January 28, 1915
Mass in the trenches
There was a ritual in Newfoundland throughout the First World War (1914-1918) whereby the young volunteer soldiers gathered under the banner of their own denomination for lectures, prayers and blessings from the priest or minister of their church.
Those of the Roman Catholic faith typically gathered at St. Bonaventure’s College, Bonaventure Ave (directly across the street from The Rooms) for a series of lectures and prayers.
The Evening Telegram reported on January 28, 1915:
“The first of a series of lectures to the Roman Catholic members of the volunteers before their departure for England was given in the oratory of St Bonaventure’s College last night by Reverend Father Joseph Pippy who eloquently portrayed to his listeners the new duties they were entering upon.”
Father Pippy urged strongly the young volunteers:
“to conduct themselves as true men, to uphold the best traditions of their religion and to act as true soldiers in the observance of military duties in order that they might bring credit on themselves, their regiment the colony and the empire.”
The Reverend lecturer exhorted the young men above all toL:
“resist the temptations of intemperance; a righteous cause was being fought. He continued and it behooved every volunteer to do his duty as best he knew how”
The local newspaper correspondent reported “The lecture lasted nearly an hour and was impressive and beneficial to the large number of volunteers present.”
The evening concluded with “Benediction, imparted by Reverend Father Thomas Nangle after which a rosary was distributed to each man.”
The men gathered were told that there would be one more token of their faith,
“Prayer books will be given out later before their departure …. the members will (also) attend confession and communion in a body.”
The distribution of the rosary was significant, the rosary would have been a prayer that all of the Catholic volunteers would have known by heart. There was a time when it was a prayer that would have been recited in every Catholic home.
These young me clung to their faith, they especially clung to their rosary beads. Richard A. Howley of St. John’s whose ship the H.M.S. Irresistible had been blown out of the water wrote from his hospital bed in Plymouth, England in 1915:
“It was terrific, my legs felt as if they were both broken, and my back as if it had been flayed. I fell on the spot and thought that I was done for. I had a little Rosary … I took it out, kissed the Crucifix and crossed myself, I immediately experienced an extraordinary change , something forcing me into action …”
In the service records of many of the Newfoundland volunteers, they reference turning to their faith.
During the Great War the United States government produced and issued special “combat” rosaries for the spiritual welfare of Catholic soldiers. These rosaries were made to withstand the rugged reality of life in the trenches. Made of brass, washed in silver, and blued to darken the metal (to prevent them from making the soldiers easy targets) these rosaries were made to last. Instead of a traditional chain, the combat rosary featured a significantly stronger “pull chain” from which they are sometimes named.
We have no description of the rosaries that were issued to the Newfoundland volunteers but if you know of or hold a pair that have a connection to the First World War I would love to talk to you about them.
Recommended Archival Collection: From your home visit the website, The Great War: http://www.therooms.ca/regiment/part1_entering_the_great_war.asp
This site contains the military files of over 2200 soldiers ( we have another 4000 on microfilm) from the Royal Newfoundland Regiment who served in the First World War. These files are searchable by name or by community and will therefore provide invaluable information for all viewers, but will be of particular interest to those who are conducting either family or community research.
Recommended Exhibit: Pleasantville: From Recreation to Military Installation. Level 2 Atrium Pleasantville before the First World War was the site of the St. John’s cricket grounds. With the declaration of war, Pleasantville quickly emerged as a tent city, the home of the storied “First 500”. It was here that the First Newfoundland Regiment recruits began preliminary military training during the months of September and October of 1914. This exhibition highlights some of the activities and training of the Blue Puttees up to their embarkation on the SS Florizel for overseas service.
Recommended Museum Exhibit: Flowers of Remembrance: Level 2 Museum Vitrine: A number of flowers are associated with the First World War by Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, including the familiar forget-me-not and poppy. Such commemorative flowers and their role in the collective memory of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are profiled. Using artifacts and period imagery relating to The Great War commemoration, The Rooms staff explore the significant role these flowers played across the last century.