Newfoundland and Labrador: a Contribution Remembered (part 14)


^^^ Pictured above Royal Newfoundland Regiment Crossing the Rhine into Germany, December 13, 1918

Pictured are Capt. Arthur Raley (left) and Lt. Col. A. E. Bernard (right).

Courtesy of the Rooms Provincial Archives Division (VA-28-146), St. John's, NL (link)

“I was in a dugout with five others…A shell hit…All five except me were killed…the next day they dug me out.”

- Private G Hapgood later writes of his experience at Harlebeke 1918


On January 9th, 1918, following several weeks of rest and refitting, the Newfoundland Regiment again returned to front-line duty in the Ypres Salient. This time they were positioned in trenches 10 miles East of Ypres, near Vindictive Corner, and Hell Fire Corner at Passchendaele.

For a month or so, there was little action except the building of five lines of defence trenches between Ypres and Poperinge. A new German offensive was expected at any time, and it came on March 21st with the attack of 71 German Divisions.

Private G Hapgood later writes of this experience: “I was in a dugout with five others…A shell hit…All five except me were killed…the next day they dug me out.”

By April 5th, when the offensive had been fought to a standstill, the Allied armies had suffered nearly a quarter-million casualties – some of whom were Newfoundlanders.

Then, on April 9th, the Newfoundlanders were suddenly hauled away to support defences back in France. When they boarded the trucks in Poperinge, shells were falling all around them. After a two-hour lorry drive through the Flanders Hills they arrived near Bailleul in France.

Here, another powerful German offensive commenced on April 12th. It was very costly to the Newfoundlanders, with a total of 176 casualties. Many acts of bravery occurred, including many that could never be recorded (we'll talk about this in a future post).

Due to sustained heavy casualties, the Newfoundlanders were taken out of the front lines on April 30th, again for refitting and receiving new troops.

The Regiment earned the honour to have the name “BAILLEUL” emblazoned on its colours. General Cayley gave them this glowing tribute “At Suvla, Beaumont Hamel, Gueudecourt, Monchy, Ypres, Cambrai and Bailleuil, these Newfoundlanders have consistently maintained the highest standard of fighting efficiency and determination. They can look back on a record of which they and their countrymen have every right to be proud.”

The Regiment spent the next few months guarding the headquarters of Sir Douglas Haig at Etaples. This was a great honour that was typically rewarded to crack British troops for their renowned fighting efficiency.

Here, spiffy to the core, and disciplined beyond compare, they frequently enjoyed “pulling the pissers” of the stiff British officers.

On one occasion, when the Battalion was marching past a platoon of the Women’s Corps, they gave a sharp command of “Eyes left”, followed by “Eyes front” to the dismay of a group of very senior British officers who were on their right.

By September, the Newfoundlanders were again ready for action and once again, they headed back to the Poperinge area.

In fact, they were assigned to the very same trenches they had helped build two years before. It was noticeable by now that the trail of the Caribou was fast coming to an end. Actions at various points in this final Battle of Ypres proved that the German Army was rapidly running out of steam.

The Regiment was at Harelbeke on November 11th when they heard the news of the Armistice.

On December 4th they commenced their march across Belgium and into Germany where they remained as part of the Army of occupation until Feb 14th. Here, they would celebrate their fourth Christmas away from home. They then proceeded to London where the Regiment took part in the massive Victory Parade on May 3rd.