Newfoundlanders serving with the Canadian Corps and at Vimy Ridge

Photo Credit: The Rooms: B-1-81 Mary Winter at Vimy, 1938

On April 9, 1917;  100,000 soldiers of the Canadian Corps advanced along the Vimy Ridge, France, in an attempt to drive the German Army away from the French city of Arras. It was the first time that all four divisions of the Canadian Corps attacked together – a feat that some said made Canada a nation.

At the crack of dawn on Easter Monday, April 9, 1917, all four divisions of the Canadian Corps came together for the first time and stormed the German-held ridge. By April 12, the Canadians captured Vimy and, as many historians say, forged a new sense of national identity.

3,296 Newfoundlanders working in Canada when the First World was declared signed up to fight with Canada under the flag of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF).

The price of the victory was 11,000 Canadian casualties, 3,600 deaths. There were about 20,000 German casualties

The history of Newfoundland’s involvement in the First World War is usually recorded separately from the Canadian story, given the province’s status then as a separate dominion. Yet the Canadian and Newfoundland wartime experiences were often intertwined, perhaps nowhere more so than at Vimy and Arras in April 1917.

On 9 April 1917, as the Canadian Corps surged over Vimy Ridge north of Arras, British Third Army attacked eastward from Arras, only a few miles away from Vimy Ridge. The Newfoundland Regiment formed part of that force.

The cost of victory was high – 5,008 soldiers were killed, including many of the Newfoundland members of the Canadian Corps.

Partial List of Newfoundlanders who served with the Canadian Corps killed at Battle of Vimy Ridge, April 1917

Corp. Harry Fowler, # 460060, killed in action on 10 Apr. 1917 , 44th Battalion , Vimy Memorial

Pte. Charles Forsey Hickman, # 871526, killed in action on 12 Apr.1917, 44th Battalion, Vimy Memorial

Pte. Dominic Bennett, # 488745, killed in action on 9 Apr. 1917 , 25th Battalion, buried in  Thelus Military Cemetery

Pte. John George Baggs , # 715935, killed in action on 9 Apr.1917, Royal Canadian Regiment , buried in La Chaudiere  Military  Cemetery, Vimy

Pte. Frank Patrick Walsh, # 877659, killed in action on 9 Apr. 1917, 185th Overseas Battalion , Vimy Memorial

Pte. Wilfred Bennett, # 877516 , killed in action on 9 Apr. 1917, 73rd Battalion, Vimy Memorial

Sergt. James Maher, #178121, killed in action on 9 Apr.1917, 87th Battalion,  buried in Canadian  Cemetery  No.2, Neuville -St. Vaast

Pte. Augustine Joseph Meehan, # A/36070, killed in action on 9 Apr. 1917, 4th Battalion , buried in Bois –Carre British  Cemetery, Thelus

Pte. Thomas Whiteway, #761161, killed in action on 9 Apr. 1917, 121st. Overseas Battalion, buried in Villers Station Cemetery, Villers-Au-Bois

Pte. John Charles Cole , # 1075145, killed in action on 9 Apr., 1917, 67th Pioneer Battalion, Vimy Memorial

Pte. Stanley Frederick Cornick, # 208443, killed in action on 9 Apr. 1917, The Royal Canadian Regiment, buried in La Chaudiere Military  Cemetery, Vimy

Pte. Edgar Leslie MacKay, # 208444, killed in action on 9 Apr. 1917, The Royal Canadian Regiment, Vimy Memorial

The Role of the Newfoundland Regiment

Photo Credit: The Rooms; A 157 -11 Men of Newfoundland Regiment who saved Monchy

The Battle of Arras commenced on April 9, 1917 and the Newfoundland Regiment soon found themselves in the thick of it. Just before midnight of April 14th, 1917 the Newfoundlanders moved forward in single file to the firing trenches on the eastern outskirts of Monchy-le-Preux, a small French village located about 8 km south east of Arras. In the inky darkness the men proceeded at a snail’s pace through the littered fields, picking their way among the dead horses which lay in disordered piles covered with a thin mantle of snow.

Later that day the Battalion counted its losses. The fatal casualties were exceeded only by the number of those who fell at Beaumont Hamel; and one-quarter of the Newfoundland officers and men who went into action at Monchy-le-Preux became prisoners of war.

The Newfoundland losses incurred from April 12 to 15, 1917, based on existing information, total 460 all ranks. Seven officers and 159 other ranks were killed (or died of wounds), seven officers and 134 other ranks were wounded and three officers and 150 men were taken as prisoners of war. Of these 28 died from wounds or other causes while in captivity.

Recommended Archival Collection: At The Rooms provincial Archives:  [MG 836]  The James Spearman Winter collection consists of draft version and article as published in The Veteran (Dec. 1938: p.13, ill.) describing an official visit to the Newfoundland War Memorials in France and Belgium, July 1938, by James Alexander Winter, Commissioner for Home Affairs. He was accompanied by his wife, Mary (Arnaud) Winter. Includes 20 photographs taken by James and Mary (Arnaud) Winter illustrating their trip.

Recommended Reading: The Royal Newfoundland Regiment in the Great War: A Guide to the Battlefields and Memorials of France, Belgium, and Gallipoli by Fran Gogos.