August 12, 1914
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 Exhibit: BEAUMONT-HAMEL AND THE TRAIL OF THE CARIBOU 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. https://www.therooms.ca/exhibits/always/beaumont-hamel-and-the-trail-of-the-caribou
The Newfoundland Regiment and The Great War: The First World War had an immense impact on Newfoundland and Labrador. This interactive site offers comprehensive information on the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, including over 3,000 individual soldier files, interactive maps, in-depth battle explanations, and hundreds of images of artifacts, many in 3-D. https://www.therooms.ca/thegreatwar/the-beginning/entering-the-great-war