First World War
Andreans Who Served in the Newfoundland Forces
See the article below for details on Newfoundland at War.
*Incorrectly identified as 2nd Lieutenant in The Review.
Newfoundland at War
Early in September 100 Naval Reservists joined the complement of H.M.C.S. Niobe; in all, Newfoundland supplied 1964 Naval Reservists during the war. On land the colony's main military contribution was in infantry and forestry troops.(In 1917 the Newfoundland Patriotic Association raised a forestry battalion, 500 strong. Composed of trained woodsmen who had either been rejected as medically unfit or were over the age limit for military service, the corps was employed in Scotland until the end of the war, cutting down a forest on the Duke of Atholl's estate near Perth.) When the war ended some six thousand officers and men had proceeded overseas or were in training on the island. Other Newfoundlanders served in various arms of the British and Canadian forces.
A Newfoundland detachment of two infantry companies, numbering 537 all ranks, sailed to the United Kingdom in October 1914 with the Canadian Contingent. By the end of the year Newfoundland's offer was increased to that of a full battalion, and between February and April 1915 three drafts of close to 250 men each brought the unit up to strength. Organization was completed in May under the name, the Newfoundland Contingent. Leaving behind a rear party, which was to become a draft-finding unit, the battalion embarked for Gallipoli, via Egypt, in August. On 19 September it landed at Suvla, and was assigned to the 88th Brigade, 29th British Division. As the Newfoundlanders were not involved in any major operations in the Gallipoli theatre, battle losses were not excessive - the unit diary records 87 casualties. Among the wounded was the commanding officer, Lt.-Col. R. de H. Burton, a British regular. The 29th Division returned to Egypt in January 1916, and two months later sailed for France. There the Newfoundland battalion was to become the 1st Newfoundland Regiment.
On 1 July, the first day of the Somme offensive, the 29th Division attacked the German line on a two-brigade front near Beaumont Hamel, a village about a mile north-west of the bend in the Ancre. Although the 86th Brigade was soon cut to pieces by machine-gun fire, strong parties of the 87th, on its left, were reported to be advancing on the enemy's support line. Misled by such reports, the divisional commander committed his reserve brigade, the 88th. The 1st Newfoundland Regiment was to have attacked in conjunction with the 1st Battalion Essex Regiment on the right, but the "complete congestion of the trenches with the bodies of dead and dying", prevented the latter unit from advancing on time. Ordered to carry the first line of enemy trenches the Newfoundlanders assaulted independently at 9:05 a.m. on a 1000-yard front. Because of the small number of gaps in the wire, the men had to bunch; and every gap was covered by machine-guns which the enemy had manned as soon as the artillery barrage slackened. Men dropped, dead or wounded, at every yard. Nevertheless the survivors pressed on towards objectives 650 to 900 yards distant, and a few were reported to have succeeded in hurling their bombs into the enemy's trench, if not actually gaining an entry. Shortly after 10:00 a.m., by which time the Essex on the right had attacked with no better success, the divisional commander called off further attacks. The Newfoundland Regiment's casualties that day numbered 684, of which 310 were fatal.
Towards mid-October the Regiment was engaged in the Battle of the Transloy Ridges. On the 12th the unit, now only 385 strong, stormed and held German entrenchments just north of Gueudecourt. Its next major operation after the Somme came with the Third Army in the First Battle of the Scarpe, in April 1917. On the night of the 13th-14th the 29th Division relieved another British formation astride the Arras-Cambrai road, and the 88th Brigade was ordered to launch an attack east of Monchy-le-Preux, which had been wrested from the Germans on 11 April. Assaulting along with the 1st Battalion Essex Regiment on the morning of the 14th, the Newfoundland Regiment gained its objective, a hill some 1500 yards east of Monchy. But there had been no flanking advance, and the two battalions soon found themselves heavily counter-attacked from three sides by units of the 3rd Bavarian Division. They were overwhelmed by sheer weight of numbers, and only a handful from each battalion managed to get back to Monchy. There the Newfoundland battalion headquarters, led personally by the C.O., Lt.-Col. J. Forbes-Robertson, heroically withstood every German attempt to capture the village. Once again, the Newfoundland Regiment had been virtually cut to pieces. Its casualties that day numbered 17 officers and 468 other ranks.
The Newfoundlanders moved north to Belgium towards the end of June 1917 to take part in Haig's "northern offensive". In the Battle of Langemarck (16 August) the 29th Division attacked as the left flank of the Fifth Army, next to the French First Army. From the Steenbeek the 88th Brigade, operating north of the Ypres-Staden railway, advanced about a thousand yards and made good all its objectives. The Newfoundland battalion killed a "large number of Germans" and captured four machine-guns, at a cost of 103 casualties. Less successful and almost twice as costly a battle for the Newfoundlanders was Poelcappelle, on 9 October. The Regiment again took all its objectives astride the Staden railway, but counter-attacks nullified much of the gains.
Returning to France in mid-October, the Newfoundlanders rejoined General Byng's Third Army for the offensive against Cambrai. It was the 88th Brigade which on 20 November seized the bridgehead at Masnières through which the Canadian Cavalry Brigade attempted to exploit. Stopped by the strong defences of the Masnières-Beaurevoir Line the Newfoundland battalion dug in, suffering 248 casualties in the first two days.For eleven days the 29th Division held its vulnerable salient about Masnières, withstanding frequent German counter-attacks, before it was ordered to withdraw on 4 December. Recognition of the "magnificent and resolute determination" shown by the Newfoundlanders in these operations came in the following February, when His Majesty the King granted the title of "Royal" to the Newfoundland Regiment. The granting of such an honour during hostilities was unique in the First World War. At the time of the first German offensive in 1918 the 1st Royal Newfoundland Regiment was billeted in Flanders. It did not come under attack in March but was involved in some heavy defensive fighting in the Battles of the Lys in mid-April.
At the beginning of May the Newfoundlanders severed their long connection with the 29th Division, and until mid-September served as G.H.Q. troops, providing guards and work parties. They did not rejoin the 88th Brigade but were assigned to the 28th Brigade of the 9th (Scottish) Division, which on 20 September took over trenches in front of Ypres. The Regiment now numbered about 650 all ranks, half of them reinforcements who had yet to see action. Towards the end of the month the British Second Army and Belgian forces on its left mounted the first of a series of attacks towards the Lys.In six days the 9th Division broke through the German Flanders Position and advanced almost ten miles.
After a delay in the offensive while supply services were reorganized, the Second Army surged forward again on 14 October. On that day 94 machine guns and eight field guns fell into Newfoundland hands.Four of the field guns were accounted for by one platoon. The capture owed much to the heroism of seventeen-year-old Private Thomas Ricketts, who with his section commander outflanked the hostile battery, having braved heavy machine-gun fire in order to bring up more ammunition for the Lewis gun which he was manning. He was awarded the Victoria Cross-the youngest winner of the honour from this side of the Atlantic. An advance of nearly seven miles in two days brought the 9th Division to the Lys north of Courtrai, and on 17 October the 28th Brigade crossed the river. The Regiment was in reserve during the crossing but had some hard fighting as the advance continued. On 27 October, as the Second Army closed up to the Scheldt on a narrowing front, the 9th Division was relieved, and the Newfoundlanders were withdrawn to billets for much-deserved rest. "No parade", reads the entry for 11 November in the unit diary, "owing [to] Germans signing Armistice."
The Newfoundlanders' long service overseas had taken a heavy toll. Of some six thousand who had joined the regiment or served with other British forces, 3720 were killed, wounded or captured. In addition 179 Newfoundland sailors had been lost at sea. It was a contribution to victory of which Newfoundland might be justly proud.