February 19, 1915
The men of the Newfoundland Regiment have long been known as the ‘Blue Puttees’ because of the distinctive “blue leggings” that they wore on departure from Newfoundland to fight in the First World War.
On arrival in England in October 1914, the blue leggings (puttees) were replaced by the standard khaki leggings but the Newfoundlanders continued to differentiate themselves by what they wore, their “woolen helmets”.
On arrival in England in October, The Newfoundland Regiment many wearing their knitted toques were at Salisbury Plains, England for several weeks, then they went to the Seaforth Highlanders at Fort George, Inverness, Scotland; from there they were transferred to Edinburgh Castle. It was the first non – Scottish regiment to do so. It was a very prestigious assignment.
The local newspaper the Daily Record and Mail in Glasgow reported on February 19, 1915 about the arrival of the Newfoundlanders in an article that featured a photograph of the Newfoundland Regiment, with the young Newfoundlanders smartly marching. The caption of the photograph reads:
“Soldiers with woolen helmets
A woolen helmet is the quaint headgear worn by a section of the Newfoundland men which are training in Edinburgh.”
The “woolen helmets” were in fact Newfoundland knitted toque’s.
The newspaper account reads:
“The advance party of a Newfoundland Regiment has arrived at the (Edinburgh) Castle and their advent to the city is of more than passing interest.
The members of the advance party of the (Newfoundland Regiment) are a fine looking well set-up and stalwart body of men and with the exception of their headdress which is of a knitted khaki-colored material there is nothing to tell of the difference between the British Regulars and Territorials and themselves.
The (Newfoundland Regiment) advance party took the way to the Castle from the railway station in a style which showed that their training has been in excellent hands and during the day from what was seen of them on the streets it was apparent that they would soon be thoroughly at home.”
The Newfoundland Regiment and later the Newfoundland Forestry Companies were quick to make Scotland their home. John A. Barrett writing home in July 1917 reported:
“In Newfoundland you speak of the ‘wee Scotch lassies’ but they are ‘no so wee at all’. Many of them are buxom, blooming fair ones, and are already becoming greatly attached to some of our lads. Don’t be surprised if some of our confirmed bachelors join the Benedicts before they return to Newfoundland.”
The “woolen helmets” or “knitted toque’s” may have been considered quaint and distinctive by the Scottish locals but the young Newfoundland soldiers were quite embarrassed by them. They were looking forward to receiving their Regimental caps that would arrive a month later.
The “woolen helmets” were soon displaced by the “caribou cap badge” forming one of a number of regimental identifiers worn by the men of the Newfoundland Regiment.
Definition: Benedict, a newly married man who was previously considered a confirmed bachelor. [After Benedick, a character in Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare.].
Recommended Archival Collection: Patriotic Association of the Women of Newfoundland Description number MG 842.5 This file consists of printed publication prepared by Women’s Patriotic Association (WPA), with introduction by Lady Margaret Davidson. The publication includes instructions for knitting home comforts and convalescent clothes for soldiers.
Recommended Exhibit: At the Rooms: The Newfoundland Regiment and the Gallipoli Campaign: At the Rooms Level 3, Archives Reference Room. “That there can be no higher praise!” This exhibit commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli Campaign in 1915, where members of the 1st Newfoundland Regiment experienced their baptism by fire and saw their first combat casualties. Lantern slides, photographs, maps and documents provide insights into this ill-fated campaign.
Recommended Reading: Christopher Morry’s: When the Great Red Dawn is Shining: Howard Morry’s Memoirs of Life in the Newfoundland Regiment, 11 Platoon, C Company, RNR. Breakwater Books, St. John’s, 2014.