Beaumont-Hamel

France
July 1st, 1916

"The training went on day after day." Recollections of Major and Adjutant Arthur Raley
Newfoundland Regiment, 1921

The “July Drive”

Following the Allied failure at Gallipoli, the Newfoundland Regiment regrouped in Egypt. In March 1916, it was sent to France to strengthen the British Expeditionary Force along the Western Front—a stretch of land where the German advance was stopped. Lines of opposing enemy trenches extended from the English Channel to the Swiss border.

The Regiment joined a major offensive to break the stalemate and defeat the Germans. The British and French planned a “Big Push” along a 24-kilometre (15-mile) stretch known as the Somme, involving roughly 150,000 soldiers.

To prepare for this attack, the Newfoundland Regiment helped build and fortify trenches, dugouts, roads and railways. The men moved supplies to the front line and cut gaps in their own wire to let advancing troops quickly move into “No Man’s Land.” In early June, relentless training began for their role in the assault, later known as the “July Drive.”

Stalemate

Stalemate: deadly skirmishes, few successes. Planning and training begin for the Big Push meant to shift the war’s momentum.

During a weeklong bombardment of the Germans, the Newfoundland Regiment participates in raids and intelligence gathering to see if the bombs are destroying enemy defences. They are not.

The battle proceeds anyway.

"The time is drawing pretty near now for the Big Advance." Captain and Quartermaster Frank Summers, Newfoundland Regiment, in a letter to his parents from Beaumont-Hamel, June 18th, 1916

Frank was fatally wounded on July 1st, 1916

June 30th

"Altogether it was very much like the final few minutes in the pavilion before a big football match." Recollections of Major and Adjutant Arthur Raley
Newfoundland Regiment, 1921

The Big Push is tomorrow and reinforcements arrive, including untested new recruits.

9:30 p.m.

The Regiment marches to “St. John’s Road,” a support trench near the front lines at Beaumont-Hamel. Eager, restless and ready, men doze, write home, smoke, chat, check their equipment, write wills, pray.

Lieutenant-Colonel Arthur Lovell ( “A. L.” ) Hadow

Newfoundland Regiment

A career soldier in the British Army, Arthur Hadow assumed command of the Newfoundland Regiment in 1915. He led the Regiment at Beaumont-Hamel. A strict leader, Hadow inspired mixed feelings in the Regiment. Exhausted, he relinquished command in November 1916, resumed it in May 1917 and retired in December 1917.

"If ever a regiment was fit for battle, the Newfoundland Regiment was that day." Recollections of Major and Adjutant Arthur Raley
Newfoundland Regiment, 1921

Trench Warfare

The warring armies dug vast networks of trenches along the Western Front. These shielded soldiers from shrapnel and bullets. Between Allied and enemy trenches lay “No Man’s Land,” a battleground that soldiers advanced across during an attack.

"Nine minutes to go . . . eight minutes to go . . . . Each minute seemed an eternity." Recollections of Private Howard Morry
Newfoundland Regiment, mid-1900s

Directing the Action

For the Big Push, every last detail was planned and practised. Commanders directed movement despite incredible noise and distance between troops. On July 1st, they synchronized watches and counted down the minutes. Finally, a whistle like this one pierced through the shelling and told the Regiment: “This is it, boys.”

Lieutenant Owen Steele

Newfoundland Regiment

In his down time before the Beaumont-Hamel attack, Owen carved this paperweight from chalk common on the Somme. Kept back with the Regiment’s 10 percent reserve, he did not go “over the top” on July 1st—but was wounded by a shell on July 7th and died the next day.

Thinking of Home

Last thoughts before going “over the top” often turned to loved ones. Many soldiers wrote reassuring words home. Their notes became especially treasured if they did not survive. Some soldiers made short wills detailing their final wishes— their paybooks even had a specific page for that purpose.

Private Ernest Chafe

Newfoundland Regiment #709

Ernest Chafe of St. John’s was 23 when he enlisted. Just days before the battle on July 1st, he wrote to his mother saying that if he was “knocked out,” it would be for a good cause. He died at Beaumont-Hamel and these are his last words.

Transcription of Postcard Sent by Private Edward Faour

WRITTEN ON REVERSE:

France June 26/16
Dear Mother,
Just this card to say that I am perfectly well and hope you are the same. I am out of the line in the Reserve Area for a rest. How are you all at home? S’pose you have heard Joe Shine [Sheen] was wounded. Best love to everybody. I will write again soon, With best love
I am Affectionately yours
#1075 Pte E Faour

[Edward and Joe survived the war.]

Transcription of Personal Note from Private Frank Woodford, Newfoundland Regiment

In case of my death on the  eld please notify miss Bethsa [sic] Morton
1a Pilrig Place
Edinburgh
Scotland
N.B [“nota bene” = take note]
Signed Pte F. Woodford
NFLD Batt [Battalion]
Reg No. 364

Beaumont-Hamel and the Trail of the Caribou