Volunteer Movement Acclaimed, the First 500

Archival Moment

August 12, 1914

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

The origin of the phrase  “The First 500”  can likley be traced to the Church Lads Brigade Armoury, St. John’s on August 12, 1914.

On August 13, 1914 the local St. John’s newspaper reported:

“The public meeting at the C.L.B .Armoury last night (August 12, 1914) to consider the question of enlisting volunteers for land service abroad and home defense during the war, was very largely attended. All classes were represented and the greatest enthusiasm prevailed. “

The meeting was called by His Excellency Sir Water E. Davidson, the Governor of Newfoundland, and the official representative of the British crown. The Governor arrived at the Armoury “and was greeted by an outburst of cheering while the C.L.B. Armoury played the national Anthem.”

In addressing the crowd, the Governor said:

 “It behooves every British subject to aid the mother country, to finish the fight, as speedily as possible. Newfoundland must do her part laying claim as we do to being the oldest and the most loyal colony. In my telegram to the home Government, I stated we were poor in money and rich in men who are accustomed to meet all difficulties without wavering.”

The Governor continued:

I pleaded myself that Newfoundland would furnish 500 men, but I hope the number will be 5,000. “

The meeting at the Armoury concluded with a resolution that “a Committee of twenty five citizens be appointed to take such steps as may be deemed necessary for enlisting and equipping these men …”

On August 22, 1914, a call for volunteers was issued and within days 335 had signed up; two thirds from St. John’s cadet brigades. By September 26, nearly 1000 volunteers had been recruited and went to the Church Lads Brigade building on Military Road in St. John’s to enlist. Roughly half passed the required medical exams and moved to tent lines established at nearby Pleasantville.

The iconic phrase, ‘The First 500”  was born.

Recommended Archival Collection: Distinguished Service: the Royal Newfoundland Regiment in the Great War, this on line exhibition documents the lives and experiences of the province’s soldiers and aims to encourage interest in research on the Royal Newfoundland Regimen. The service records of the First 500 and others are available at the Provincial Archives at The Rooms. Many of the service records (but not all ) arte on line http://www.therooms.ca/regiment/part1_entering_the_great_war.asp

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 emb

COLLECTING THE GREAT WAR ENLISTING YOUR HELP: The Rooms needs your help to tell the stories of the men and women who served overseas and at home during the First World War and the impact that the war had here. The Rooms staff will be available to collect stories and document photographs and artifacts. Help us preserve stories of the First World War before they are lost. The information gathered will be used to develop a new permanent exhibition on The Great War to open in 2016.  Have you any connection to the First 500?  More Information: http://www.therooms.ca/firstworldwar/default.asp