Tag Archives: WWI

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.


A son remembers his father, a memorial for Beaumont Hamel


February 20, 1922

TACAGoodbyeDaddy2On February 20, 1922 six year old Harvey White of Durrells Arm (Twillingate) wrote to Lieut. Col Thomas Nangle enclosing a small donation for the construction of the war memorial at Beaumont Hamel, France.

Lieut. Col Thomas Nangle had purchased from the farmers of France, on behalf of the Government of Newfoundland, the fields that we now know as Beaumont Hamel – the fields where many young men of Newfoundland had died during WWI. Nangle and the government of Newfoundland were determined to establish a War Memorial on the site.  A campaign was started that encouraged all Newfoundlanders to support the building of the memorial in any way they could.

Six year old Harvey White wrote:  

Dear Sir:

I ham only a lettel  Boy not quit seven yars old 

I  do go to school Every Day and I ham in no. one Book 

an I keep hed of the class Every Day

and I had one Dollar gave me four keeping hed of the Class so I ham sending  it  to you four Bhaumont hamel memorial 

that is the spot ware my Fathere was killed July the First 1916.

I  ham in closing one Dollar

Yours very truly

 Harvey White, 

Twillingate, Durrell Arm

 Sir if you got eny Fishear Books to spare ps send me some to look at some times I am very fond of books.


Harvey never did meet his father, Frederick (Fred) White, age 22, Regimental number 1481.

In a letter from Ayr, Scotland where Fred was stationed before being sent to fight in France, to the mother of the child (Mary Young)  he asked Mary if she would consider calling the child (that she was pregnant with) Roland with the promise of a “wedding ring by October.”  She did grant his wish – Roland Kitchner Young  was born on August 10, 1915. Everyone called him Harvey.

The young soldier and father never did see October – he never saw his son – he died at Beaumont Hamel on July 1, 1916.

Little Harvey White’s  (he took his father’s surname) determination to support a memorial at Beaumont Hamel was typical of many who gave their last penny to insure that those sons of Newfoundland who had died during the war would have a memorial.  A field of honour in the battlefields of France where they died.

The Memorial site at Beaumont Hamel was officially opened on June 7, 1925  three years after little Harry White gave his one dollar donation.

Explanation of term:   “no. one book”:  Before grades like grade one – grade two and grade three. etc.  Schools were structured by book – book one – book two – book three. Book one was equivalent to grade one.

Explanation of term:  “Fishear Books”: (Fisher Books)  are a series of   children’s books  written by  American author  Dorothy Canfield Fisher.

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


Memorial Day at The Rooms.


July 1, 1916

Memorial Day at The Rooms.
Date: Sunday, July 1st, 2018
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: Sunday, July 1st, 2018
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.

Join us in the  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!



The response of some Irish Newfoundlanders to the Great War

April 30, 1917

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives Division A 58-152, For Victory, a Newfoundland infantryman in field dress standing in front of an unfurled Red Ensign containing the Great Seal of Newfoundland.

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives Division A 58-152, For Victory, a Newfoundland infantryman in field dress standing in front of an unfurled Red Ensign containing the Great Seal of Newfoundland.

On April 30, 1917 Revered Daniel O’Callaghan, Parish Priest of  the  the R.C. Parish in Flatrock wrote to Archbishop Edward Patrick Roche of St. John’s complaining:

 “ For months the people in Flatrock have been subjected to a deal of scornful remarks, and to unfair and unjust treatment from so-called patriots because our men have not volunteered.” Father O’Callaghan was particularly incensed that “the Flatrock men have been refused berths to the ice-fields”

The letter is evidence that those who did not volunteer in the war effort were discriminated against.

The Irish born O’Callaghan had at the beginning of WWI discouraged the men of Flatrock from volunteering for the war effort. He is reputed to have told his parishioners that there was no pride “in standing under the British rag.”

Born in South Down, Ireland in 1875, Daniel O’Callaghan, the young Irish Priest in Pouch Cove may have been taking his lead from what his ‘clerical’ contemporaries were doing in his home country,  Ireland. Within the Roman Catholic Irish hierarchy, there was disunity and a lack of a common purpose about the war. The leading archbishops in Ireland in 1914, Archbishop Michael Logue of Armagh and Archbishop William Walsh of Dublin were not in favour of the war or were at best ambivalent and refused to support recruiting or indeed lend any support at all to recruiting. The bishop of Limerick, Bishop Edward Thomas O’ Dwyer, was openly anti-British.

The refusal of the “so called patriots” to give a berth on the ships going to the ice fields to prosecute the seal fishery would have meant economic hardship for the Flatrock men.

O’Callaghan is also  given credit for establishing the tradition of having the famous Regatta Crews from Outer Cove carry there boat to Quidi Vidi Lake in St. John’s on Regatta Day. Many saw it as a ploy to keep the crew members away from drink on the big day.

Recommended Reading: “Lives Recalled: Deceased Catholic Priests Who worked in Newfoundland 1627-2010”  by Rev.  Francis A. Coady, St. John’s, NL.

Recommended Website:   Find  the Regimental Records of the men of the Newfoundland Regiment here. This is a work in progress not all records are on line. The  Newfoundland Regiment and the Great War:  http://www.rnr.therooms.ca/part3_database.asp 



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

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.