Tag Archives: soldiers

An Irish soldier and his socks knit by an aged Newfoundland woman

Archival Moment

January 26, 1916

Knitting comforts. (Click on to enlarge)

Knitting comforts.
(Click on to enlarge)

During the First World War women in kitchens and parlors in homes throughout Newfoundland and Labrador were enthusiastically knitting goods, especially socks for the men who had signed up to fight for King and Country. Many of these women were members of the Woman’s Patriotic Association (W.P.A.) an organization of more than 15,000 women from throughout Newfoundland and Labrador.

It is estimated that between 1914 and 1916, the ladies at Government House and from throughout the towns of the colony of Newfoundland produced 62,685 pairs of socks, 8,984 pairs of cuffs (mittens with a trigger finger), and 22,422 mufflers. These items were often referred to as “comforts.”

The socks that were knit were intended primarily for the men of the Newfoundland Regiment but there is evidence that soldiers from other countries including some from Ireland were the beneficiaries of the woolen socks.

In January of 1916 Mrs. Margret Morris of Long’ Hill, St. John’s was thrilled to receive a letter from an Irish Soldier thanking her for socks which he received ‘Somewhere in France’ and found to have been knitted by her. The 85 year old Mrs. Morris was so delighted with the letter of thanks that she strolled down to the offices of the St. John’s newspaper the Evening Telegram to have her story published.

The newspaper reported:

Mrs. Margaret Morris an old lady of 85 years has received a letter from an Irish soldier thanking her for socks which he received and found to have been knitted by her. His name is Private B. McCourt and he is with (British Expeditionary Force) B.E.F. in France.

The old lady was delighted to receive the letter and hopes to get another from him as he asked her to write to him. He thanked her for the socks she had knitted, said how glad he was to get them and expressed much appreciation at receiving a pair knitted by an aged person.

The old lady had placed a slip of paper in one of them giving her name address and age.”

The practice of slipping a note in the toe of the socks that they knit with their name and address as well as a prayer for their soldier boys was well established among the Newfoundland knitters. Those receiving the socks with the notes were often gracious enough to return a note of thanks.

It is not likely that the old lady did receive any other correspondence from her Irish soldier, she died on March 8, 1916 at her residence on Long’s Hill just a few weeks after the initial letter from him.

Recommended Reading: “A Pair of Grey Socks. Facts and Fancies. Lovingly dedicated to the boys of the Newfoundland Regiment. And to every woman who has knitted a pair of grey socks. By Tryphena Duley. Verses by Margaret Duley.”

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. This on line exhibit focuses on the World War I service records of the Regiment, available at the ARCHIVES on microfilm. Some of the service records are on line at: http://www.rnr.therooms.ca/part3_database.asp

Recommended Exhibit:  BEAUMONT-HAMEL AND THE TRAIL OF THE CARIBOU:   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: https://www.therooms.ca/exhibits/always/beaumont-hamel-and-the-trail-of-the-caribou#sthash.g7eLJMu8.dpuf


Telling the story of war in song: the men of the Goulds

Archival Moment

July 1, 1916

The Songs of World War One

The Songs of World War One

Deeply rooted in the culture of Newfoundland and Labrador is the tradition of telling stories in song. During the First World War whole communities rallied around the young men from their towns that signed up to fight for King and Country, singing songs that extolled the virtues of the young men. Typically the songs followed established tunes, well known in the communities with new lyrics added that resonated with the people of the place.

During the First World War, if you attended a party in the Goulds (on the outskirts of St. John’s) it would be likely that you would hear sung “The Boys from the Goulds” sung to the tune of the old Irish song “Wearing of the Green.”

The Boys from the Goulds

Oh, people dear, did you hear

The news that’s near and far?

For our old dear boys here from the


Are going to the war!

They are a crowd of stirring lads,

The truth to you I’ll tell;

They will shortly leave for Scotland

Where they will be trained there well.


They’re the Boys from Newfoundland

The Brave Boys from Newfoundland

They will fight the Kaiser’s Army

They’re the Boys from Newfoundland

There is Weston William and Peter Finn,

James Howlett and Thos Clarke,

And William Frizell and Henry

They’re sure to do their part;

There is Perry Howlett and Willie Ryan

John Heffernan and Joe White.

Then they go to fight the Germans

They mean to show their might.




There’s James Walsh and Lawrence Murphy

Poor John Barton once so brave;

The latter two I mention

They have filled a soldier’s grave.


The men that are referred to in the song are:

Weston Williams, Regimental #: 3312. Age of Enlistment: 18.

Peter Finn, Regimental #: 3230. Age of Enlistment: 22.

James Joseph Howlett, Regimental #: 3313. Age of Enlistment: 19.

Thomas Clark, Regimental #: 3311 from Goulds, Age of Enlistment: 18

William Frizell, Regimental #: 3279. Age of Enlistment: 21

Pierre Howett, Regimental #: 3352. Age of Enlistment: 18

William Ryan, Regimental #:133. Age of Enlistment: 24

Michael Heffernan, Regimental #: 4316. Age of Enlistment: 26

Joseph White: Regimental #: 1241. Age of Enlistment: 20

James Walsh: Regimental #: 2341. Age of Enlistment: 22

Lawrence Murphy: Regimental #: 196. Age of Enlistment: 20

John Barton: Regimental # 1485. Age of Enlistment: 28

Recommended Archival Collection: What do we have in the ‘Rooms Archives’ on this subject? Type  Newfoundland Regiment   in the search bar here: http://gencat1.eloquent-systems.com/webcat/request/DoMenuRequest?SystemName=The+Rooms+Public&UserName=wa+public&Password=&TemplateProcessID=6000_3355&bCachable=1&MenuName=The+Rooms+Archives

Recommended Exhibit:

Commemoration of the Battle of Beaumont-Hamel: On the 100th anniversary of the battle at Beaumont-Hamel, The Rooms will open this new permanent exhibition. Journey from trench to home front, from recruitment and training through service overseas as you experience stories of the Great War and its lasting impact on the people and the identity of Newfoundland and Labrador. A full day of commemorative activities is planned for July 1, 2016 to honour those from Newfoundland and Labrador who served in the First World War.

Due to the level of interest and anticipated large numbers in attendance  for the tribute event, The Royal Newfoundland Regiment Gallery will not open to the public until Saturday, July 2.  The Rooms is pleased to offer FREE admission to this exhibition on July 2 and 3.

Listen to the tune: ‘The Wearing of the Greene’ and sing the lyrics of the “The Boys from the Goulds” : http://www.ireland-information.com/irishmusic/thewearingofthegreen.shtml

First World War Letters

Red-Crossnurse-writes-a-letter-for-an-injured-patient“First World War Letters”  is a documentary that CBC just launched using letters that are found in the Rooms Provincial Archives.

The Rooms holds thousands of pieces of correspondence from the First World War, written by Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. They come from the records of the men and women who signed up to serve King and Country at home, in the trenches, on the sea and in the air.

Take some time to watch and listen to their stories. These are the voices of our families. Click on the link below:


Watch the video then scroll down and  LISTEN to the whole documentary.




Newfoundland shoe factories tender for army and seal skin boots

Archival Moment

November 18, 1915

Advertisement: Evening Telegram, 1915

Advertisement: Evening Telegram, 1915

With the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, Newfoundland business men began to look for commercial opportunities and one of the first prospects came in the form of an advertisement from the war office in England asking for tenders to supply winter boots for the soldiers at the front.

The managers of Newfoundland boot and shoe factories were quick to pull their samples and price lists of the top boots made in their factories.

The St. John’s businessmen reasoned:

The boots turned out by our factories for fishermen and seamen have always given satisfaction and are absolutely impervious to water. Our factories should also be able to turn out an equally serviceable army boot and if the samples being sent … meet with approval at the war office it is likely that our manufacturers will be given a share of patronage.”

A contract no matter how small would have been a substantial business opportunity.   It was not about to happen, the Newfoundland factories could not compete against the established factories in England. An estimated 50 million pairs of boots and shoes were made in Northhamponshire area of England during the war, not just for the British Army but also for France, Russia, Italy and other allies.

Factories had always employed women, mostly in the closing room for their stitching and sewing skills. But with many men leaving the factories to serve, women increasingly took on other roles within the factories.

Not as good as Newfoundland boots!!

The boots that were being distributed were not has functional as hoped. In 1915 it was realized that a fungal infection of the feet brought on by exposure to damp, cold conditions was proving to be a huge problem. Some 20,000 casualties resulting from ‘trench foot’ were reputed to have been suffered by the British Army during the close of 1914. The Newfoundland businessman having tried decided to try another business approach.

In Newfoundland, businessman, Mr. Edgar Bowring and Governor Walter Davidson were encouraging experimenting with seal skin boots as the official Army boot. Many of the young Newfoundland soldiers knew the value of the sealskin boots because of their experience wearing the sealskins while prosecuting the seal fishery back home.

On February 12, 1915, Sir Walter Davidson, Governor of Newfoundland wrote in his diary:

Sir H. (Sir Henry Wilson, British Director of Military Operations) writes me that the War Office is experimenting with our sealskins for army boots and that Mr. Edgar Bowring is pushing our interests”

The experimenti  was short lived, on February 28, 1915, Governor Davidson wrote in his diary:

Sir H. writes that our seal leather is not in favour with the War Office expert for boots”

Young Newfoundland soldiers were not dissuaded, if they could not get the proper foot gear from the army they would get them from home. These young men from Newfoundland in the wet and damp trenches of Europe were quick to write home asking for their parents to send them seal skinned boots. These soldiers knew that they would be the most effective against trench foot. Local newspaper advertisements in St. John’s boasted:

Nearly every day we sell at least one pair of Skin Boots to be sent to the trenches they are so much superior to all other kinds of footwear that the wearer of a pair is envied by all those who are not so fortunate. You may be wise to send your boy, a pair and be sure to get the best kind – sewn with sinew.”

Recommended Archival Collection: The Rooms Provincial Archives: MG 136.5 Governor Walter Davidson fonds (February 1-28, 1915)

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.

Recommended Museum Exhibit: Flowers of Remembrance: Level 2 Museum Vitrine: A number of flowers are associated with the First World War by Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, including the familiar forget-me-not and poppy. Such commemorative flowers and their role in the collective memory of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are profiled. Using artifacts and period imagery relating to The Great War commemoration, The Rooms staff explore the significant role these flowers played across the last century.

How to name a war

Archival Moment

September 2, 1914

home1With the outbreak of war in August 1914 pundits began to coin phrases to best name this new conflict. In the very early days of the war the tendency had been to refer to it as the “European War.” As the war progressed and more nations became involved in the conflict it became known as the “Great War” and the “First World War”.

In Newfoundland, the first term given to the conflict was “The Great War” the term was first used on September 2, 1914. Copying an article from the New York Independent the St. John’s, Evening Telegram reported:

 Some wars name themselves, the Crimean War, The Civil War, the Franco – Prussian War, the Thirty Year war, the Revolutionary war, and many others.

This is the Great War

It names itself

The term “First World War” was another term that emerged shortly after the start of the war; the phrase is credited to the German philosopher Ernst Haeckel. Haeckel wrote:

“There is no doubt that the course and character of the feared “European War” will become the First World War in the full sense of the word.”

The “European War” became known as “The Great War”, and it was not until 1931, with the beginning realization that another global war might be possible, that there is any other recorded use of the term “First World War”.

During the Interwar period (1918-1939), the war was most often called the World War and the Great War in English-speaking countries.

After the onset of the Second World War in 1939, the terms World War I or the First World War became standard, with British and Canadian historians favoring the First World War, and Americans World War One.

Recommended Archival Collection:   At the Rooms Provincial Archives there is available 6683 individual service files, 2300 have been digitized and are available at: http://www.therooms.ca/regiment/part1_entering_the_great_war.asp   This searchable database for military service records includes the attestation papers: name, service number, community and district of origin, next of kin and relationship, religion, occupation, year of enlistment, fatality, and POW status (if applicable). Take some time to read the stories of these young men.

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.

Two Friends on the Battlefield


November 11

National War Memorail, St. John’s, Newfoundland

Two Friends on the Battlefield

In October 1915 a young student at St. Bonaventure’s College, P.J. Kennedy, who was later to become a priest in the Archdiocese of St. John’s, Newfoundland, observed:

“On Thursday, October 1, the Catholic members (of the First Newfoundland Regiment) went in a body to Confession and Communion.  It was an impressive sight to see this touching portrayal of Catholic faith hown forth in that hour of trial and excitement…        [Two days later] on October 3… the line of march to the Florizel [the ship that was to take them to the battlefields] was lined by thousands of spectators.

Heartbroken parents said a fond goodbye to sons whom they had looked forward to as support and comfort in old age…”

Having trained for war together they also died together. It must not be forgotten that these boys (and many were in their teens) had been   friends for life, they had grown up in the same neighborhoods, gone to the same schools, played on the same sports teams. When death knocked it was not impersonal.

An obituary for a 17‑year‑old Private Gordon A. Mullings tells of the friendship and bonds that developed between these young men. The obituary published in the Adelphian, the school journal of St. Bonaventure’s College, St. John’s reads:

“Amongst the gallant young soldiers (that served with Gordon A. Mullings) was his school chum, Jack Oliphant. The boys’ attachment ripened under the associations of barrack, camp, trench and battle, into a romantic soldierly friendship. The two young men set sail together from St. John’s.

They fought side by side in France and were wounded about the same time. On the very day that Gordon arrived in Scotland from hospital he found that Jack had already recovered from his wounds and had been picked in the draft to return to France. He immediately begged the O.C. for permission to   accompany his chum and on December 30 the two young St. Bon’s Boys found themselves once again in the war zone surrounded by the grim realities of the modern battlefield.

Just  three weeks later the golden cord which bound the two friends were  parted for on January 20, Gordon made the supreme sacrifice of his life for the cause of the Empire, but love ceases not with the  grave, Christian hope whispers of a reunion which will know nothing  of separation..”  (St. Bonaventure’s College, Adelphian,  St. John’s, NL. March 1917 page 46)

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 tohttp://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 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=knxR-Q2VoBE

Recommended Book: Browne, Gary. Forget-Me-Not: Fallen Boy Soldiers: Royal Newfoundland Regiment World War One,St. John’s, DRC Publishing, 2010.