaford, England, for training in March 1917, his regiment proceeded ahead to France by boat, but Charlie Some was unable to accompany them because he was undergoing treatment for a medical ailment.
He had joined his No. 2 colleagues at their camp in Jura, France, by May 1918. Charlie Some continued to disobey laws after arriving at the camp, going AWOL on many occasions. Then, on September 22, the unthinkable happened: he was assassinated under mysterious circumstances.
When the autopsy was carried out, French officials detained an Algerian colonial officer, Touhami Ben Mohammed Burkat, who had been away without leave at the time of Charlie Some’s death. Burkat was sentenced to five years of hard labor, but Freeman believes the Algerian was innocent because of the rise in racially motivated murders in France at the time.
French soldiers went for black colonial employees who they thought had safe jobs distant from the front lines and were also sleeping with their wives.
“As a result, guys are attacked at night, stabbed, and abandoned. New Frame cited Freeman as saying, “And Charlie’s death fits this bigger trend.”
Charlie Some, who was believed to have been killed because he was black, received some of the highest honors when he died as a soldier. He was buried with full military honors in the village of Supt in eastern France a day after his death and was given a tombstone carrying his name.
According to Freeman, Charlie Some’s biography chronicles the often-overlooked story of black volunteers who, despite racism, were moved by patriotism and pride to serve in the Western army.
She stated that she would continue to look into Charlie Some’s death and that she hoped that answers would come from the latter’s native country, as sources in Canada and France had previously been exhausted.