Tag Archives: world war one

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

Canadian fish sent to England, an opportunity for Newfoundland

Archival Moment

January 29, 1915

Fish PosterIn the early days of the First World War, Newfoundland businessmen began to look for opportunities, especially opportunities to expand the fish trade.

With the declaration of war in 1914 the North Sea, the traditional fishing ground for England was closed. The local papers reported:

“The North Sea fishing fleet has been badly hampered and almost put out of action this season through the menace of mines and the result has been a serious depletion of the fish supply so large a part of the food of the British people.”

The famine assumed such dimensions that Cardinal Francis Bourne, the leader of the Catholic Church in England, granted a dispensation to the Catholics of England allowing they may eat meat on Fridays and Fast Days, the Cardinal explained that the step was necessary because of the high price of fish.

The first group to respond to the famine being experienced in England was the fish merchants of the Pacific Coast of Canada. The Canadians were well placed strategically because just months previous the grand trunk Pacific Transcontinental Railway line had been completed allowing fish from Prince Rupert, British Columbia access to markets in Eastern Canada and the United States.

In an experiment to help feed the British three Canadian express refrigerator cars carrying thirty tons of halibut taken from the waters of the Pacific Ocean off Prince Rupert passed through the city of St.  John, New Brunswick, where the fish was then shipped by the steamship to the British market. The fish would be carried over 6,500 miles before it reaches the consumer.

The Evening Telegram in St. John’s reported:

“ A trial shipment of 20,000 pounds of halibut proved to be successful, when opened in England it was found to be in first class condition leading to the placing of other large orders. “

Newfoundland fish merchants, aware that “large orders” for fish were being demanded by the British people, saw an opportunity. They knew immediately, “that great development in this new trade will continue till the end of the war.”

The new trade resulted in an economic boom, wartime conditions kept prices high, and Newfoundland merchants continued to supply their traditional markets in Europe, the Mediterranean, Brazil and the Caribbean. The boom lasted until 1920.

Recommended Archival Collection:   From your home visit the website, The Great War: http://www.therooms.ca/regiment/part1_entering_the_great_war.asp This site contains the military files of over 2200 soldiers ( we have another 4000 on microfilm) from the Royal Newfoundland Regiment who served in the First World War. These files are searchable by name or by community and will therefore provide invaluable information for all viewers, but will be of particular interest to those who are conducting either family or community research.

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.

The McGrath’s of Branch

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.