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Newfoundland and the First World War




[Canadian Annual Review , 1916; for the full citation, see the end of the article]


Newfoundland was prosperous during 1916. Its possession at Bell Island of iron deposits valued at $3,500,000,000 was, in itself, a great asset at this time; the seal, cod and herring fisheries had an average season which increased prices ran up to about $12,000,000 in value; the pulp and paper mills were active but there were no industrial war orders - except as Bell Island fed the Nova Scotia industries; a number of new sailing vessels were added to the fleet; there was an increased trade and for the year of June 30, 1916, the Imports were $16,427,000 and the Exports $18,969,000; Government revenues increased and an issue of $5,000,000 3-year bonds was floated in New York. The expenditure by the Colony up to the close of 1916 upon the Newfoundland Regiment was $2,375,000 together with a yearly contribution of $90,000 to the Admiralty toward the upkeep of the Island 's Naval Reserve. The Newfoundland Patriotic Fund receipts totalled $120,000, the Women's Patriotic Fund collected $60,000 for the purchase of materials to be made into shirts, socks and other comforts for the troops; machine-gun and aeroplane Funds raised $53,000; other special War Funds received $50,000.


The sons of Newfoundland greatly distinguished themselves during the year with, it was claimed by the Newfoundland Society of Montreal, 12,000 natives of the Island enlisted in Canadian or British or in the Island forces. At the opening of the Legislature on Mar. 16 Sir W. E. Davidson, the Governor, announced that both the Naval and Military forces would be increased; up to Dec. 31st, 3,180 men had enlisted locally in the Newfoundland Regiment, with 206 more enlisted and under training at St. John's, while there were 1,551 Naval enlistments or a total of 4,937 out of a population of 242,000. During the War up to this time the total casualties of the Regiment were 235 men killed, 590 wounded and 143 missing. They had seen the most strenuous service of the War in Gallipoli (88th Brigade of the 29th Division), endured a climate to which they were utterly unsuited, and proved their metal in many a fight where, as Brig. Gen. D. E. Cayley reported, they showed "a splendid spirit and readiness of resource." The Regiment claimed to have reached the nearest point to Constantinople - a hill which they called Caribou - and they had the honour of being the last unit to leave the Peninsula .


Afterwards they were sent to France and took part in the Battle of the Somme. On July 1, at a point near Beaumont-Hamel, the Newfoundlanders drove forward after British troops in two advances had been wiped out by the deadly machine-gun fire. The first line of German trenches was reached but the Regiment had suffered so severely that it could not advance further. It was said long afterwards that over 100 were killed, large numbers wounded, and 150 officers and men missing who were never traced. Amongst the officers killed were four cousins of a well-known island family - E. S., W. D., B. P., and G. W. Ayre. Capt. Bruce Reid, son of Sir W. D. Reid, who originally had helped to equip the Regiment, also was killed.


He had joined as a private and been promoted for bravery in Gallipoli and two days before the fatal battle wrote to his father:

"I want you to know that whatever happens to me in the next few days that you need not worry about me: I am glad that I joined up, and if it is my luck to go under I shall go endeavouring to do my part as any man who is worth his salt would do at a time like this."

Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig cabled to the Governor of the Island that:

" Newfoundland may well feel proud of her sons for the heroism and devotion to duty they displayed on July 1, which has never been surpassed. Please convey my deepest sympathy and that of the whole of our arms in France in the loss of the brave officers and men who have fallen for the Empire, and our admiration for their heroic conduct. Their efforts contributed to our success and their example will live."

Other tributes followed, the London Daily Mail correspondent declaring on July 14 that "you have done better than the best." Three months later the Regiment had another chance at an unnamed position and the correspondent of the London Times (Nov. 11) described the result:


"Less than half the normal strength of the battalion went into action over the parapets and reached a German trench 400 yards away. The trench was held in strength by the enemy, who stayed to meet them. When the trench was ours there was hardly a Newfoundlander's bayonet which was not red with German blood. The trench was full of enemy dead. Those who were not dead were prisoners. Then came the counter-attacks. The little force spread out, held the trench, which was normally a front for two battalions, and beat off counter-attack after counter-attack. When night fell the Newfoundlanders were very tired, but very satisfied."


Amongst the casualties of this period were Pte. H. H. Goodridge, son of an ex-Premier of Newfoundland , and Capt. James J. Donnelly, who had won the Military Cross in the Dardanelles . Honours bestowed upon troops from the Island during this year included an M.C. for Capt. J. W. March and a Bar to the Military Cross for Capt. Bertram Butler, M.C. Sir Edward Morris, Premier of Newfoundland, was in London during July and in France not long after the first Newfoundland brush with the enemy. In Paris he met the President and M. Briand, the Premier, and paragraphs afterwards appeared in various Canadian papers saying that when peace came Newfoundland would get the long-desired French islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon lying off the south coast of the colony. Meantime the Island Government had appointed a Pensions and Disabilities' Board which was to provide for the soldiers discharged on account of medical unfitness, and the dependents of those who died on active service.


The Board was, also, to deal with cases in the Newfoundland Naval Reserve, to the extent of levelling up to the same scale as that provided for the soldiers, the allowances made by the Admiralty. The Hon. P. T. McGrath, President of the Legislative Council, was appointed Chairman and the members included J. A. Clift, K.C., representing the Opposition, and Hon. M. P. Cashin, the Government, in the Lower House, while the Hon. M. G. Winter and C. P. Ayre represented business interests. In August, it may be added, a cheque for £1,000 was received from Lord Rothermere, Chairman of the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Co., for the Island War Contingent Comforts. On Apr. 7 Hon. A. B. Morine, K.C., who had returned to Newfoundland and re-entered politics after some years' absence in Canada , announced his final retirement from the Assembly and, intention to live permanently in the Dominion.


Other incidents of the year included the retirement of Hon. James Kent from the Opposition Leadership; on Dec. 13 the Prohibition Act became operative and stopped the import, manufacture, or sale of intoxicating liquors of every kind within the Colony, except for medicinal, manufacturing, or sacramental purposes while the appointment of a Public Controller to look after medicinal prescriptions and the cutting off of 50 bars and $400,000 of revenue was announced; following his re-election the Hon. R. A. Squires, K.C., Minister of Justice, and Grand Master of the Island Orange Order, addressed the Orange Royal Black Chamber of British America (Toronto, July 25) and expressed the hope that "generations now unborn may not look upon the tragedy of the 20th century as a mere waste of human life and effort but, rather, as a great convulsion of Nature out of which has sprung a nobler and a truer civilization and the era of permanent peace."


An arrangement was made by which the British Admiralty aided the shipping shortage of Newfoundland and supplied a number of steamers to take paper and pulp to England, and on their return to bring cargoes of salt for the fisheries and of coal; the appointment (Oct. 25) of Hon. J. A. Robinson, M.L.C., as Postmaster-General was announced and the death in Montreal on July 20 of Hon. E. M. Jackman, for nine years Minister of Finance in the Island; on Sept. 20 Sir Edward Morris told a London audience that there were large deposits of minerals in Newfoundland including iron, copper, asbestos, and oil, but that capital was necessary and that Lord Northcliffe had made a splendid beginning in that direction.


Source : J. Castell HOPKINS , " Newfoundland in the War - 1916", in The Canadian Annual Review of Public Affairs, 1916, Toronto, The Annual Review Publishing Company, 1917, 929p., pp. 163-166.



© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College