From Gallipoli to Beaumont Hamel
^^^ Newfoundland Soldiers in St. John's Road Support Trench, July 1, 1916
This picture was taken before the start of the attack, July 1, 1916.
Courtesy of the Rooms Provincial Archives Division (NA 3105), St. John's, NL www.heritage.nf.ca
On January 9th,1916, the men of the Newfoundland Regiment were evacuated from Gallipoli (Turkey) – the only North American troops to have served there. Having fought at Suvla Bay and Cape Helles, and having been away from home for sixteen months, many would have thought their job was now done. (They had signed up for 1 year or less.)
Surely, they would be going home now, if only for a brief furlough.
We can only imagine their reactions when they were told the plans.
They were going to the Western Front.
The Regiment, consisting of 23 officers and 560 other ranks embarked on the Cunard Liner “Alaunia” disembarked at Marseilles, France on March 22nd, 1916. By a combination of troop-trains and marching, they were “in the line” one month later, on April 22nd, close to a place they had never heard of - Beaumont Hamel.
But, while they must have been exhausted, they were now “blooded.”
They were now numbered among Britain’s most experienced soldiers. And, they were ready. Several drafts of reinforcements consisting of 4 officers and 397 men arrived by the end of June, bringing the Regiment back up to full strength.
While they waited for “the big push” on The Somme, they built trenches, conducted trench raids, and generally got ready.
Sniping was always a feared activity and, two days after they arrived, on April 24th, Private George Curnew became the Regiment’s first casualty since arriving in France.
They were introduced to their newfound and intimate companions (alongside lice) – the Trench Rats. Weighing as much as cats, they roamed day and night and were always a germ-carrying nuisance.
They also learned a new “Law” – the deeper the trench the larger the rat.
So, for the Newfoundlanders, the period of waiting and training was now over. Their rehearsals were done. The show was about to start.
They formed up along the Hamel Road trench (later to be re-named St. John’s Road) and, at their appointed time, would simply cross over no-mans-land and quickly overwhelm the German defences. The order was explicit – “on no account would any man stop at the first line of German trenches…”
Instead, they were expected to keep going, and after mopping up the first line, they would keep going to the second lines of German trenches.
Sounded good. What could possibly go wrong?
At 2 am on July 1st, after several hours of heavy marching, the weary Newfoundlanders settled into their support trenches. Soaked in sweat, with their backs leaning against the cold trench walls, they tried to doze.