Tag Archives: War

Christmas, dinners and dances, forbidden

Archival Moment

December 22, 1914

“Dinners and dances, forbidden”

Photo Credit: World War I poster. During World War I, Allied Nations relied for propaganda on images and accounts of German atrocities to motivate their citizens to participate in the war effort. In this scene, the silhouetted German soldier with his thick Kaiser mustache drags a young girl away while the ruins of the city burn in the background.

Photo Credit: World War I poster. During World War I, Allied Nations relied for propaganda on images and accounts of German atrocities to motivate their citizens to participate in the war effort. In this scene, the silhouetted German soldier with his thick Kaiser mustache drags a young girl away while the ruins of the city burn in the background.

On December 22, 1914 Margaret  (Lady) Davidson the wife of the Governor of Newfoundland declared that there would be no “dinners or dances “in Government House on Military Road, St. John’s, during the Christmas Season. Lady Davidson thought that it would be inappropriate to have extravagant affairs while the war raged in Europe.

Her gesture, to the men in uniform and their families, was much appreciated but her husband Governor Walter E. Davidson felt that there must be some form of “relaxation” so he invited 64 guests to the house for a game of Belgian Bridge.

Lady Davidson gave her nod to the card game because the event would be used to support the Belgian’s who had been displaced in August 1914 by the German Invaders. In 1914 tens of thousands of Belgian refugees were homeless. They were seen by the world as desperate people in need of emergency assistance, but also victims of German aggression. Throughout the world including Newfoundland committees were being struck to provide charitable relief to Belgian refugees.

Governor Davidson wrote in his personal diary on December 22, 1914:

 “In the evening we had a gathering called Belgian Bridge. There were 16 tables and we played from 8:00 – 10:30 p.m. and then supped. Each of the 64 contributes 50 cents, and if any play for stakes, the winnings go to the Belgian Fund. We netted $90.00 dollars which included extra droppings in the plate and donations from others who come not come.”

Belgian Bridge games were being held in all of the finer houses in the town. Governor Davidson reported:

“There have been similar evenings at the Marmaduke Winter’s and Mrs. Will Job’s and others”

The Governor was quite pleased that his wife approved of the card games he wrote:

Governor Davidson wrote in his diary that he was very pleased that “this form has received her approval.”

Archival Collection:   A the Rooms Provincial Archives take some time to read the Diary of Governor Walter Edward Davisson. (MG 136.5). He played a significant role in the life of Newfoundland and Labrador especially during the First World War. His insights into the social, political and economic life of NL are interesting.

Recommended Exhibit: Recommended Exhibit: The First World War had a profound impact on Newfoundland and Labrador. It involved thousands of our people in world-changing events overseas and dramatically altered life at home. 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.HNEnynnP.dpuf



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.




Patrick’s Cove man “… represents the Dead who rest in France.”

Archival Moment

April 13, 1921

The-Call-To-Duty-Join-The-Army-For-Home-And-CountryWhen the United States entered the Great War of 1914-1918 it was only to be expected that sons of Newfoundland living in the United States would be amongst the sailors and soldiers who would join the American ranks.

Newfoundlanders living in the United States joined the Americans in the hundreds. Some died a hero’s death. The government of the United States had decided (if a request was made by parents or next of kin) to remove from foreign soil the bodies of those killed in war and bring them home for burial. Thousands were transferred, amongst those bodies was one destined for Newfoundland.

The dead soldier was Private Anthony McGrath, a native of Patrick’s Cove, Cape Shore, Placentia Bay, the son of George McGrath. Anthony had been working in New York when the United States declared war on Germany. Shortly afterwards he enlisted in the 106th Infantry Battalion of New York. After training he embarked with his unit as a part of the American Expeditionary Force to France, and in short order was in the front line trenches.

On September 27th, 1918, in the Argonne district, Anthony McGrath sealed his patriotism with his blood, when he was killed in action. The Meuse-Argonne offensive, in the Argonne forest (Sept 26–Nov 11), was their biggest operation and victory, in which Sergeant Alvin York became a national hero (played by Gary Cooper in a 1941 movie).

In the spring of 1921 the remains of Anthony McGrath were removed from France, brought to the United States, and then forwarded to Newfoundland.

In St. John’s, the newly formed Great War Veterans Association (G.W.V.A.) and Newfoundland Militia Department were consulted and arrangements made for a suitable military escort to meet the body on arrival of coastal steamship Kyle in the city.

Upon being notified the G.W.V.A. took charge of all arrangements and issued an appeal to all veterans to assemble at the dock pier, on arrival of S.S. Kyle to do honor to the remains of their deceased comrade. Permission was granted to all sailors and soldiers to wear uniforms and it was requested that all who could do so to wear them, as also for all American sailors or soldiers in St. John’s and vicinity to attend the funeral.

Commenting on the arrangements, the St. John’s newspaper the “Daily News” reported:

“This is an unique occasion in that it is the first body of a Newfoundland soldier who fell in France to be brought back for interment in his homeland …”

Another quotation from the same paper states:

“…. a Newfoundland soldier is being carried from the battlefields in France to find a resting place in his own country, and preparations are being made to pay him due respect in this instance, for he, after all, must represent the Dead who rest in France.”

The funeral procession paraded through the several communities on the Cape Shore, flags were flying at half-mast everywhere. All who could do so joined the funeral en- route to the soldier’s home, where, on April 13th, (1921) he was laid in his final resting place in the little cemetery on the hill overlooking Patrick’s Cove.

The final chapter was written in November, 1942, when representatives of the American Legion went from Argentia to Private McGrath’s grave at Patrick’s Cove and posthumously made him a member of the American Legion.

Anthony was the son of George McGRATH, age 65. He left to mourn his brother Bartholomew McGRATH, age 35; John J. McGRATH, age 25; George McGRATH, age 20; and sister Lucy F. McGRATH age 23.

Recommended Archival Collection: Distinguished Service: the Royal Newfoundland Regiment in the Great War, this 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. http://www.rnr.therooms.ca/part1_entering_the_great_war.asp

Recommended Exhibit: At the Rooms: Pleasantville: From Recreation to Military Installation. Level 2 Atrium.

Recommended Reading: Author: Collins, E.J. Repatriated: Veteran Magazine, July 1943, Vol. 14(1), pp. 93-95.

Hockey trophies and war

Archival Moment

The Herder Cup

February 2016

Ralph Herder loved hockey, he was seriously wounded July 1, 1916.

Hubert Herder loved hockey, he died at Beaumont Hamel, July 1, 1916. (Click to enlarge)

The Herder Memorial Trophy is emblematic of Newfoundland and Labrador hockey supremacy. The trophy, more commonly known as ‘the Herder” is awarded to the provinces best ice hockey team.

Among members of the Herder family that it honors are seven Herder men that loved hockey, three that fought in the First World War.

Arthur Herder, a lawyer, was a  lieutenant in the First World War, he died of his wounds in 1917.   Hubert was a lieutenant when he was killed at Beaumont Hamel July 1, 1916.   Ralph, also a lieutenant, was seriously wounded July 1, 1916. He survived the war. He became Publisher of The Evening Telegram on the deaths of his brothers in 1934, and was the driving force behind the creation of the Herder Memorial Trophy in 1935 in memory of his brothers who predeceased him.

Arthur Herder signed up for military service in Saskatchewan where he was practicing law, but later joined the Newfoundland Regiment before Beaumont-Hamel. Arthur’s two brothers — Hubert and Ralph — both signed up in St. John’s and went to Gallipoli before France but the three brothers were together at Beaumont-Hamel on July 1.

The sister , Elsie Herder , of the three lads — also joined the war effort. After news reached St. John’s of the two boys being wounded, she joined a group of nursing volunteers who went over to help.

There’s also a cousin, Wallace Herder, of St. John’s who was killed in action in 1917.



On January 14, 2016, the St. John’s IceCaps , at The Rooms , unveiled a Royal Newfoundland Regiment tribute jersey to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme at Beaumont-Hamel.

The logo on the tribute jersey features a black silhouette of a First World War Royal Newfoundland Regimental solider encircled by the words: Royal Newfoundland Regiment 1916-2016.

The IceCaps will wear the jerseys (TONIGHT) Friday and Saturday, February 5th and 6th versus the Utica Comets. Many in the seats at Mile One will be remembering their ancestors who loved the game.

Tickets can be purchased at the Mile One Centre box office or online at http://www.mileonecentre.com


Recommended Archival Collection: The Rooms Provincial Archives – Sports Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador has a substantial collection of photographs detailing the history of League Hockey in Newfoundland and Labrador.

A rosary was distributed to each man

Archival Moment

January 28, 1915

Mass in the trenches

Mass in the trenches

There was a ritual in Newfoundland throughout the First World War (1914-1918) whereby the young volunteer soldiers gathered under the banner of their own denomination for lectures, prayers and blessings from the priest or minister of their church.

Those of the Roman Catholic faith typically gathered at St. Bonaventure’s College, Bonaventure Ave (directly across the street from The Rooms) for a series of lectures and prayers.

The Evening Telegram reported on January 28, 1915:

“The first of a series of lectures to the Roman Catholic members of the volunteers before their departure for England was given in the oratory of St Bonaventure’s College last night by Reverend Father Joseph Pippy who eloquently portrayed to his listeners the new duties they were entering upon.”

Father Pippy urged strongly the young volunteers:

“to conduct themselves as true men, to uphold the best traditions of their religion and to act as true soldiers in the observance of military duties in order that they might bring credit on themselves, their regiment the colony and the empire.”

The Reverend lecturer exhorted the young men above all toL:

“resist the temptations of intemperance; a righteous cause was being fought. He continued and it behooved every volunteer to do his duty as best he knew how”

The local newspaper correspondent reported “The lecture lasted nearly an hour and was impressive and beneficial to the large number of volunteers present.”

The evening concluded with “Benediction, imparted by Reverend Father Thomas Nangle after which a rosary was distributed to each man.

Prayer Book distributed to the volunteers of the Newfoundland Regiment  (click on to enlarge)

Prayer Book distributed to the volunteers of the Newfoundland Regiment (click on to enlarge)

The men gathered were told that there would be one more token of their faith,

“Prayer books will be given out later before their departure …. the members will (also) attend confession and communion in a body.”

The distribution of the rosary was significant, the rosary would have been a prayer that all of the Catholic volunteers would have known by heart. There was a time when it was a prayer that would have been recited in every Catholic home.

These young me clung to their faith, they especially clung to their rosary beads. Richard A. Howley of St. John’s whose ship the H.M.S. Irresistible had been blown out of the water wrote from his hospital bed in Plymouth, England in 1915:

“It was terrific, my legs felt as if they were both broken, and my back as if it had been flayed. I fell on the spot and thought that I was done for. I had a little Rosary … I took it out, kissed the Crucifix and crossed myself, I immediately experienced an extraordinary change , something forcing me into action …”

In the service records of many of the Newfoundland volunteers, they reference turning to their faith.

During the Great War the United States government produced and issued special “combat” rosaries for the spiritual welfare of Catholic soldiers. These rosaries were made to withstand the rugged reality of life in the trenches. Made of brass, washed in silver, and blued to darken the metal (to prevent them from making the soldiers easy targets) these rosaries were made to last. Instead of a traditional chain, the combat rosary featured a significantly stronger “pull chain” from which they are sometimes named.

We have no description of the rosaries that were issued to the Newfoundland volunteers but if you know of or hold a pair that have a connection to the First World War I would love to talk to you about them.

Recommended Archival Collection: The New Testament presented by the British and Foreign and Newfoundland Bible Societies to the Members of the First Newfoundland Regiment in the War of 1914: MG 702.1

Recommended Exhibit: Flowers of Remembrance   Level 2, Museum VitrinesArtifacts and period imagery explore the flowers associated with the First World War, most especially the forget-me-not and the poppy. These flowers have played a significant role across the last century. – See more at: https://www.therooms.ca/exhibits/now/flowers-of-remembrance#sthash.sPiXTerZ.dpuf

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.


Celebrations in the streets: VE – Day

Archival Moment

May 8, 1945

The Daily News, May 1945.

The Daily News, May 1945.

At 10:30 a.m. on May 8, 1945 the siren atop the Newfoundland Hotel, St. John’s, began to wail. This was the same siren that had sounded over the city every Thursday morning since 1939, reminding citizens that we were at war. This time the siren was declaring that the country was at peace! It was the declaration of Victory in Europe Day – VE – Day.

Germany’s unconditional surrender to the Allied Forces on May 7, 1945, ended the Second World War in Europe.

In homes throughout Newfoundland and Labrador families gathered around their radios to listen to a broadcast from the Broadcasting Corporation of Newfoundland (BCN) located on the top floor of the old Newfoundland Hotel in St. John’s.

That morning, announcer Aubrey MacDonald, held a microphone outside the studio window to record and broadcast the noise from the celebrations below in the streets of St. John’s .

His radio audience heard him say:

“You are hearing the rejoicing, the unabated rejoicing of our people in St. John’s which has followed spontaneously the great announcement by Prime Minister, Mr. Winston Churchill, that the war in Europe has ceased in an Allied victory …..    Listen to the whistles, the steamers, the church bells, as our people greet them in great jubilation.

 The town is bedecked with bunting. Flags are flying. And just now, our people are releasing the pent-up emotions in a torrent of joyous emotion. The war in Europe is over!! Listen to our people show their feelings.

People of nearly every Allied country are taking part in this great celebration today in our city. Cars are scurrying to and from covered in bunting. Men, women, and children are celebrating in a great spirit of unabated joy. The jubilation continues. The celebration is on. There is an aura of complete, unadulterated relief in the spontaneous outburst and the feelings which have so long been pent up are now being released in a torrent of joy. But with all, the predominant note is one of thankfulness — thankfulness to the Almighty who in His divine mercy, has blessed our arms.

As we leave this scene here in St. John’s to which we have looked forward to the past six years we return to the non the less joyous expression of our feelings in the anthems and songs of the empire.

We begin with the national anthem of our own Newfoundland — Britain’s oldest colony — whose sons fought so well and so valiantly and whose patriotic people contributed so much in work and money and toil towards the winning of this long, arduous war.”

All Newfoundlanders stood by their radios to listen to the Ode.

Taking into account service in the Newfoundland Militia, the Forestry Unit and the merchant marine, more than 12,000 Newfoundlanders (the 1945 population, including Labrador, was 321,819) were at one time or another directly or indirectly involved in the war effort. About 1,000 military personnel from Newfoundland and Labrador were killed during the war.

Recommended Archival Collection: Celebration [of] termination war 1939-1945   GN 158.120:     File consists of memoranda and correspondence on celebrations of V.E. Day [Victory in Europe] in Newfoundland.

Recommended Exhibit: Here, We Made A Home: The Elinor Gill Ratcliffe Gallery – Level 4, The Rooms.

Listen:  Aubrey MacDonald VE-Day 1945 celebrations in St. John’s (excerpt) The Broadcasting Corporation of Newfoundland hung a microphone outside its St. John’s studios to records the celebrations. http://www.cbc.ca/player/Radio/Local+Shows/Newfoundland/ID/2666363273/

Listen: Take some time to talk to someone in your family about their experience of World War II. Think about what you want to do with archival material that you hold that is related to the Second World War.

Grief Turned to Joy

Archival Moment

March 22, 1915

Grief Turned to Joy

nurse-chessYesterday (March 22, 1915) the home of Mrs. Agnes Wheeler, Torbay Road which has been the scene of mourning and sorrow since the loss of the HMS Clan McNaughton was suddenly changed into one of joy. Mrs. Wheeler had been mourning the loss of her son Philip who was believed to have been on the missing ship when a letter from her boy came yesterday announcing the joyful news that he was quite safe.

Mrs. Wheeler, age 51, a widow, the mother of three children, had been mourning the loss of her son with her two other children, Peter, age 17; and Mary age 11 since early February.

The following is his letter.

  1. Ward

Fizakerley Hospital, Liverpool.

February 26th, 1915

My dearest mother.

Just a few lines, hoping you are keeping quite well as it leaves me at present. Dear mother, I am just writing to let you know I came off the Clan McNaughton before she went down and I am quite safe. I am in this hospital with pneumonia but I am glad to tell you I have got over the worst of it and I am progressing favorably and hope to be out soon.

I have no more to say at present hoping to hear from you soon.

I remain your loving son,


Please mother; remember me to all at home.


Another letter was received from Sister Ryder (a nurse) of the hospital who writes as follows:

Ward F 4

lst Western General Hospital Fizakerley

March 1st 1915

nurse writingDear Mrs. Wheeler,

l do not know if your son Philip has written to you since he has been in this hospital but seeing his name amongst the names of those brave men missing from HMS Clan McNaughton I thought perhaps you would be relieved to hear he has been in this hospital since the 20th of January. He has been very ill with typhoid fever but is now doing very well and we hope that he will soon be up and about again.

Yours sincerely,

Sister H. Ryder

The gladness which these rays of heavenly sunshine brought to that humble dwelling on the Torbay Road yesterday (March 22, 1915) can better be imagined than described. The story of Philip Wheeler’s escape is a remarkable one. He was first drafted for the ill-fated Viknor but was taken ill and had to remain ashore. Later he joined the HMS Clan McNaughton and the rest of his story is told in the letter to his mother.

Mrs. Wheeler is a happy woman today but mingled with her happiness is a tender sympathy for those mothers who are still left to weep for the brave sons they have given in the service of the Empire.

History of the HMS Clan McNaughton

deathnavalHMS Clan Macnaughton was a converted cargo passenger ship built in 1911. The vessel was hired by the Admiralty in November 1914. She was sunk during a severe gale (or possibly mined) off the NW coast of Ireland with the loss of all hands.

The true cause of her sinking has never been fully established. However, there has been some speculation that a combination of a bad Atlantic storm, coupled with a top heavy ship (due to the fitting of naval guns) may have contributed to her loss rather than a loose mine out in the Atlantic.

Stephen Dicker from Flat Island, Bonavista Bay, joined the HMS Clan MacNaughton on January 19, 1915 and voiced discontent about working conditions: “Anyone that has experienced a month at sea in a boat like this will say that the landsmen has got a blessing.”

On February 3, 1915, the HMS Clan MacNaughton was sunk with the loss of all 261 on board, including 23 Newfoundlanders. In total, during the war, 192 reservists and 117 merchant sailors from Newfoundland perished.

Those who died were:

BRYAN, Edward Smn 1284X of Elizabeth Tucker [formerly Bryan] and the late John Bryan Thorburn Road, St. John’s

BUTLER, Peter Smn 2174X of William and Anne Butler Harbour Grace

CHAFE, William Henry Smn 1283X of Henry and Hannah Chafe Forest Pond, The Goulds, St. John’s

COADY, Timothy Francis Smn 1293X of Anna Coady 22 York Street, St. John’s

CROCKER, Stanley Smn 2178X of John Charles and Jane Crocker Heart’s Delight, Trinity Bay

DICKER, Stephen Smn 1240X of22 George and Jane Dicker Flat Island, Bonavista Bay

DYER, William Gerrard Smn 2170X of Mrs. Helen Dyer Logy Bay, St. John’s East

HALLETT, Albert Smn 931X of Jonas and Sarah Hallett Flat Island, Bonavista Bay

KAVANAGH, Thomas Joseph Smn 217X of James and Katherine Kavanagh Logy Bay, St. John’s East

KEHOE, William J. Smn 2173X of Michael Thomas and Christina Kehoe Riverhead, Harbour Grace

KNIGHT, Thomas Smn 1297X of William and Annie Knight Pleasant Street, St. John’s

MORGAN, John Thomas Smn 1255X of Joseph Morgan Seal Cove, Conception Bay

MORRIS, Walter Smn 1282X of Mrs. Amelia Morris 63 Field Street, St. John’s

O’BRIEN, Patrick J. Smn 2172X of Richard J. and Matilda O’Brien

OSMOND, Gerald Augustus Smn 1287X H.M.S. Husband of Mary Osmond 121 Duckworth Street, St. John’s

PIKE, Francis Smn 2175X H.M.S. of Mrs. Susan Pike Water Street, Harbour Grace

RANDELL, Ralph Smn 2176X of John and Elizabeth Randell Elliott’s Cove, Random Island

SIMMONS, F. Eugene Smn 1285X of L.H. and Anne Simmons Spruce Brook

SNOW, Randell Joseph Smn 1256X of Mrs. Elizabeth Snow Mundy Pond Road, St. John’s

SQUIRES, Richard J. Smn 1280X H.M.S. of Richard J. and Elizabeth Squires St. John’s

STONE, Edward Smn 1295X of Edward and Isidorah Stone Bell Island

WATKINS, Jonas Smn 2177X of Henry and Ellen Watkins Summerford, Notre Dame Bay

(If you are friends with someone who shares the surname of one of these men – send them this post – it might be an ancestor.)


Recommended Archival Collection: At the Rooms Provincial Archives research the Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve fonds . GB 1/3. This collection consists of 17 volumes of personnel records for the Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve (1900-1919). Records include applications for enrolment, naval service ledgers and registers of payment and retainers. Includes an alphabetical listing of reservists. Microfilm reproductions are available for research. Reel content is provided with item level descriptions.

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives VA-58-21, Reservist in complete uniform, HMS Briton, ca. 1916.