September 14, 1914One of the entertainments that was held for the young men in the camps at Pleasantville, near Quidi Vidi Lake, St. John’s in September 1914 were the ‘Smoking Concerts’. The young men in the camps at Pleasantville were the first recruits for the Newfoundland Regiment. They were training to prepare to fight for ‘King and Country’.
Originally the term ‘Smoking Concert’ referred to live performances, usually of music, before an audience of men only; popular during the Victorian period. At these functions men would smoke and speak of politics while listening to live music.
In Newfoundland and other places by 1914 the smoking concerts were much less formal; they were not so much about discussions about politics but evenings of song and recitations.
In St. John’s, one of the locations for the ‘Smoking Concerts’ was at the ‘mess tent’ on the Pleasantville grounds. There are reports that as many as 400 men would gather under the tent for the entertainment.
One of the local celebrities that could be found, on a very regular basis at the camp, playing the piano for the ‘Smoking Concerts’ was Charles Hutton. Hutton was a leading figure in Newfoundland musical activities, he was the owner of Hutton’ Music Store (that was later taken over by his sons) and his wife was a celebrated classically trained singer.
Hutton would play for many of the men who would come forward to sing their ‘party pieces’. The evening would include solos, storytelling, musical recitations, and instrumental numbers. The evening would always close with the singing of the National Anthem by the entire gathering.
Typically alcohol was involved. ‘Smoking Concerts’ were referred to by some by the much more indelicate term, ‘Piss Ups.”
Imagine, going down to Quidi Vidi for a ‘Piss up’, I mean “Smoking Concert.”
Recommended Archival Collection: Great War service records of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment are available on line, those not on line are available at the The Rooms Provincial Archives on microfilm. Search the Archives: https://www.therooms.ca/collections-research/our-collections
Recommended Exhibit: The First World War had a profound impact on Newfoundland and Labrador. It involved thousands of our people in world-changing events overseas and dramatically altered life at home. Our “Great War” happened in the trenches and on the ocean, in the legislature and in the shops, by firesides and bedsides. This exhibition shares the thoughts, hopes, fears, and sacrifices of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who experienced those tumultuous years – through their treasured mementoes, their writings and their memories. – See more at: https://www.therooms.ca/exhibits/always/beaumont-hamel-and-the-trail-of-the-caribou#sthash.lv9JmCbn.dpuf