The island of Newfoundland was established as a British colony in 1583. By 1914 it was a self-governing British Dominion. More than 3000 Newfoundlanders saw service in the Great War. It became part of Canada on March 31, 1949 after a closely-contested referendum of the people of Newfoundland.
- Raised by a Patriotic Committee at the Church Lads Brigade Armoury in St John’s on 21 August 1914. A training camp was established at Pleasantville.
- The first five hundred men (known as the ‘blue puttees’ from an item of uniform with which they had been issued) sailed for England on the ship ‘Florizel’ on 4 October 1914.
- 27 subsequent drafts were sent from Newfoundland to bring the battalion up to strength and after it sustained casualties.
- The five hundred landed at Portsmouth on 20 August 1914 and went to Pond Farm Camp, Aldershot. The battalion moved to Fort George at Inverness on 7 December 1914.
- On 19 February 1915 the Newfoundlanders moved to Edinburgh Castle for guard duties.
- The battalion moved to Stobs Camp near Hawick on 11 May 1915 and on 2 August 1915 moved to Badajox Barracks at Aldershot.
- On 19 August 1915 the battalion sailed from Devonport aboard the liner ‘Megantic’ for service at Gallipoli. Going via Malta and Lemnos, the battalion disembarked at Alexandria in Egypt on 1 September. It went to Abbassia Barracks and thence to Polygon Camp.
- On 13 September 1915 the battalion returned to Alexandria and boarded the ‘Ausonia, which took it to Mudros, the advanced base for operations at Gallipoli, where it arrived five days later. The men then trans-shipped to the ‘Prince Abbas’ and disembarked at Kangaroo Beach at Gallipoli on 20 September 1915.
- The battalion now came under orders of the 88th Infantry Brigade of 29th Division.
- Withthis brigade the battalion saw action in the following engagements, in addition to having much time in holding front line trenches while there was no major, named battle:
- The battalion’s transport section was sent to join the Western Frontier Force in the western deserts of Egypt between November 1915 and February 1916
- Somme, 1 July 1916: in making an attack near Beaumont-Hamel on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, some 790 officers and men of the Newfoundland Regiment went into action. Of these, no fewer than 272 lost their lives; a further 11 officers and 427 men were wounded, making in all 710 of the 790.
- Somme, 12 October 1916: the battalion attacked near Geudecourt in a later phase of the Battle of the Somme.
- Operations near Sailly-Saillisel, 26 February to 3 March 1917.
- Monchy-le-Preux, 14 April 1917, during the Battle of Arras, and further operations at Les Fosses Farm on 23 April.
- On 28 september 1917 the regiment was granted a “Royal” prefix, becoming the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.
- The Third Battle of Ypres, 1917, in which the battalion was in action in an attack from the Steenbeek to Cannes Farm near Langemarck, 16-24 August 1917, and from the Broenbeek to near Poelcapelle, 9 October 1917.
- The Battle of Cambrai, starting 20 November 1917, on which the battalion advanced from near Villers-Plouich to Marcoing and Masnieres.
- The Battle of the Lys, 10-15 April 1918 during which the battalion was in action in the vicinity of Bailleul.
- Casualties had now stripped Newfoundland’s ability to maintain the battalion at full strength. In consequence it left the 29th Division and became ‘lines of communication troops’.
- After going at first to camp at Etaples, the battalion was assigned to guard duties at the British General Headquarters at Montreuil-sur-Mer, being based at Ecuires in order to do so.
- On 13 September 1918 the battalion moved to Wormhoudt where it was placed under orders of the 26th Infantry Brigade of 9th (Scottish) Division.
- The battalion took part in the final battles in Flanders, in the areas of Bellewaarde, the Keiberg spur, Ledegham and Vichte.
- The division was slected to advance into Germany as part of the Army of Occupation and commenced its move on 14 November. The Newfoundlanders crossed Belgium and entered Germany on 4 December 1918. After forming part of the Cologne garrison it moved in February 1919 to Rouen for POW guard duties.
- The battalion landed back in England and went to Hazeley Down Camp near Winchester in late April 1919. It took part in the London Victory Parade on 3 May 1919. Large drafts finally returned home in the May-July 1919 period.
- Established at Ayr racecourse camp in Scotland in early 1915, with the men being billeted at Newton Primary School. The battalion acted as a training unit, supplying drafts to the 1st Battalion.
- It went to Barry on the Scottish coast for a while before moving in July 1918 to Hazeley Down Camp near Winchester.
Researching a soldier of the regiment
Library and Archives Canada holds microfilm copies of the military personnel files of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment and Newfoundland Forestry Corps. For more detail see this link Library and Archives Canada.
There are some other very good and complete websites and databases giving information about men of the regiment.
- Newfoundland Great War Heritage Project
- Newfoundland Regiment and the Great War database
- Newfoundland’s Grand Banks
Battlefield tour locations
The primary memorial to the regiment is an important piece of preserved battlefield: Newfoundland Memorial Park at Beaumont-Hamel, the site of the regiment’s disastrous attack on 1 July 1916. The site is free to enter, has good car parking and toilets. It has an excellent visitor centre that tells the story of the Newfoundlanders: I rate this as a “5-Star, absolutely must” site for anyone visiting the Somme area.
The regiment is remembered by the placing of a number of beautiful caribou statue memorials at the locations of most significance to the regiment’s story: Beaumont-Hamel; Geudecourt; Monchy-le-Preux; Masnieres and Courtrai. A sixth caribou is in Bowring Park in St John’s.
- “Pilgrimage”, a guide to the Royal Newfoundland Regiment in World War One by W. David Parsons (St John’s: Creative Book Publishing, 1994)
- “The first five hundred” by Richard Cramm (Online readable copy)
- The histories of the 29th and 9th (Scottish) Divisions