The Trail of the Caribou

"A story . . . of hard fighting and great deeds . . . of an unconquerable and irrepressible spirit and of sad losses." The Daily News, St. John’s, 1917

The Newfoundland Regiment took part in numerous battles during the First World War. Beaumont-Hamel was a defining battle where the Regiment was decimated. After Beaumont-Hamel, the Newfoundland Regiment is remade with new recruits. From 1916 to the war’s end, our men fight in battle after battle, moving from France to Belgium. The list of our tough encounters gains a name: The Trail of the Caribou.

The caribou becomes a symbol for the fighting Newfoundlanders’ identity and pride, overseas and at home. Along with the name comes a reputation: tough, brave and skilled. The crowning moment comes in 1917, when the Newfoundland Regiment earns the designation “Royal” from King George V, the only regiment so honoured in the war.

Gallipoli

"We were all green . . . they start to shell, and we were there in the open . . . didn’t know what to do!" Recollections of Private William Gellately
Newfoundland Regiment, mid-1900s

British Forces land on the Gallipoli Peninsula in April 1915. Heavy casualties mean the 7th Battalion Royal Scots is called in as reinforcement—but almost half are killed or injured in a devastating train accident en route. The Newfoundland Regiment, a last-minute replacement, arrives in Gallipoli in September.

Our sailors serving with the Royal Navy have been patrolling the Dardanelles since February. Still, Gallipoli delivers many firsts for the Regiment’s soldiers: their initial taste of combat and first experience of trench conditions—living with dirt, disease, hunger, cold, fear, death.

Gallipoli is real danger, real war. Hard lessons are learned.

Souvenirs

For many Newfoundland and Labrador soldiers and sailors, the war offered an unexpected chance to see foreign countries and other cultures. Like tourists today, they collected and sent home keepsakes when they could, to remind them of their experiences—especially from “exotic places” such as Turkey and Egypt.

Caribou Hill

"They boast that they reached the nearest point to Constantinople—a hill which they captured, called by them Caribou Hill." “Newfoundland Losses in the Advance,” London Times, July 8th, 1916

Gallipoli was the Newfoundland Regiment’s baptism by fire. A patrol occupied and held a Turkish position on November 4th, 1915. Three members received the Regiment’s first gallantry awards and proved that the Newfoundlanders were effective soldiers. “Caribou Hill” was named on maps to honour this first battlefield success.

Gueudecourt, France

October 12th, 1916

In another combined drive in the Somme offensive, the Regiment avenged Beaumont-Hamel with a successful assault on German trenches, the day’s only real success.

Private William Sheppard

Newfoundland Regiment #2012

William Sheppard from Pools Island was wounded and left for dead during the Regiment’s action at Gueudecourt in October 1916. A battlefield medic revived him and moved him to safety. He recovered, but developed pink eye and was discharged. Home from war, William lost his hand in a shooting accident.

Monchy-le-Preux, France

April 14th, 1917

The attack failed disastrously with high casualties, many of them prisoners of war. Ten men (nine Newfoundlanders) saved Monchy by holding off the counter-attack.

Sergeant John L. Slattery

Newfoundland Regiment #2594

Shot and captured at Masnières in 1917, Levi Blake received poor care and little food as a POW. The Women’s Patriotic Association sent him a tobacco pouch and pipe, displayed in the centre case. After attacking a German sentry, Levi was moved to civil prison in Germany, where he remained until freed at war’s end.

Cambrai, France

November 20th–29th, 1917

In this offensive to break through the German Hindenburg line, the Regiment captured the town of Masnières and defended Allied gains, earning the title “Royal.”

Prisoner of War ( POW )
Private Levi Blake

Newfoundland Regiment #2590

Shot and captured at Masnières in 1917, Levi Blake received poor care and little food as a POW. The Women’s Patriotic Association sent him a tobacco pouch and pipe, displayed in the centre case. After attacking a German sentry, Levi was moved to civil prison in Germany, where he remained until freed at war’s end.

Kortrijk ( Courtrai ), Belgium

October 14th –19th, 1918

During the final weeks before Armistice, the Regiment was in the forefront of the British push to victory. Heavy losses, much resistance but eventual success.

Private Charles Forsey

Royal Newfoundland Regiment #3651

During the Allied push to victory in Belgium, the Regiment was shelled while resting. Charles Forsey of Gambo was wounded while rescuing his comrades. His leg was later amputated. While in hospital, he realized that shrapnel had struck the book in his breast pocket and had saved his life.

Seaman Sidney Randell

Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve #1084X

A naval reservist since 1902, Sidney Randell was one of the first to respond when war was declared. He kept his belongings in this “ditty box” aboard ship. He served most of the war with the Royal Canadian Navy on board the HMCS Niobe. Sidney lived to be 101.

Beaumont-Hamel and the Trail of the Caribou