On 17 April of 1917, twenty one year old George McGrath of Gull Cove, Branch, St. Mary’s Bay left Branch for St. John’s. He was determined to sign up for the war effort to fight for “country and king.”
Just one month following George’s departure from Branch his nineteen year old brother Joseph told his father Patrick and his mother Elizabeth that it was also his intention to join the war effort. Joseph left Branch and met with recruiters in St. John’s signing his attestation papers on 11 May, 1917.
In August 1917 Joseph McGrath #3760 with the other First Newfoundland Regiment volunteers marched from their training camp near Quidi Vidi Lake to the SS Florizel, the troop ship, anchored in St. John’s Harbour. They were beginning the first leg of a journey to the fighting fields of Europe. He joined a battalion in Rouen, France on January 15, 1918.
Five months later Patrick and Elizabeth McGrath – were approached by the parish priest clutching a telegram – it read “Regret to inform you that the Record Office, London, officially reports NO 3760, Private Joseph McGrath wounded on April 13 and missing in action.”
Patrick and Elizabeth McGrath for consolation turned to family and friends in Branch. They lived in hope – in letters to the war office they pleaded for “any shred of news.” There was also confusion – their son George who was fighting in Europe had heard rumors that Joseph was in Wandsworth, a large hospital about 5 miles outside of London. Wandsworth Hospital was where many members of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment were treated for injuries.
On 13 November 1918 word spread quickly in Branch that a second telegram had been delivered – via the Newfoundland Postal Telegraph – the telegram was addressed to “The Parish Priest or School Teacher.” The telegram read: “London reports today that Private Joseph McGrath previously reported wounded and missing in action is presumed dead. Please inform next of kin Patrick McGrath, Gull Cove, Branch.”
The blinds in all the homes of Branch were drawn.
Joseph was buried at BEAUMONT-HAMEL – Somme, France. He had just turned twenty years old.
Lost Tradition: Upon hearing the news of the death of someone in most Newfoundland communities the curtains and blinds were drawn. Houses on the funeral route had their doors closed and their curtains drawn
Recommended Archival Collection:Over 6000 men enlisted in the Newfoundland Regiment during WWI. Each soldier had his own story. Each story is compelling. To read some of these stories go to: http://www.therooms.ca/regiment/part3_database.asp click on soldiers at the top centre. Find a soldier from your home community or with your family name. Read his life story.
Recommended Song: Great Big Sea – Recruiting Sergeant
Recommended Book: Browne, Gary. Forget-Me-Not: Fallen Boy Soldiers: Royal Newfoundland Regiment World War One, St. John’s, DRC Publishing, 2010.