Two Friends on the Battlefield


November 11

National War Memorail, St. John’s, Newfoundland

Two Friends on the Battlefield

In October 1915 a young student at St. Bonaventure’s College, P.J. Kennedy, who was later to become a priest in the Archdiocese of St. John’s, Newfoundland, observed:

“On Thursday, October 1, the Catholic members (of the First Newfoundland Regiment) went in a body to Confession and Communion.  It was an impressive sight to see this touching portrayal of Catholic faith hown forth in that hour of trial and excitement…        [Two days later] on October 3… the line of march to the Florizel [the ship that was to take them to the battlefields] was lined by thousands of spectators.

Heartbroken parents said a fond goodbye to sons whom they had looked forward to as support and comfort in old age…”

Having trained for war together they also died together. It must not be forgotten that these boys (and many were in their teens) had been   friends for life, they had grown up in the same neighborhoods, gone to the same schools, played on the same sports teams. When death knocked it was not impersonal.

An obituary for a 17‑year‑old Private Gordon A. Mullings tells of the friendship and bonds that developed between these young men. The obituary published in the Adelphian, the school journal of St. Bonaventure’s College, St. John’s reads:

“Amongst the gallant young soldiers (that served with Gordon A. Mullings) was his school chum, Jack Oliphant. The boys’ attachment ripened under the associations of barrack, camp, trench and battle, into a romantic soldierly friendship. The two young men set sail together from St. John’s.

They fought side by side in France and were wounded about the same time. On the very day that Gordon arrived in Scotland from hospital he found that Jack had already recovered from his wounds and had been picked in the draft to return to France. He immediately begged the O.C. for permission to   accompany his chum and on December 30 the two young St. Bon’s Boys found themselves once again in the war zone surrounded by the grim realities of the modern battlefield.

Just  three weeks later the golden cord which bound the two friends were  parted for on January 20, Gordon made the supreme sacrifice of his life for the cause of the Empire, but love ceases not with the  grave, Christian hope whispers of a reunion which will know nothing  of separation..”  (St. Bonaventure’s College, Adelphian,  St. John’s, NL. March 1917 page 46)

Recommended Archival Collection: Over 6000 men enlisted in the Newfoundland Regiment during WWI.  Each soldier had his own story. Each story is compelling. To read some of these stories go to click on soldiers at the top centre. Find a soldier from your home community or with your family name. Read his life story.

Recommended Song: Great Big Sea:  Recruiting Sergeant

Recommended Book: Browne, Gary. Forget-Me-Not: Fallen Boy Soldiers: Royal Newfoundland Regiment World War One,St. John’s, DRC Publishing, 2010.