Home Front:

A War Brings Many Changes

"It behooves every British subject to aid the mother country." Governor Sir Walter Davidson,
St. John's, August 12th, 1914

Our response to the outbreak of war began immediately. On August 8th, 1914, Governor Davidson promised Britain that the Dominion of Newfoundland would raise a regiment of five hundred men and send a thousand sailors.

People across the Island and Labrador eagerly volunteered. Men enthusiastically enlisted, training on land and sea. With the formation of the National Patriotic Committee, the Newfoundland Regiment was raised, immediately gathering arms and uniforms for the Regiment.

The Women’s Patriotic Association organized care packages, prepared bandages and knit socks to send overseas to help bring “home comforts” to the soldiers far away.

Everyone wondered about the enemy and how to defend our shores.

In politics, business, religion—even social circles—old rivalries and alliances were set aside. People pulled together as one, for King and Country. War affected our homes, our work, our communities, our safety. Newfoundland and Labrador became the “Home Front.”

War is Declared

"[We] fight for our King...
and the honour of Newfoundland." Governor Sir Walter Davidson, to the
Newfoundland Regiment, St. John’s, 1914

After years of increasing tension in Europe, the steps to war were swift. On August 3rd, 1914, Germany invaded Belgium. Britain ordered the Germans to leave by midnight. When they didn’t, Britain declared war. As a British Empire dominion, Newfoundland was also at war. The news was greeted with anticipation.

Newfoundland Patriotic
Association (NPA)

"The meeting [in Rose Blanche] was very enthusiastic. The Patriotic Association [is] doing very good work." Archibald W. Piccott, Minister of Marine and Fisheries,
to Governor Davidson, February 1915

On August 12th, 1914, a large crowd gathered at the CLB Armoury, St. John’s. Some fifty community leaders were chosen to determine how Newfoundland—with no military force—would go to war. They formed the National Patriotic Committee, later renamed the Patriotic Association of Newfoundland, known as the NPA, to lead the effort. At the first NPA meeting the Church Lads’ Brigade (CLB) sang patriotic songs.

"[My father] was not going to be a slacker and not go." Sarah Reid, daughter of Private Abram John
Verge Newfoundland Regiment, 2014

At the first NPA meeting the Church Lads' Brigade (CLB) sang patriotic songs. Click to hear some of the songs.

Join the fight!

"I stated we were poor in money and rich in men who are accustomed to meet all difficulties without wavering." Governor Sir Walter Davidson
St. John’s, August 1914

The call to enlist touches people in different ways. Many quickly volunteer—to be soldiers, sailors, doctors, nurses, support workers— knowing their services are crucial, believing the war will soon be over.

Some sign up from a sense of duty. Others jump at the chance to earn money. Both men and women see potential for adventure and travel. Their choices—to join or not—are influenced by personal beliefs, family circumstances and community support.

Some people stay committed to the war effort. Others find their beliefs change as events unfold.

"Can you resist the call?"

"A motley crowd streamed into the [CLB] armoury in St. John's [on August 12th, 1914]" Recollections of Lance Corporal John Gallishaw Newfoundland Regiment, 1916

Soon the NPA was holding recruitment drives across Newfoundland and Labrador, which featured posters like this one, used in Harbour Grace. They appealed to patriotic feelings, especially those of cadet corps members. The prospect of a regular wage also looked good to the unemployed, since steady jobs were few.

Do you measure up?

When the war began, the Regiment had strict standards. It wanted single men, 19 to 35 years old, who weighed more than 140 pounds (63.5 kilograms). Over time, more men were needed and the guidelines were changed.

Take your own measure—would you have been accepted?
Shifting Standards

Date Marital Status Age (years) Height Weight Chest
August 1914 Single 19-35 5 ft. 4 in. 140 lb. 35 in.
December 1914 Single 19-36 5 ft. 3 in. 120 lb. 34 in.
March 1915 Single 18-36 5 ft. 112 lb. 34 in.
March 1917 Single / Married 18-36 5 ft. 112 lb. 34 in.

 

Paramilitary Organizations

"Thirty-two members from [Durrell Arm Lads’ Brigade] . . . went to St. John’s and enlisted." Account of Carol Anne Andrews, grand-niece of Private Frederick White, Newfoundland Regiment, May 2014

Though Newfoundland had no army, several paramilitary organizations provided similar training to young men. Run by churches or non-denominational groups, their goals were building moral character and citizenship. Each had its own badge and belt buckle. Members of these groups were among the first volunteers to enlist.

The rush to enlist

"[We offered] our services and maybe our very lives so that those who remained at home could live in peace." Recollections of Private Hubert Ridgley
Royal Newfoundland Regiment, 1960s

Citizen response was broad. Men and women from all walks of life signed up, searching for work, adventure or ways to help. Volunteers came forward from many cultural groups, including new immigrants and Aboriginal communities. Some eager underage boys even lied about their age so they could enlist.

Underage Private William (“Billy”) Mitchell

Newfoundland Regiment #1500

Billy Mitchell tried to enlist when war was declared, but at 15 he was too young. In May 1915 he tried again, this time lying about his age. He was accepted. Billy fought in France, was wounded at Beaumont-Hamel (1916) and served for the rest of the war as a recruiter in Newfoundland. He once told a newspaper reporter that “he wouldn’t have missed the experience for anything.”

Leonard Roberts

Unable to Enlist

Leonard Roberts is said to have walked several days from Seal Island, Labrador, to Battle Harbour to enlist. When Leonard tried to sign up, he was rejected because he had flat feet, which was considered a problem for marching. Leonard then walked home again—a trek of more than 100 kilometres (62 miles).

Immigrant Private
Edward Faour

Newfoundland Regiment #1075

In the late 1800s, Edward Faour’s family emigrated from Mount Lebanon, Lebanon, to St. John’s to escape religious persecution and poverty. Edward was working as a clerk when he answered the call to enlist. While serving overseas, he was gassed and wounded. He returned to St. John’s and died suddenly in his early thirties of respiratory complications from a cold. He left behind a wife and two small children.

French National
Corporal James George
Washington Hagen

Newfoundland Regiment #978

Like many residents of the French islands of St. Pierre-Miquelon, James Hagen enlisted in St. John’s. He was not an ideal soldier: he overstayed his leave passes, deserted repeatedly and took out loans under false names. He later redeemed himself on the battlefield, winning the Military Medal and Bar. He died when he was shot in the neck only twenty-one days before the war ended.

Home Front Support
May Furlong

Women’s Patriotic Association

Sometimes called the “Daughter of the Regiment,” May Furlong was a St. John’s shopkeeper. When she travelled overseas for business, she delivered messages and home comforts to Newfoundland Regiment soldiers. At home, as a member of the Women’s Patriotic Association, she helped organize fundraisers and visited soldiers’ families. After the war, she led the Great War Veteran’s Association’s Ladies Auxiliary, earning recognition for her service to ex-servicemen and their families.

Labradorian Private
Murdoch McLean

Newfoundland Regiment #3956

Although their home was culturally and geographically separate from the island of Newfoundland, some Labradorians joined with the Newfoundland Regiment. A fisherman and trapper from Gillis Port, Grois Water Bay (now known as Groswater Bay), Labrador, Murdoch McLean, age 24, was one of the 70-plus men from Labrador who answered the call. McLean survived the war and returned to fishing in Labrador.

Newfoundland Acadian
Seaman John P. Chaisson

Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve #2365X

Some francophone Newfoundlanders, like John Chaisson from the Island’s west coast, preferred to join the navy over the Regiment. They were comfortable on the water and many wanted to serve together. Chaisson sailed on Q-ships: vessels armed heavily with concealed weapons that acted as decoys and attacked German U-boats. He survived the war.

Career Sailor
Fred Mills

Mercantile Marine

Fred Mills, from Carbonear, joined the schooner Jorgina in 1917. Sailing home after delivering cod to Spain, the vessel was attacked by a German U-boat. Ordered to abandon ship, the six-man crew watched from a life raft as the Jorgina sank. They rowed for six days and reached Portugal.
All survived.

Newfoundland Regiment

"We were amazed to see huge numbers of young Newfoundlanders clad in khaki [in St. John’s]." Recollections of Private Hubert Ridgley, Royal Newfoundland Regiment, 1960s

In less than two months, the community rallied together to outfit the newly established Newfoundland Regiment. A unique identity was formed under the symbol of the Caribou. The Regiment became part of the British Army, earning many battle honours and forging a lasting reputation. The Newfoundland Regiment's emblem featured on its badge was a caribou. A defiant stag, head held high, became a symbol for the Regiment's bravery.

Enlisting Far and Wide

"[Newfoundlander] John Breen . . . joined the 94th Canadian Regiment at Sydney [Nova Scotia]." St. John’s Daily Star, May 1918

Newfoundlanders and Labradorians living in foreign countries signed up at local recruiting stations. Others travelled to enlist alongside friends and relatives living away. These army uniform badges from Australia and Canada and this American wedge cap belonged to Newfoundlanders. Some Newfoundlanders volunteering in Ireland received a medal like this.

Beaumont-Hamel and the Trail of the Caribou