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Newfoundland 's Position and War Policy [1915]



[Canadian Annual Review , 1915; for the full citation, see the end of the text]


Like the other Britons in the Pacific this oldest of British Colonies did its duty nobly during the critical year under review and, incidentally, helped to guard the coasts and commerce of Canada by its Naval Reserve and contributions to the Fleet of the Empire. Of the 3,000 men enlisted up to September, 1915, from a population of 242,619, the sailors totalled 1,200 and a training ship was maintained at St. John's. Some of these seamen served on the Niobe before going on to England, some were with Admiral Sturdee's squadron, others on the Queen Elizabeth at the Dardanelles , one was with the squadron which sank the Blücher. Many others made skilled and effective mine-sweepers. Of the soldiers all enlisted as privates; the War Office was left to appoint officers from the Imperial Army or to make promotions from the ranks. One of the Battalions for a time garrisoned Edinburgh Castle . A Contingent of 250 men arrived at Liverpool on Feb. 4 and on Mar. 13 Hon. J. R. Bennett, Colonial Secretary, told a Montreal journal that:


"We have 1,000 Naval reservists enlisted, of whom 900 have gone on active service. The rest are on board the Calypso, ready for service. There are 800 men in the Regiment now at Edinburgh , 250 men will be leaving in a few days to join the Regiment, and we have 250 more enrolled as a reserve force. This will make a total of 1,300 men for the Newfoundland Regiment, and 1,000 for the Naval Reserve. One hundred naval reservists are on board the Canadian cruiser Niobe, and 50 have already been lost in action. There were 25 of them on the Clan McNaughton and probably some on the Bayano. The men are to be paid on the same basis and conditions of service as the Canadian troops, while the reservists will receive the pay and be under the conditions of the Admiralty regulations. Newfoundland has sent her best. The first 500 men enrolled were largely from St. John's , and included the sons of some of the leading people of the Colony, boys holding good positions, who voluntarily gave them up for purely patriotic reasons, and went as privates. Over 95 per cent. were native-born."


It was the boast of the Islanders at this time that, proportionately, they had more men on active service than any other Colony of the Empire. On Mar. 20, 250 more troops and 75 naval reservists sailed and reached Liverpool in due course. With them was a machine-gun section presented by W. D. Reid, President of the Reid-Newfoundland Company, in addition to a gift from his Company of $5,000 to the Patriotic Fund, $5,000 from the Employees of the Company to the same Fund and free transport by his trains and steamers for all naval and military volunteers. Two of Mr. Reid's sons went as privates. On Aug. 15 it was announced that the 1st Newfoundland Battalion had been ordered to Egypt under command of Lieut.-Col. R. De H. Burton and Major T. M. Drew and the organization of another was at once got under way. The Labrador dependency contributed a number of men from the English-speaking settlers and, according to a statement by the Hon. A. W. Piccott, Minister of Marine, in December, about 3,000 Newfoundlanders living outside of the Island , also, had volunteered. The Island contributed four aeroplanes at a cost of $30,000 to the British service and a number of nurses and doctors, and was represented in the Royal Flying Corps.


At the Dardanelles during an action on Nov. 4th Capt. James Donnelly of the Newfoundland Battalion won the Military Cross, while Sgt. Walter Green and Pte. R. Hynes were awarded the D.C.M. Meanwhile, the Women of the Island under Lady Davidson's leadership, had collected or made $20,000 worth of comforts for sick and wounded and the Reid Company contributed a third machine gun. The Patriotic Fund of $100,000 was administered with a view to maintaining for the wives and families of soldiers and sailors the same scale of living they previously had been accustomed to. This Fund, a proposed Pension Fund, and the money for recruiting and equipping the troops - chiefly $1,000,000 lent in January by the British Government to Newfoundland - were placed under control of a Committee selected from amongst the leading persons in the Colony, and including the following:


H. E. Sir W. E. Davidson (President)

The Hon. E. R. Bowring (Chairman)

The Hon. M. P. Cashin, M.L.A.

John S. Munn (Hon. Treas.)

Hon. P. T. McGrath, M.L.A.

Hon. J. R. Bennett, M.L.A.

Hon. John Harris, M.L.A.

Hon. John Knowling.

Hon. John Harvey.

Hon. M. G. Winter.

Hon. James D. Ryan.

W. D. Reid.

Charles P. Ayre.

David Baird.

John Browning.

Dr. V. P. Burke.

Wm. J. Ellis.

J. M. Kent, K.C.

W. B. Grieve.

Arch. MacPherson.

Capt. H. A. Tinnewell.

Eric A. Bowring.





The financial situation during the year was not very satisfactory. The revenue of 1913-14 had been $3,618,328 - a decrease of $300,000 while the expenditure were $3,920,178 or a deficit of over $300,000 - chiefly caused, however, by reduced duties. The funded Public Debt was $30,450,765 on Apr. 30, 1915 , and the total trade in 1913-14 was $30,328,269. Mr. Cashin's Budget on May 17 showed an estimated revenue for 1914-15 of $3,301,000 and expenditures of $4,015,000 or two successive deficits totalling $1,000,000. As the year passed matters improved considerably. The most important Act of the Session which closed on June 5, was a measure ratifying the Government contract with the Newfoundland Products Corporation, with a capital of $20,000,000, for the establishment, on the West coast, of a fertilizer industry. At the head of this corporation were Messrs. Reid Brothers, the principals of the Reid-Newfoundland Company, which had such large interests in the Colony, and associated with them was T. L. Willson of Ottawa , the discoverer of calcium carbide. The Company proposed to manufacture ammonium phosphate, cement, ammonia, wood-pulp and lumber and to operate large pulp mills in the interior. They were to commence work at an early date and to expend $18,000,000 upon enormous plants for water-power and industrial purposes, for phosphoric acid and ammonia manufacture. Large water-powers, also, were leased in Labrador . Other interests showed signs of development including the Reid Pulp Mills at Grand Falls, British buyers of pit-props and other lumber were busy, work at the iron mines of Wabana became normal, investigation was under way in the large Shale interests of the Island . Early in the year the 4th interim Report of the Imperial Royal Commission on Natural Resources, etc., reported as to general conditions and made these recommendations:


Fisheries. Much more remains to be done by official action in connection with the cod fisheries; for example, investigation of the decline in the Labrador fishery, attention to the possible extension of markets caused by the opening of the Panama Canal, the development of a trade in fresh fish, and other matters.


Forests. In order to conserve the forest lands of the Colony, measures should be taken forthwith to regulate the conditions on which cutting of timber is permissible, and the laws for protection against forest fires should be rigidly enforced.


Minerals. We consider the hematite.ore deposits at Bell Island of immense potential importance to the iron and steel industries of the United Kingdom and Canada.


Telegraph. The exceptional position of Newfoundland as a cable centre renders it urgent that the Colonial Government should consult with the Imperial Government and the Governments of other Dominions, when new concessions are asked for by cable companies, or existing concessions fail to be renewed.


The question of Prohibition excited keen interest during the year and, on Nov. 4th, a Plebiscite was held as to whether the importation, sale and manufacture of intoxicants should be permitted after Jan. 1, 1917 - a majority of at least 40 per cent. of the registered voters in the Assembly elections of 1913 being required. The Island as a whole, with the exception of St. John's, already was under the operation of a Local Option law somewhat similar to the Scott Act of Canada. About 30,000 people voted on this drastic Prohibition proposal with 24,956 in favour and 5,362 against or a favourable majority of 19,594 - the Orangemen in St. John 's contributing largely to the result. The required majority was 24,581 and Prohibition therefore was carried. Another matter of importance which had some discussion was that of Confederation with Canada . Political, commercial and financial conditions created by the War tended to a more favourable view of the idea in certain circles, while British and Canadian statesmen were known to favour it for reasons of a strategical and Imperial character, as well as because of possible expansions in commerce and local development. A Montreal Gazette correspondent in St. John's put the issue as follows:


It would mean that the Dominion would be rounded off by including in it the only portion of British territory in North America not now forming part of the Federation: that this would probably mean also the acquisition by the rounded-out Dominion of the French islands of St. Pierre-Miquelon, to the south of Newfoundland, in return for certain fishery concessions, and thus leave the whole of the upper half of the North American continent flying the Union Jack; that by this outcome great naval and military advantages would accrue to Canada and necessarily to the British Empire; and that a splendid supply of men for the equipping of Canadian warships would be secured in the fisherfolk of Newfoundland.


The Hon. John Harvey, M.L.C., during the year spoke of the Union sentiment as growing in the Island; the Hon. E. M. Jackman of St. John's visited the Canadian West in the autumn, while W. D. Reid spent some months in Canada and the United States. The year closed with the cancellation of licenses to sell Cod-liver oil owing to quantities having found a way to Germany . It may be added that Mgr. Edward Patrick Roche became Archbishop of Newfoundland in February; that Hon. R. A. Squires, K.C., M.L.A., was re-elected Grand Master of the Orange Lodge of Newfoundland; that the Hon. E. R. Bowring, M.L.C., a notable native of the Island, was Knighted during the year.


Source: J. Castell HOPKINS, "Newfoundland's Position and War Policy - 1915", in The Canadian Annual Review of Public Affairs, 1915 , Toronto, The Annual Review Publishing Company Limited, 1917, 880p., pp. 153-156.



© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College