"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.”
"[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.
"[My father] was not going to be a slacker and not go." Sarah Reid, daughter of Private Abram John
Verge Newfoundland Regiment, 2014
"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.
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?
|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.|
"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.
"[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.
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).
Corporal James George
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.
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.
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.
"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.
"[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.