The Military of Newfoundland and Labrador - their lineage
^^^ Catholic Cadet Corps Drill on St. George's Field, St. John's, ca. 1910. A significant number of these boys would become the first recruits in 1914. Reproduced by permission of Colin Waye. ©2015 courtesy of Heritage Newfoundland
When the first World War broke out in 1914, Newfoundland was an independent country, equal on the World stage to Canada, or Australia, or the United States.
It had its own legislature, and currency, and stamps, and exercised control over its own internal affairs.
But it had no military.
It was the start of that war that ushered in a recruitment drive for military personnel and support staff. But that is only a small part of the story.
Britain had regularly sent troops to Newfoundland and Labrador (her oldest Colony), but it wasn't until1775 that Newfoundland recruited its own first military force.
Consisting of about 180 Newfoundlanders, they were quickly made a regular unit of the British army.
They not only provided local defence, but they also could serve in North America and helped to defend a young Canada against American invaders during the Revolutionary War. Indeed, it is a mark of Regimental pride that they contributed to Canada’s defence in the battles of Detroit, Frenchtown, Fort Meigs, Lake Erie, Fort Erie, Fort George, York, Quebec and Ogdensburg.
It is not generally known that Canada depended on fighting Newfoundlanders (among others) to protect its independence from American invaders, more than 138 years before the formation of the (new) Regiment in 1914.
Although the above force was disbanded in 1783, just ten years later, it was the French Revolution that again brought about the recruitment of a Newfoundland Militia, called The Royal Newfoundland Volunteers or The Royal Newfoundland Regiment. In 1794, a Regiment of Newfoundland Fencibles was formed which was transferred to Halifax and Annapolis in 1799 as The Newfoundland Regiment.
In 1812, when the American invasion was expected in Upper Canada, the Newfoundland Regiment was transferred to Quebec. By the early 19th century, due to relative peace, some disciplinary problems, and because “men were scarce when fish was plentiful”, the Regiment was again disbanded. In the following years, both a formal and an informal process of recruitment maintained a military identity with a variety of volunteers, fencibles, Veterans and infantry who served both locally and in North America.
By 1870, Britain had decided to permanently withdraw her forces from Newfoundland and Labrador. Around the same time, the Newfoundland Regiment had commenced a gradual state of disbandment. Thus, from 1870 to 1914 there was no military organization at all in Newfoundland.
Around this time all the Newfoundland Churches were establishing a type of cadet program. A significant number of these boys would become the first recruits in 1914.
While it is not possible to establish an unbroken link with that early band of soldiers, the present Newfoundland Regiment is proud to count its service as an integral part of its own tradition and lineage. Today, of course, the achievements of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment occupy a proud place in Canada’s military history.
In modern Canada, the Royal Newfoundland Regiment is an infantry Regiment consisting of two Battalions, situated in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Bolstered by their resilient lineage, and embraced by their proud legacy, they continue to serve and strive for peace on Canadian and UN missions all around the world.