“Some of our best puck chasers are in khaki …”
The First World War (1914- 1918) took a terrible toll, claiming the lives of hundreds of young Newfoundlanders, including many athletes. Among these sportsmen were some of the best hockey players in Newfoundland. The newspapers of the day reported “at present some of our best puck chasers are in khaki.”
With the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914 some of the first men to ‘sign up‘ were the young men from the hockey teams in St. John’s. The powerhouse team in St. John’s at the time was the team known as the Crescents, these young men signed up, almost to a man. Len Stick a member of the team was the first and holds the distinction of holding the title ‘Regimental #1.’
The Newfoundland Regiment also known as the ‘First 500’ or ‘Blue Puttees’ following a short period of military training in St. John’s at Pleasantville departed St. John’s on the SS Florizel for England on October 4, 1914. After a short stint of military training at Salisbury Plain, England they were transferred to Fort George, Inverness, Scotland arriving on December 7, 1914.The young Newfoundland hockey players were passionate about their sport and were determined to play in their adopted country. Northern Scotland’s climate was very like Newfoundland’s allowing for the same opportunities for outdoor skating. Less than three weeks after their arrival in Scotland the local St. John’s newspaper the Evening Telegram reported on January 18, 1915:
“The Newfoundland Hockey League have cabled Lieutenant Tait at Fort George (Scotland) to get a set of hockey uniforms at the expense of the league. It looks as if there is some chance of ice hockey in Northern Scotland.”
A few short weeks later the Telegram reported that the Newfoundlanders were playing at the Haymarket Rink, Edinburgh. The report read:
“the ice hockey match between two teams from the Newfoundland Regiment …. the exhibition must have been a good one the result was a draw, both sides scoring one goal.”
Hockey was one of the few leisure activities for the young men while preparing for war, they had played hockey with all of their passion as young men with great Newfoundland hockey teams like the Crescent’s, the Feildians, the Terra Novans. They were now playing with the same passion on the ice in Scotland for recreation with their friends. These same young men were to soon find themselves in the trenches of Turkey and later France. Many dying for their country.
Almost 101 years to the day (January 14, 2016) Danny Williams, President and Chief Executive Director of the St. John’s Ice Caps has announced the launch of another Regimental hockey uniform. The St. John’s Ice Caps on February 5 and 6 at Mile One Stadium will wear a jersey designed to recall the history of the Newfoundland Regiment, celebrating Newfoundland’s hockey history.
Recommended Archival Collection: The Rooms Provincial Archives – Sports Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador photograph collection. Hockey Royal Newfoundland Regiment Hockey Team 1.26.01.074
Recommended Link: Library and ARCHIVES Canada. Hockey and the First World War: http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/news/videos/Pages/hockey-first-world-war-exhibition.aspx
Recommended Reading: ICING THE PUCK: THE ORIGINS, RISE, AND DECLINE OF NEWFOUNDLAND SENIOR HOCKEY, 1896-1996 by Gregory B. White. A thesis submitted to the School of Graduate Studies in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts Sociology\Faculty of Arts\Memorial University April, 1997 St. John’s Newfoundland.