October 4, 1914
As the “First 500” or “Blue Puttees” marched from the tent city in Pleasantville, St. John’s, where they had completed their basic military training, they sang.
As the they marched through the streets on October 4, 1914 to the troopship the S.S. Florizel, that awaited them in St. John’s Harbour, to take them to fight for ‘King and Country” they sang a song that was new to many of them.
Marching towards the unknown, the young soldiers of the Newfoundland Regiment broke into this new marching song, the song, they were singing with great enthusiasm was “It’s a long way to Tipperary.”
The song, in the opening days of the Great War (August 1914) had quickly become ‘Britain’s Marching Song’ the London newspapers reported “it has become the marching song of the British Army.”
The St. John’s newspapers were determined that the young soldiers of Newfoundland Regiment should also know the song, reporting that because “it is not widely known in this country” (Newfoundland) the words should be published.
The Evening Telegram published the lyrics for all to learn on 19 September 1914.
Up to mighty London Came an Irishman one day.
As the streets are paved with gold
Sure, everyone was gay, Singing songs of Piccadilly, Strand
and Leicester Square,
Till Paddy got excited, then he shouted to them there:
It’s a long way to Tipperary,
It’s a long way to go. It’s a long way to Tipperary
To the sweetest girl I know! Goodbye, Piccadilly, Farewell, Leicester
It’s a long long way to Tipperary, But my heart’s right there.
Paddy wrote a letter To his Irish Molly-
Saying, “Should you not receive it,
Write and let me know!” “If I make mistakes in spelling, Molly,
dear,” said he,
“Remember, it’s the pen that’s bad,
Don’t lay the blame on me!
Molly wrote a neat reply To Irish
Saying “Mike Maloney Wants to
marry me, and so
Leave the Strand and Piccadilly Or you’ll be to blame,
For love has fairly drove me silly:
Hoping you’re the same!”
The irony was that many of the “First 500” or the “Blue Puttees” who were singing the song “It’s a long way to Tipperary” as they marched would die in what they called “Tipperary Avenue”, a communications trench, at Beaumont Hamel on 1 July 1916.
It was the custom in the “Great War” battlefields to name the roads and trenches with names that were familiar. At Beaumont Hamel two names that were familiar to The Newfoundland Regiment were St. John’s Road and Terra Nova Street.
In September 1916 Padre Thomas Nangle who was tasked with finding and identifying the bodies of the Newfoundlanders who died at Beaumont Hamel wrote:
“On Sunday, September 24th after saying Mass in a roofless barn within 800 yards of the German line, I started out on my quest … to find the bodies of the Newfoundlanders. I trampled on through Tipperary Avenue a communications trench from which our heroes “went over” on that fateful day (July 1). This (Tipperary Avenue) was the exact spot on which was made the most glorious event in the history of far off Newfoundland.”
It is a long way from Pleasantville, St. John’s, Newfoundland to Tipperary Avenue, Beaumont Hamel, France.
“It’s a long long way to Tipperary, But my heart’s right there.”
The song was originally written by Jack Judge and Harry Williams as a music hall and marching song in 1912. In 1914 columns of Irish marching soldiers made the song known and popular first in the British Army, then on the whole Western Front. The world first heard about the song from the London newspaper Daily Mail. Their correspondent, George Curnock witnessed the Irish soldiers marching and singing in Boulogne, France on August 13th, 1914. The song quickly became the definite song of the Great War.
Recreating the March to the Florizel: Commemorating the departure of the ‘First 500’ from St. John’s. On Sunday, October 5, 2014 approximately 500 individuals, from across Newfoundland and Labrador, will take part in a recreation of the historic march to the Florizel. Participants will march the actual route, taken by the original recruits, from Caribou Park, Pleasantville to the St. John’s harbour front, culminating with a special ceremony at the Harbour front. The march departs Pleasantville at 1:00pm and arrives at the Harbour front at approximately 1:45pm. More Information: http://honour100.ca/recreating-the-march-to-the-florizel/
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 Regiment. 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) are on line at 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 embarkation on the SS Florizel for overseas service.