Tag Archives: WWI

Memorial Day at The Rooms.


July 1, 1916

Meet descendants of the men and women who served their country 100 years ago.

Memorial Day at The Rooms.
Date: Saturday, July 1st, 2017
Time: 12:00pm – 5:00pm


NA 3106 Opening of the Newfoundland Memorial Park, Beaumont Hamel, France

July 1st is a time for celebration for the people of Canada, in Newfoundland and Labrador, the day has a more somber meaning.

Memorial Day commemorates the participation of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians in the Battle of the Somme at Beaumont-Hamel, France.

On July 1, 1916, 801 members of the 1st Newfoundland Regiment fought in that battle and only 68 answered the roll call the next morning.

 “We here in Newfoundland have felt the effects of the war… The  dreadful reality of war has come to too many families throughout the land. And there are very few districts in the Island which are not mourning… sons lost on the field of battle. The war is an all absorbing topic, it is never absent from our thoughts. It is like some dreadful nightmare that we cannot shake off. Our prayers and desires are for a speedy end of the war, for an early peace, but for a peace at the same time, which will render impossible another such world calamity as that which we are suffering now.” (Source:  Edward Patrick Roche, 1918  – 107‑2‑6)

Shortly after the Great War, the Government of Newfoundland purchased the ground over which the 1st Newfoundland Regiment made its heroic advance on July 1. Much of the credit is due to Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Nangle. As Director of Graves Registration and Enquiry and Newfoundland’s representative on the Imperial War Graves Commission, he negotiated with some 250 French landowners for the purchase of the site. He had a leading part in planning and supervising the erection, at each of the five Newfoundland Memorials sites in Europe, of a statue of the noble caribou, the emblem of the Regiment, standing facing the former foe with head thrown high in defiance.

Memorial Day at The Rooms.
Date: Saturday, July 1st, 2017
Time: 12:00pm – 5:00pm

Cost:  Free Admission

Spend some time in the Royal Newfoundland Regiment Gallery to meet descendants of the men and women who served their country 100 years ago. Hear their stories and share your own. Come speak to Ean Parsons, whose grandmother Margaret Taylor served in the Voluntary Aid Detachment. Or chat with Cheryl Stacey whose grandfather Sergeant Anthony James Stacey was a runner during the battle at Beaumont-Hamel and witnessed it all. Hear many more heart-warming and heart-breaking stories like theirs.

At 1pm, come sing along in our Instant Choir brought to us by Growing Their Voices: Festival 500. Julia Halfyard and Peter Halley will teach us a song from The Great War and we will perform ‘live’ for facebook.

At 3pm, head to our theatre for a free screening of When the Boys Came Home – a documentary retracing the footsteps of the Blue Puttees from the streets of St. John’s to Gallipoli, France, Belgium and home again. When the Boys Came Home reveals the workaday and internal battles that the Royal Newfoundland Regiment’s Blue Puttees waged after the First World War.

With free admission for the day, we hope many will join us in Memorial Day commemorations with a visit to the Royal Newfoundland Regiment Gallery.

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

Lest we Forget!



An invitation: The tradition of the New Year’s Levee

Archival Moment

JANUARY 1, 1915

On January 1, 1915 Governor Walter Edward Davidson of Newfoundland made reference in his private diary to the tradition of the New Year’s Day Levee in St. John’s. He wrote

We received from 3:00 – 6:00 o’clock. It has been an ancient custom for men to call on their lady friends on New Year’s Day. It is dying out but 236 called here. It is usual for them to call also on the Roman Catholic Archbishop and the Anglican Bishop. The former (Archbishop Howley) is in Heaven but Monsignor Roche received a large number of visitors. The Anglican Bishop is away, spending every second winter in his other Diocese in Bermuda.”

The “ancient custom for men to call on their lady friends on New Year’s Day” that Davidson referred to in his diary has disappeared in Newfoundland but the tradition of the levee has survived.

This levee was a reception that was held early in the afternoon of New Years Day, typically at the residence of the host.  Attending these levees was an annual ritual in the town.

At the 1915 Levée Governor Davidson stood in the reception line with Captain G.H.F. Abraham and Captain H. Goodridge, Officers of the Newfoundland Regiment reminding guests of their solidarity with the many Newfoundland soldiers who had departed Newfoundland just three months earlier to fight for King and Empire.

The first recorded Levée in Canada was held on January 1st, 1646 in the Château St. Louis by Charles Huault de Montmagny, Governor of New France (later Québec).  In addition to shaking hands and wishing a Happy New Year to citizens presenting themselves at the Château, the Governor informed guests of significant events in the Mother Country, as well as the state of affairs within the colony.  This tradition is carried on today within The Commonwealth in the form of The Queen’s New Year’s Message.

The Levée tradition was continued by British Colonial Governors in Canada, and subsequently by Governors General and Lieutenant Governors, and continues to the present day.

 Archival Collection: At the Rooms Provincial Archives take some time to read Governor Walter Davidson’s Private Diary. MG 136.5

Talk of War begins in Newfoundland

Archival Moment

July 30, 1914

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives. E 39-4; Three sailors from HMS Calypso

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives. E 39-4; Three sailors from HMS Calypso

One of the first indications that Newfoundland would become part of what was shaping up to become a “big European War” later to be called the ‘First World War’ came by way of notice in the Evening Telegram on July 30, 1914. The St. John’s newspaper reported:

“We understand that the commanding officers of the H.M.S. Calypso have been instructed by the Admiralty to have all the Reservists in readiness and within calling distance, if their services are required. The total strength of the Reserves is about 600.”

This information came as a surprise to many in Newfoundland, most naval reservist were fishermen and were more preoccupied with their fishing enterprise than they were about the situation in Europe. But those following world and current events had heightened concerns about a European war. Calling the reservists to action just in case of war was a  natural sequence.

The Editor of the Telegram went on to write:

“Without a doubt the odds are largely in favor of a Big European War, in which practically all the Powers will be involved.”

The Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve (RNR) was formed in 1902 through the combined efforts of Newfoundland and Great Britain. In September of that year the H.M.S. Calypso was commissioned for service in Newfoundland as naval training vessel. The reservists on board the H.M.S. Calypo were trained in gunnery instruction, fire station exercises, physical training, and using rifles and dumbbells. The Calypso was moored in St. John’s Harbour.

On August 2, 1914, the talk of war became a reality; the reservists of Royal Naval Reserve were called for active duty. Posters were placed throughout St. John’s notifying Newfoundland reservists to report to the Calypso as quickly as possible. Another vessel, the S.S. Kyle was dispatched to pick up reservists in various outport locations on the way south from the Labrador fishery.Notification was made to outport Magistrates that reservists are to report immediately to St. John’s.

Commander A. MacDermott expected problems with the call-up, as it was the height of the fishing season, but his fears were unfounded. MacDermott reported that once the call was issued every man-jack of them (responded) and with no trouble at all, though many of them had to walk fifty or sixty miles to the nearest steamer or railway station to catch their ride to St. John’s.

Mr. William Clance of St. John’s is reported in The Telegram to be the first reservist to report for duty on board the Calypso, and is awarded a prize of £2.

On August 4, 1914, Great Britain and her Dominions, including Newfoundland and Canada, were officially at war as a result of Germany declaring war on Belgium. Great Britain had giving Austria-Hungary an ultimatum to stand down from hostilities. When Austria-Hungary did comply a state of war was declared at 11.00pm

Most Newfoundlanders give credit to the Royal Newfoundland Regiment (The First 500 or Blue Putees) as being the first Newfoundlanders to go on active wartime service, they were not. It was the 106 seamen of the Newfoundland Division of the Newfoundland Reserve who went aboard the H.M.S Niobe in St. John’s September 6, 1914 that were the first that went aboard, setting out on a war footing.

Recommended Archival Collection: At the Rooms Provincial Archives read the correspondence dated 1914 concerning, Recruiting, Royal Naval Reserve GN 2.14.302 ; and Mobilization; state of the Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve GN 2.14.311 from the Office of the Colonial Secretary fonds.

Recommended Exhibit:  Beaumont – Hamel and The Trail of the Caribou: The Rooms, Level 2: 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.fcJ6w2Vi.dpuf

Recommended Reading: Codfish, Cruisers and Courage: The Newfoundland Division of the Royal Naval Reserve, 1900 – 1922. By W. David Parsons.


Our war story in poetry

Archival Moment

July 1, 1916

“Advance of the Newfoundlanders”

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives Division A 58-152, For Victory

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives Division A 58-152, For Victory

Young soldiers who witnessed the devastation of trench warfare found ways to cope with what they had seen. Willam Coysh, 20 years old, Regimental #2018 from the Battery Road in St. John’s tried to cope by writing poetry.  On October 12, 1916 while recovering from “shell shock and shrapnel wounds to the back and right arm” at the 4th London General Hospital, London, England he wrote “Advance of the Newfoundlanders” a poem about the Newfoundland Regiment at Beaumont Hamel on July 1, 1916.

Onward they swept in the flower of

their manhood,

Our lads from Newfoundland,

far from the sea.

Onward thy swept until the last man

had fallen

Had fallen for Britain, the land of

the free.

With guns in front and rear,

With death and danger near,

To them unknown was fear,

Gallant five hundred.

Oh, well we might love the fair land

that bore us,

That can boast of sons so

loyal and true,

Who gave us their all to keep the flag


The flag of our Empire,

the red, white and blue.

For no braver deed hath e’er been recorded

Then their steady advance o’er the shell riv’en soil,

The scene of long months of

horror and anguish

Amid death and danger, privation and toil

On swept the gallant band,

Falling on every hand

O’er that dread No Man’s Land

Went that five hundred!

Upon returning to Newfoundland in 1917 described as ‘medically unfit” Coysh was assigned special duty as a quartermaster sergeant a warrant officer responsible for supplies.

Following the war William Coysh moved to Highland Park, Detroit, U.S.A. He died at the Maddison Community Hospital on 4 November 1977.

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.


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.

A Soldiers’ Letter Home

Archival Moment

November 21, 1914

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives Division A 58-152, For Victory

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives Division A 58-152, For Victory

There was a tradition in the early days of the First World War that saw many of the letters that were written by young soldiers, to their loved ones, published in the local Newfoundland papers.

One of the first “Soldiers Letters”, written home, that was published, was dated November 1, 1914 from Private Frank Richardson, Regimental Number 66 to his parents, Mr. Thomas and Mrs. M. Richardson at 68 Bannerman Street St. John’s. The letter was published in the Evening Telegram on November 21, 1914. Private Frank Richardson was 19 years old.

Frank Richardson marched with 536 other men, on October 3, 1914 from the training camp at Pleasantville, St. John’s to board the SS Florizel, a steamer and sealing vessel that had been converted into a troopship. He with the others, that we now call the First 500 or Blue Puttees, was cheered on by a large gathering of citizens, including his parents. On 21 October the men of the Regiment arrived at Pond Farm Camp, England, there they spent seven muddy chilly weeks.

A reporter form the prestigious newspaper Time of London described Frank Richardson and his the Newfoundland Regiment as:

A smart Newfoundland contingent which has recently come in has the name of the colony similarly on its shoulder-straps. The newcomers are usually distinguished from the Canadians by their blue puttees. The type of man is the same-sturdy, strong, and unassuming. They are a splendid body of men, and had a great welcome from their brothers-in-arms.” (The Times of London , November 5, 1914)

All of the “soldiers letters” are interesting in that they give a unique perspective into the daily life and routine of a young soldier.

Frank Richardson’s  letter is typical in that it starts with a standard greeting, wishing his parents good health. He wrote:

“I write you hoping to find you as well in health and spirits as I am.” He continues “Father and mother don’t be downhearted. I am all right and hope that you are the same.”

Private Richardson was aware that his parents were extremely stressed because of rumors that his transport ship, the Florizel, that carried the First 500 from St. John’s to England had sunk. He wrote:

“You must have received a shock when you heard we were gone down. I mean the time the news spread down there that we were lost at sea, but we are not, the Germans will not put us down. There are better times coming.”

The letters tended to also make the promise of regular communication. The young soldier wrote:

“Last night we went over to the Y.M.C.A. It belongs to the Canadians. It is place for singing and dancing; you can buy what you like there, so I brought a book of writing paper with envelopes. I hope that you will soon write me.”

He continued:

“It takes a letter a long time to come from here, so don’t worry about not getting letters from me every week. I will make it a practice to write you every Sunday evening, and post it Monday, and you do the same father.”

A constant theme that can be found in the letters is the sense of urgency on the part of the young Newfoundland soldiers to be part of the war. All of these young soldiers wanted to be in the trenches fighting.   Private Richardson wrote:

“I wish that we were the front. We are going to get our guns tomorrow’ we have the whole fit out now.   All the boys are well and happy. Just now we received our guns and bayonets, some class of regiment now.”

The early letters were also very revealing about military location and military strategy. He wrote:

“The Turks have declared war on Russia. We may be going to Egypt, the Turks will try to get through there and we have to try and stop them. That is the talk that is going around there.”

Following the publication of the first batch of letters home in 1914 official censors and newspaper editors were careful to omit details about troop locations and morale.

Richardson concluded his first letter home with the line.

“So I close now in love. I am your loving son Frank.”

Frank Richardson did get his wish to get to the front. He saw action in Gallipoli, Turkey in 1915; he was wounded at Beaumont Hamel, France on July 1, 1916 requiring extended hospitalization. He was killed in action on August 16, 1917. It is not known if other letters that he wrote have survived.

National War Memorial: On Wednesday, 11 November 2015 at 10:55 a.m., the Honourable Frank F. Fagan, Lieutenant Governor of Newfoundland and Labrador and Her Honour Patricia Fagan, will attend the Remembrance Day War Memorial Service at the National War Memorial where His Honour will lay the first wreath. Her Honour will lay a wreath on behalf of the Women’s Patriotic Association. Following the Service, His Honour will take the Salute in front of the Court House on Water Street.

Recommended Archival Collection:   From your home visit the website, The Great War: http://www.therooms.ca/regiment/part1_entering_the_great_war.asp  The site contains the military files of soldiers 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

Recommended Song:   Recruiting Sergeant (Newfoundland-Great Big Sea) Recorded by Great Big Sea, Warner Music. Listen: http://www.wtv-zone.com/phyrst/audio/nfld/04/recruit.htm


Why choose the caribou as a Newfoundland symbol ?

Archival Moment

October 2, 1915

Honour the Newfoundland Regiment at the Dardanelles

CaribouThe woodland caribou has long been an important symbol to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.  In October 1915 there was a movement in the dominion of Newfoundland  (now province) to have every person “wear the emblem of the 1st Newfoundland Regiment.”

On October 1, 1915 the St. John’s newspaper the Daily Star reported that members of the St. John Ambulance Nursing Division would be on the street corners in St. John’s selling the caribou emblem for 5 cents. Their goal was to have every person “wearing the emblem of the 1st Newfoundland Regiment in Honour of our boys who have had their first baptism of fire in the Dardanelles.”

It was at Gallipoli that the Newfoundland Regiment received its baptism of fire.  The 1,076 Newfoundlanders landed on the shores of the Dardanelles on September 19, 1915. The St. John’s newspaper reported:

“We are proud of them and grateful to them all, and our hearts especially go out to those who have the added Honour of being wounded in fighting for these, their distant homes.”

The sale of the caribou emblem had a twofold purpose, it encouraged patriotic fervor and monies realized helped “the members of the Women’s Patriotic Association (W.P.A) in their effort to provide our defenders with the most essential necessaries.”

In addition to their monetary efforts the “necessaries” that the Newfoundland women supplied included knitted scarves, socks, helmets and waistcoats for the men overseas. Between 1914 and 1916, the women produced 62,685 pairs of socks, 8,984 pairs of cuffs (mittens with a trigger finger), and 22,422 mufflers. The WPA also aided the Red Cross and nursing services by preparing medical materials for the war.

The caribou has always held a significant place in Newfoundland history. The caribou that is found on the uniforms of the Newfoundland Regiment was copied from that of the Presbyterian Newfoundland Highlanders, a para military cadet corps formed in 1907.

It could be said that the caribou as an official symbol stumbled into our history. In 1638 King Charles I granted Sir David Kirke (Ferryland) the Coat of Arms of Newfoundland.  The crest is unique in that the shield is topped by an image of an elk, remarkable in the fact that elk never inhabited Newfoundland or Labrador. Caribou, however, were and are commonplace. The elk is most probably used due to the fact that none of the English heralds of the 1600’s had ever seen a caribou and, therefore, could not draw one. They did, however, know what an elk looked like and this animal was used instead.

On October 2, 1915 it is doubtless that the St. John Ambulance nurses sold many caribou emblems to the patriotic citizens of St. John’s all wanting to show their support to the Newfoundland Regiment.  It would also mark the first time that the emblem was sold solidifying its place as the iconic symbol of Newfoundland and the Newfoundland Regiment.

Today in what were the fields of battle where Newfoundlanders fought,  on what is now known as the “Caribou Trail”  the  caribou, the symbol of the regiment and the province (then-dominion), stands facing the enemy line with its head thrown back in defiance, a symbol of Newfoundlanders’ bravery and fortitude.

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  created by the Rooms Provincial Archives will resonate with audiences who are interested in the history of Newfoundland and Labrador’s involvement in the First World War. The site contains the military files of over 2200 soldiers from the Royal Newfoundland Regiment who served in the First World War, including those of the 1305 young men who died in the conflict. 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 Museum Visit:   At The Rooms provincial Museum  vit the exhibit Here, We Made a Home  in The Elinor Gill Ratcliffe Gallery – Level 4. This exhibit highlights some of the artifacts associated with the Royal Newfoundland Regiment and what was happening on the ‘Home Front.’

Recommended Song:   Recruiting Sergeant (Newfoundland-Great Big Sea) +Recorded by Great Big Sea (Play, trk#10, 1997, Warner Music Canada, Scarborough, Ontario.  Listen: http://www.wtv-zone.com/phyrst/audio/nfld/04/recruit.htm