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Newfoundland History

Newfoundland in the First World War



[This text was published in 1950. For the full citation, see the end of the article. Parts in brackets [...] and links have been added to the original text by Claude Bélanger.]


In proportion to wealth and population, Newfoundland's contribution in the First World War was outstanding. Approximately 8,500 men were enrolled, nearly 7,000 in the Newfoundland Regiment and Forestry Corps, the remainder in the Royal Navy. Casualties were extremely high. In the Newfoundland Regiment about 1,300 were killed and over 2,300 wounded; of those who enlisted in the Royal Navy about 180 lost their lives and 125 were invalided home.


Of the men in the Naval Service, the Cambridge History of the British Empire says: -


The seamen of Newfoundland had long been known in the Navy as efficient and resourceful, but the end of the War left them with a greatly enhanced reputation. They readily undertook almost impossible boarding operations in wild seas which others would not face. Nothing but praise was accorded by the Fleet.



The great test of the Newfoundland Regiment came at Beaumont-Hamel in the Battle of the Somme, on July 1, 1916. They went into action 753 strong; only 68 answered the roll call next day. A memorial to the fallen stands on the field of Beaumont-Hamel and on Commemoration Day [1] the people of Newfoundland gather at their war memorials in remembrance.


The War brought an unparalleled boom. Prices of fish rose to unprecedented heights and catches were unusually good. Employment and business turnover were high. A spirit of optimism, combined with a generous patriotism, induced the Newfoundland Government to undertake financial responsibility for Newfoundland troops sent overseas. This added greatly to the costs of government. The public debt was increased by $10,000,000 and provision for war pensions proved to be a continuing burden. There can be little doubt that this addition to debt and overhead was an important factor in bringing about the financial crisis after 1930.


The end of the war boom brought a sharp collapse. There were many business failures; export prices of fish fell, between 1920 and 1923, to one-half their former level and direct relief was needed in many communities. Recovery was gradual but by 1929 Newfoundland was again enjoying a mild boom. Fish prices had recovered to higher levels than before the War. The opening of a new pulp and paper mill at Corner Brook in 1925 had led to considerable expansion on the west coast and tripled the export value of forest products. Although the Nova Scotia steel industry languished during the late 1920's, exports of iron ore to Germany and Holland and rising prices more than made good the loss so far as Bell Island was concerned. In 1928 the copper-zinc-lead mine at Buchans was brought into production. In 1930 total exports exceeded $39,000,000 as compared with about $19,100,000 in 1922. The economy remained nonethe­less highly dependent on external markets. [For a discussion of the situation of Newfoundland in the 1920's, consult this site.]

[1] July 1, if a Sunday; otherwise the nearest Sunday to July 1.

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Source: GOVERNMENT OF CANADA, Newfoundland . An Introduction to Canada's New Province, Published by authority of the Right Honourable C. D. HOWE, Minister of Trade and Commerce, prepared by the Department of External Affairs, in collaboration with the Dominion Bureau of Statistics, Ottawa, 1950, 142p., pp. 15-41.



© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College