September 23, 1914
In St. John’s and the surrounding area in September 1914 residents were very aware of the military training exercises taking place in Pleasantville in order to prepare the volunteers of the Newfoundland Regiment for Foreign Service.
Young men had gathered from all over the colony, at Pleasantville on the shores of Quidi Vidi Lake, in a hastily constructed tent city to train to fight for “King and Country’. The public was fascinated by what was happing at the camp and the local media were only too happy to report on the smallest details.
The Pleasantville camp had been established on September 2 with government, businesses, and private citizens donating the tents. Other shelters for the men of the Newfoundland Regiment were made from sails taken from vessels in St. John’s harbour.
On September 23, 1914 the St. John’s newspaper, The Evening Telegram reported:
“Yesterday afternoon (September 22, 1914) a squad of the Volunteers went country wards and engaged in skirmishing and marching in double quick time. The lads, who had their rifles with them, covered the different hills and woods from Virginia to the top of Signal Hill.”
There were in the hills and woods about St. John’s approximately 600 volunteers. The young men were all determined that they would be chosen for Foreign Service. They were also aware that the work of selecting would begin in the following week.
The reporter also noted that: “While the Volunteers were going through some various evolutions yesterday at the camp grounds some excellent photos of them were taken.” 100 years later, many of these photographs that were taken by (Lieut.) R.P Holloway are on exhibit at The Rooms. (see “From Recreation to Military Installation”. Level 2 Atrium, The Rooms.) Lieut. R. P. Holloway was later named the official photographer for the First Newfoundland Regiment.
After a month of training, the First Five Hundred (537 soldiers), also known as the Blue Puttees, were ready to head overseas. On October 3, 1914, they marched from their training camp to board the SS Florizel, a steamer and sealing vessel that had been converted into a troopship. They were cheered on by a large gathering of citizens. The next day, the troops began their journey overseas.
Recommended Archival Collection: “Distinguished Service: the Royal Newfoundland Regiment in the Great War”, this on line exhibition documents the lives and experiences of the province’s soldiers and aims to encourage interest in research on the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. The service records of the First 500 and others are available at the Provincial Archives at The Rooms. Many of the service records (but not all) are on line at http://www.therooms.ca/regiment/part1_entering_the_great_war.asp
Recommended Exhibit: Pleasantville: From Recreation to Military Installation. Level 2 Atrium Pleasantville before the First World War was the site of the St. John’s cricket grounds. With the declaration of war, Pleasantville quickly emerged as a tent city, the home of the storied “First 500”. It was here that the First Newfoundland Regiment recruits began preliminary military training during the months of September and October of 1914. This exhibition highlights some of the activities and training of the Blue Puttees up to their embarkation on the SS Florizel for overseas service.