Welcome to a new year of the St. Mihiel Trip-Wire. In this issue we are going to take a deep look at a military formation, the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, whose First World War service is remembered primarily for one tragic day on the Somme—1 July 1916—and, secondarily, for the dramatic way in which its sacrifice has been commemorated at the—"must-see" site for Western Front visitors—Newfoundland Memorial Park at Beaumont Hamel. This month, we are, of course, going to touch on what happened to the men of Newfoundland at that place, on that day, but my intention here is to present a larger story. We are going to cover the origins of the regiment, its service in a number of other areas of operation from Gallipoli (yes, some of those boys who died at the Somme had survived the Suvla Bay fiasco at Gallipoli) to Flanders to its revisits to the Valley of the Somme, and also discuss some of the traditions that have grown out of their service in the Great War. We also have included for online viewing an excellent documentary on the regiment, The Trail of the Caribou. This year, by the way, we are going to focus on documentaries rather than commercial films in our WWI movies feature. MH
The History of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment
By James Patton
Reenactors Portraying Newfoundland's 1802 Regiment of Foot
Newfoundland is a large island in the Atlantic Ocean, located off of the northeastern coast of the Canadian mainland. The first Europeans to visit were Vikings, at the beginning of the 11th century, who attempted to colonize but without lasting success. It was re-discovered by the English in the late 16th century and in 1583 became England’s first colony in North America. Newfoundland’s territory came to include settlements on the mainland which are collectively grouped together as Labrador; the boundary with Quebec was disputed until 1927. Newfoundland opted not to join the Canadian Confederation when it was formed in 1867, and in 1907 became a dominion of its own. Due in part to the financial burden of the First World War, independence didn’t work; in 1932 Newfoundland defaulted and then reverted to colonial rule, which lasted until 1949 when it became a Canadian province.
Beginning in 1704, during that century Newfoundlanders formed several ad-hoc militia groups. In 1795 the British formed the Royal Newfoundland Regiment of Foot to provide for local defense. British regulars replaced these locals in 1800, who were sent to Halifax, where they were disbanded in 1802. Soon after, due to the Napoleonic Wars, locals were again called upon to defend the colony. The Royal Newfoundland Regiment of Fencible Infantry was formed, which eventually fought in the war of 1812, and was disbanded in 1816. For the remainder of the 19th century, the colony was protected by British regulars.
On 4 September 1914, the dominion parliament authorized the Newfoundland Regiment (abbreviated hereafter as NfldR). Not then Canadians, the NfldR never served with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. They could maintain only one serving battalion, the 1/NfldR, which was assigned to the British 29th Division, mostly composed of regular battalions drawn from colonial service. In the British manner, the NfldR also had a 2nd (Reserve) Battalion in Scotland and a 3rd (Depot) Battalion at St. John’s.
In the Trenches at Suvla Bay, Gallipoli
Members of the regiment reinforced the 29th Division for the failed August 1915 Suvla Bay effort to salvage the Gallipoli Campaign. Those men would later be transferred with the division to France and have the distinction of participating in Newfoundland's most memorable and worst military experience.
On 1 July 1916, the 29th Division was tasked with storming the German lines in the Beaumont-Hamel sector, primarily against a strong point known as “Y Ravine”. The 1/NfldR was initially in reserve [shown in the photo at the top], but faulty reports led the division’s commander to order the reserves up to exploit a non-existent break in the German lines. The 1/Essex was first in line but were delayed in the communication trench by the large number of casualties coming back. Time being thought to be critical, the commander of 1/NfldR decided to leave the communication trench and advance over open ground for some 200 meters. This was an incredibly bold and utterly foolhardy thing to do. Once the battalion had crested the ridge they came under heavy German fire and then were delayed at the British wire. In about fifteen minutes they lost 619 killed and wounded, including all of the officers, out of an attack strength estimated at 721, a casualty rate of almost 86%. At the next roll call there were only 68 effectives present. The division commander, Maj. Gen. Sir Beauvoir de Lisle, said of the 1/RNfldR: “It was a magnificent display of trained and disciplined valour, and its assault only failed of success because dead men can advance no further.” Nevertheless, the losses were replaced and the battalion saw almost continuous service including tours in Flanders, the latter stage of the Somme, and the battles of Arras and Cambrai.
Because the Newfoundlanders had served with notable heroism and distinction, on 28 September 1917 they were designated by King George V as a Royal Regiment (abbreviated hereafter as RNfldR), the only regiment to be so honored during the war (only three Royal designations have ever been bestowed during wartime). Nevertheless, after occupation duty the dominion parliament voted to disband the regiment on 26 August 1919.
The Regiment's Pre-Royal Designation Badge
During the interwar years there was no militia activity in Newfoundland. In September 1939, a new Newfoundland Militia (unrelated to any former unit) was raised for home defense duty. A few months later they were placed under Canadian command, and under Canadian rules they were re-titled as the Newfoundland Regiment, not related to the 1914 creation. On 5 September 1941, on coast defense, members engaged the U-513 in a brief artillery battle. They were disbanded in 1946. After the 1949 unification the Canadians re-constituted the RNfldR in their service, as the last in the Order of Precedence.
Today’s RNfldR is a Primary Reserve unit belonging to the 37th Brigade, 5th Division. They have two light infantry battalions: the 1/RNfldR in St. Johns and 2/RNfldR in Corner Brook. Over the years their soldiers have augmented active-duty units serving in Cyprus, Bosnia, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan. RNfldR has nineteen Battle Honors on its flags, including three from the War of 1812 attributed in 2012.
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Here are some additional worthwhile sources on the regiment.
To the glory of God, to the honor of the Island, and the enduring memory of those of the Newfoundland Contingent who fell in the first battle of the Somme.
Memorial Plaque, Amiens Cathedral
In addition to the wearing of the Remembrance Day poppy, Newfoundland has another First World War tradition. On Canada Day, July 1st a blue Forget-Me-Not is worn to remember the boys of the Newfoundland Regiment who fell at Beaumont Hamel so long ago. A popular song is played that day, too.
Forget-me-not, wee flower of beauty,
Your royal symbol proudly stands
Blue as the loyal men that wore them,
Far from their homes in Newfoundland.
"The Little Blue Forget-Me Not"
Why the Caribou?
Three of the Caribou from Top Left: Newfoundland Memorial Park; Courtrai/Kortrijk, Belgium; Bowring Park, St. John’s
It could be said that the caribou as an official symbol stumbled into Newfoundland's history. In 1638 King Charles I granted Sir David Kirke (Ferryland) the coat of arms of Newfoundland. The crest is unique in that the shield is topped by an image of an elk, remarkable in the fact that elk never inhabited Newfoundland or Labrador. Caribou, however, were and are commonplace. The elk is most probably used due to the fact that none of the English heralds of the 1600s had ever seen a caribou and, therefore, could not draw one. They did, however, know what an elk looked like, and this animal was used instead.
The caribou has always held a significant place in Newfoundland history. The caribou that is found on the uniforms of the Newfoundland Regiment was copied from that of the Presbyterian Newfoundland Highlanders, a paramilitary cadet corps formed in 1907. In October 1915 there was a movement in the dominion of 1st Newfoundland (now province) to have every person “wear the emblem of the 1st Newfoundland Regiment.” The Newfoundland Regiment—designated a "Royal" regiment—during the Great War, saw heavy action from 1915 through the 100 Days Campaign of the British Army. About 8,500 Newfoundlanders served in the Great War (the number of sailors isn’t exact); there were 1,570 killed or died and 2,314 wounded.
Rev. Capt. Thomas Nangle
In 1919, the Royal Newfoundland Regiment’s Catholic chaplain, Lt. Col. (Hon) the Rev. Thomas Nangle, who was also the regiment's Director of Graves Registration and Enquiry and representative on the Imperial War Graves Commission, determined to create an impressive set of memorials independent of the Imperial War Graves Commission. His plan had three parts: to honor all who served, a traditional-style war memorial in the center of St. John’s (dedicated on 1 July 1924 by Field Marshal the Earl Haig); to honor the sacrifices of the regiment, the acquisition and preservation of the entire Beaumont Hamel battlefield, and the erection of six distinctive Caribou statues following "the trail of the caribou" through every major site where the Newfoundlanders served; and for the brighter future that the fallen would never see, the establishment of a college at St. John’s.
Sixteen memorial designs were submitted to Fr. Nangle. He recommended British sculptor Captain Basil Gotto's plan to erect identical bronze caribou statues at locations where the regiment played a significant role. Fr. Nangle wrote that Gotto's design was "most distinctive, his idea being a giant caribou somewhat like the 'Monarch of the Topsails' carved in bronze on a rough cairn of Newfoundland granite about ten to fifteen feet high. This will be distinctive of the Regiment and of Newfoundland. It will be artistic and cheap, all five being cast from the same mould." The caribou statues cost approximately £1,000 each.
In the end, six of Gotto's caribou were cast—one for each of the five European sites and one possibly envisioned for Gallipoli but which ended up at Bowring Park in St. John's. Landscape architect R.H.K. Cochius designed all of the parks. The caribou in Europe overlook battlefields where Newfoundlanders fought and died. Late News: A contract has just been let to install a Caribou at the Newfoundland battle site at Gallipoli. It will be placed close to the Hill 10 Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery.
Gueudecourt: A Second Visit to the Somme
From the Regiment's History
The Royal Newfoundland Regiment's Five Most-Remembered Battlefields
Despite the great sacrifice at Beaumont Hamel, the dominion continued
to send fresh troops to fill the depleted
ranks of the Newfoundland Regiment.
At the end of July, the Newfoundland
Regiment boarded trains and traveled
north to the Ypres Salient in Belgium.
It was here that they would spend the
next three months building and fortifying trenches and taking their turn in
the advance trenches which were at
points less than thirty feet from the
German frontline trenches. In August
the Newfoundlanders came under gas
attack for the first time. The order to
put on gas masks prevented any casualties.
On 8 October, after an absence of ten
weeks, the Newfoundland Regiment
was ordered back to the Somme to a
position at Gueudecourt. The Battle of
the Somme had dragged on since July
and featured a series of attacks along
the 16-mile German front. Orders issued for an assault on German lines located on the outskirts of Gueudecourt. The Newfoundlanders were to advance on the right and the Essex on the left. They were given two successive objectives. To gain the first of these—the Green Line, about 400 yards from the British front line—would require the capture of a portion of Hilt Trench, with its extensions of Rainbow Trench to the southeast and Bayonet Trench to the northwest. The plans for the attack introduced a new form of tactics involving an unusually close co-operation between the advancing infantry and the supporting artillery. This became known as the creeping or rolling barrage.
On 12 October, shortly after two, the order was quietly passed along: “Fix bayonets—and don’t show them over the top of the trench.” At 2:05 p.m., which was designated as Zero Hour, the attack began. At that precise minute, the artillery barrage commenced. Behind the cover of the
creeping barrage, the Newfoundlanders advanced. The barrage was so
heavy it prevented the Germans from
using their machine guns. The Newfoundlanders were able to reach the
German lines at an area designated as
Hilt Trench. Fierce hand-to-hand combat ensued as
the Newfoundlanders thrust with bayonet and hurled grenades into
the German defenders. By 2:30 p.m., Hilt Trench was firmly occupied by the Newfoundland Regiment.
Switch Trench: the Regiment's
Accommodations after the Fighting
It was time now for both of Brigadier Cayley’s battalions to advance to their final objective. Keeping to the prearranged schedule, a party led by Lieutenant Cecil Clift, consisting of two platoons from each of “A” and “B” companies, pushed on toward the Brown Line. Finding no enemy trench in the first 100 yards, they began digging in under heavy fire—though not before half of them had been killed or wounded, including Clift, who was later listed as “missing, believed killed.” Caught in fire from German machine guns on their right, where the British 6th Division’s attack was only partly successful, the Newfoundlanders were forced to fall back to Hilt Trench. Some of the Essex reached Grease Trench before they too were compelled to retire.
By late afternoon the
Newfoundlanders trained their Lewis Guns on the approaching enemy, inflicting heavy
casualties on the advancing Germans. The Newfoundland Regiment was steadfast and
held firmly to Hilt Trench. At night, the Newfoundlanders turned Hilt Trench over to
reinforcements. For some, the disaster at Beaumont Hamel
had been avenged, despite having suffered 239 casualties themselves.
Weary from sleeplessness and the strain and physical exertion of a long day, they filed slowly through the darkness back to Gueudecourt and down a mile of Cocoa Alley to Switch Trench just in front of Flers. It was good to find a meal, and then to be able to snatch a few hours sleep before beginning the inevitable task of reorganizing.
Newfoundlanders Departing the Somme for 1916
On 27 October the regiment occupied Grease Trench, which today is the site of one of
the five Caribou Memorials on the Western Front. Over the next several months
the Newfoundland Regiment continued to alternate between the Front Lines and the
reserve trenches along the Somme Front. Christmas 1916 was spent at the small
village of Camps-en-Amienois. Those members of the regiment who
had served over six months in France were granted leave in London.
A Busy 1917: Arras, Passchendaele, and Cambrai
From the Regiment's History
Nine of the "Monchy Ten" Who Held Off a German Attempt to Recapture the Village
In the Allied spring offensive of 1917 the regiment distinguished itself by assisting in the securing of the fortified village on Monchy-le-Preux. Next, they were redeployed over the summer to the Ypres Salient, where they fought in several of the actions of the Battle of Passchendaele. Newfoundland's year was not yet finished, however.
After replenishing their ranks
the Newfoundland Regiment
was moved by train and forced
march to the area around the
Cambrai sector. Here, the Allies were massing their troops
for a major assault on the German lines. The 88th Brigade of 29th Division,
of which the Newfoundland
Regiment was a part, was ordered to secure Masnieres and
On Tuesday 20 November 1917 the Battle for Cambrai commenced. The
Newfoundlanders advanced forward under protection of a withering artillery barrage. The German defensive lines were
decimated as the newly introduced British tanks tore
through dugouts and machine
gun nests. Both Masnieres
and Marcoing were freed of
German defenders. Only the
arrival of German reinforcements saved their hold on
Cambrai. While the Allies
had made spectacular advances they had failed to
break the German stronghold
of Cambrai. The Newfoundland Regiment stayed at Marcoing for three days. On 23 November, the German guns started a continuous barrage on Marcoing and Masnieres. From 25 to 28 November, the battalion occupied trenches on the north side of the canal facing north toward the Beaurevoir line, then returning to the cellars of Marcoing after an uneventful tour of frontline duty. On 30 November 1917 the Germans counterattacked all along the Cambrai sector. The main thrust of nine German Divisions would be a drive from the east, then a drive north to eliminate the salient the British attack had created. The Newfoundlanders were recalled from
reserve and ordered to relief
in front of Masnieres. It was in this defensive phase where the regiment would earn its greatest distinction of the Great War.
The St. Quentin Canal at Marcoing, Captured on 20 November 1917
The night before, the regiment was ordered forward to carry out relief at Masnieres. Early the next morning, heavy shelling of Marcoing foretold of an imminent attack. The two battalions of the 86th Brigade holding the line near Les Rues Vertes reported they were being engaged from Rumilly and Crevecouer, and a battalion of the 20th Division to the south was falling back. At 10:00 a.m., an urgent message from Brigade instructed the CO to move the Newfoundlanders forward with the other battalions of the 88th Brigade. The heavy shelling prevented them from moving to their designated positions. Because of the shelling, the companies had to move to the assembly point near Marcoing Copse independently.
As they approached Marcoing Copse, they were met by advancing Germans coming from the direction of Les Rues Vertes, trying to outflank the 29th Division. The Newfoundlanders deployed and attacked with bayonets, stemming the German advance. On their right, the Essex, and beyond them, the Worcesters and Hampshires extended the line south. By night, the four battalions assisted by the Kings Own Scottish Borderers of the 87th Brigade pushed the enemy back one mile. As night fell, they dug in on a line beginning from Les Rues Vertes running south.
Private John Loveless
Earned the Military Medal
For the next 24 hours, the 29th Division hung on to their rather precarious position. The Germans kept up machine gun and sniper fire exacting heavy casualties. Farther south, the Germans had pushed to the outskirts of Gouzeaucourt. As darkness fell on 1 December, the 29th Division was at the tip of a dangerous salient, subjected to heavy bombardment and repeated infantry attacks. Over the next days, the 88th Brigade left with a diminished front of 2000 yards, south of the canal in front of Marcoing Copse. On its left flank, the Newfoundlanders were dug in beside the canal lock. . .
On 3 December, the enemy started a crushing bombardment along the canal bank, followed by intensive and accurate mortar fire forcing the Regiment to withdraw to the west of the lock. Waves of Germans made repeated attacks on the front, but somehow the assaults were halted. That evening, the Hampshires came forward from reserve to relieve what was left of the Newfoundland battalion. They withdrew half a mile and rested as best they could in old German dugouts. On 4 December, the Third Army was ordered to withdraw to a line through Flesquieres. This withdrawal was successfully executed, relinquishing the ground captured in the attack. The 29th Division was the only division that did not collapse on 30 November.
A Rare Quiet Moment in the Trenches
In the early part of December 1917 the governor of Newfoundland, Sir Charles Harris, was notified that His Majesty the King had approved the title "ROYAL" for the Newfoundland Regiment. The Royal Newfoundland Regiment was the only regiment on which this honor was bestowed during the war and only the third time that this honor had been given to a regiment in time of war. (The other times were in 1695 and in 1885).
100 Years Ago:
A Paris Inter-Allied Conference Inflames
the Reparations Dispute
Marshal Foch Was Outspoken at the Conference with His Reparation Demands
At the end of the First World War, the victorious European powers demanded that Germany compensate them for the devastation wrought by the four-year conflict, for which they held Germany and its allies responsible. Unable to agree upon the amount that Germany should pay at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and the other Allies established a Reparation Commission to settle the question. By 1921 the contentiousness for both the Allies and Germany began reaching crisis levels politically due to demands made at an inter-Allied conference that opened in Paris on 24 January.
In Germany, by the fall of 1920, life was returning to normal but the war's strain on the economy was apparent. And, while unemployment was not a major issue, both the government and business community were anxious for the report of the Reparation Commission—the "butcher's bill"—due in the spring of 1921. Lord D'Abernon, the British ambassador to Berlin, warned the Allies that Germany would not be able to repay.
The Port of Duisburg Occupied by Belgian Troops in March 1921
Adam Fergusson, historian of the Weimar Republic, describes what ensued:
France would not bend, though. [It was at] the Paris Inter-Allied conference, at the end of January 1921, where France, herself not far from insolvency, began making demands on Germany which D'Abernon described quite simply as 'amazing'. The figures that came out of Paris for German consideration, although nowhere near what the French had demanded, provoked shock in Germany...[By March,] France lost patience with the Germans and, by way of sanctions under the peace treaty, the Rhine ports of Duisburg, Ruhrort, and Dusseldorf were occupied by the Allies.
On 27 April, the commission set the final bill at 132 billion gold marks, approximately $31.5 billion. When Germany defaulted on a payment in January 1923, France and Belgium occupied the Ruhr in an effort to force payment. Instead, they met a government-backed campaign of passive resistance. Inflation in Germany, which had begun to accelerate in 1922, spiraled into hyperinflation. The value of the German currency collapsed; the battle over reparations had reached an impasse. It would be two years before the U.S.-sponsored Dawes and Young Plans would offer a possible solution to these challenges.
Sources: U.S. Department of State Website; When the Money Dies by Adam Fergusson
What's Happening with the USS Texas (BB-35)?
One of America's Heritage Treasures
You might have run across news that the last surviving World War I dreadnought, the USS Texas, was having its share of problems with its location, wear-and-tear on the decks and structural elements, and—most alarmingly—serious leaking. I'm happy to report, however, that things are looking up for the great ship. Now fully in the hands of the Battleship Texas Foundation through a 99-year lease, she has been undergoing restoration for over a year. At the San Jacinto State Park site, the leaks have been dramatically reduced, and clean-up and numerous onboard improvements have been conducted.
Now, what next? The larger scale and external restoration projects, which are expected to take a year, must be conducted in a shipyard with a dry-dock. The foundation has identified the best candidate and is currently in negotiations with them. They are hopeful the ship can be moved to the shipyard by May or June of 2021. In the meantime, there is another very important matter that needs to be resolved: the final home for the USS Texas. The San Jacinto site is just unable to handle the 250,000 yearly visitors that are anticipated, so some other prominent and accessible site on the Texas coastline needs to be selected and prepared. The target for opening the ship to the public at the new site is mid-2022.
Some of the Large Restoration Team
While the state of Texas has appropriated $35 million dollars to the restoration effort, that won't cover all the expenses. The Battleship Texas Foundation can use your support. They are selling a wide range of souvenirs to raise funds, and of course, they would really appreciate cash contributions. To find out more click: HERE.
A World War One Documentary
This ambitious CBC-produced documentary takes a fresh approach in telling the story of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment's service during the Great War. It was scheduled to commemorate the centenary of the tragedy of 1 July 1916 at Beaumont Hamel on the Somme battlefield, but it also covers all the major operations discussed above. The story starts at Suvla Bay where there is, as of yet, no Caribou Memorial, and then moves to the Western Front, and chronologically presents the stories of the five battlefields where Caribou Memorials are standing today. (See map above.)
One of the strengths of this 45-minute presentation (although sometimes it's a bit of a weakness) is the lack of polish of the presenters (both of whom had relatives in the regiment) and the "talking heads," most of whom are young Newfoundlanders who had relatives in the war. Almost all of their commentary is touching and heartfelt. A surprising appearance is also made by HRH Princess Anne, who does a wonderful job explaining why her great-grandfather chose to honor the Newfoundland Regiment with its "Royal" designation. The main narrative is strongest when it focuses on specific individuals like the regiment's Victoria Cross recipient, chaplain Father Nangle, or an underage shell-shocked boy who was released from prison because able-bodied men were in short supply and managed to get killed. In any case, the overall presentation is both informative and often insightful.