Talk of War begins in Newfoundland

Archival Moment

July 30, 1914

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives. E 39-4; Three sailors from HMS Calypso

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives. E 39-4; Three sailors from HMS Calypso

One of the first indications that Newfoundland would become part of what was shaping up to become a “big European War” later to be called the ‘First World War’ came by way of notice in the Evening Telegram on July 30, 1914. The St. John’s newspaper reported:

“We understand that the commanding officers of the H.M.S. Calypso have been instructed by the Admiralty to have all the Reservists in readiness and within calling distance, if their services are required. The total strength of the Reserves is about 600.”

This information came as a surprise to many in Newfoundland, most naval reservist were fishermen and were more preoccupied with their fishing enterprise than they were about the situation in Europe. But those following world and current events had heightened concerns about a European war. Calling the reservists to action just in case of war was a  natural sequence.

The Editor of the Telegram went on to write:

“Without a doubt the odds are largely in favor of a Big European War, in which practically all the Powers will be involved.”

The Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve (RNR) was formed in 1902 through the combined efforts of Newfoundland and Great Britain. In September of that year the H.M.S. Calypso was commissioned for service in Newfoundland as naval training vessel. The reservists on board the H.M.S. Calypo were trained in gunnery instruction, fire station exercises, physical training, and using rifles and dumbbells. The Calypso was moored in St. John’s Harbour.

On August 2, 1914, the talk of war became a reality; the reservists of Royal Naval Reserve were called for active duty. Posters were placed throughout St. John’s notifying Newfoundland reservists to report to the Calypso as quickly as possible. Another vessel, the S.S. Kyle was dispatched to pick up reservists in various outport locations on the way south from the Labrador fishery.Notification was made to outport Magistrates that reservists are to report immediately to St. John’s.

Commander A. MacDermott expected problems with the call-up, as it was the height of the fishing season, but his fears were unfounded. MacDermott reported that once the call was issued every man-jack of them (responded) and with no trouble at all, though many of them had to walk fifty or sixty miles to the nearest steamer or railway station to catch their ride to St. John’s.

Mr. William Clance of St. John’s is reported in The Telegram to be the first reservist to report for duty on board the Calypso, and is awarded a prize of £2.

On August 4, 1914, Great Britain and her Dominions, including Newfoundland and Canada, were officially at war as a result of Germany declaring war on Belgium. Great Britain had giving Austria-Hungary an ultimatum to stand down from hostilities. When Austria-Hungary did comply a state of war was declared at 11.00pm

Most Newfoundlanders give credit to the Royal Newfoundland Regiment (The First 500 or Blue Putees) as being the first Newfoundlanders to go on active wartime service, they were not. It was the 106 seamen of the Newfoundland Division of the Newfoundland Reserve who went aboard the H.M.S Niobe in St. John’s September 6, 1914 that were the first that went aboard, setting out on a war footing.

Recommended Archival Collection: At the Rooms Provincial Archives read the correspondence dated 1914 concerning, Recruiting, Royal Naval Reserve GN 2.14.302 ; and Mobilization; state of the Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve GN 2.14.311 from the Office of the Colonial Secretary fonds.

Recommended Exhibit:  Beaumont – Hamel and The Trail of the Caribou: The Rooms, Level 2: 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:

Recommended Reading: Codfish, Cruisers and Courage: The Newfoundland Division of the Royal Naval Reserve, 1900 – 1922. By W. David Parsons.