Newfoundland and the Great War: a Contribution Remembered (part 2)


October 1914, the first contingent of the recently-raised Newfoundland Regiment left St John’s for England on SS Florizel


From the Western Front to the Home Front, from Nursing to Forestry: the Forgotten Contributions of Newfoundland

Recently, we featured the exploits of the famed Royal Newfoundland Regiment in World War One. While these men absolutely deserve our admiration and profound respect, we must also hasten to also acknowledge the immense contributions of many others too. Great numbers of brave women and men from Newfoundland and Labrador also served in WW1 in other ways. They served on land, at sea, and in the air. Among many other roles, they defended the Home Front, served as nurses in overseas military hospitals, served in the forests of Scotland, and plied international waters as merchant mariners. And rarely is sufficient acknowledgement given to the many others who worked tirelessly at home in supporting those who served offshore.



When the First World War broke out, the prevailing view was that it would be won on land and thus the initial priority was contributing to the Army. It was soon realized however that additional recruitment had to be done. Soon, 8,707 men enlisted in the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, the Royal Naval Reserve and the Newfoundland Forestry Corps. 3,296 enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (even though Canada was a foreign country at the time). 175 women served overseas as Nurses or with the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD.) Some men served in both the British Royal Flying Corps and The Royal Air Force. At least 505 men were Merchant Mariners serving on ships ferrying passengers, troops and cargo to allied ports.



Because Newfoundlanders and Labradorians were extremely familiar with the sea, they were eagerly sought out because of their renowned skills in boat handling. More than 2000 of them were dispersed throughout the (British) Royal Navy and served as gunners and deckhands on armed merchant vessels and Q boats. Some served as Naval Reservists in the Royal Navy’s 10th Cruiser Squadron.



At least two hundred women served overseas as Nurses and Assistants. They worked long hours in crowded and chaotic hospitals treating an ever-increasing number of wounded soldiers being evacuated in from the front. Other women served as ambulance drivers, clerks, cooks and welfare officers, etc.



Over 500 men served in the Newfoundland Forestry Corps and they cleared over 1200 acres of forested land in Scotland. In this way they provided critical lumber for the pit-props in mining, floorboards for trenches, logs for railway ties and road building and posts for shoring-up underground bunkers and tunnels.



3,296 men joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) and fought all over the Allied fronts, including Vimy Ridge, Passchendaele, Ypres and the Somme. At least 21 men from Newfoundland and Labrador joined the (British) Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Air Force.

Finally, we must especially acknowledge those who kept the home fires burning all across Newfoundland and Labrador. They were the mothers, fathers, wives, children and sweethearts who never ceased to love and support their brave ones who were contributing to the fight all over the world. These faithful stalwarts never received any medals and only scant recognition. Many spent their remaining years living in broken-hearted bereavement. Even when their loved ones did return home, (who were often wounded in body, mind and spirit) they never ceased to care for them. Their love was unconditional. For them, the war didn’t end in 1918. They endured the fighting for the rest of their lives.



So, let’s remember every last one of them. Or, as Vera Lynn sang – “Bless em all…Bless em all…”



 

By Guest Author: Gerry Peddle


OMM. CD. BA. LTh. BD. DD.

Archdeacon Gerald Peddle was ordained a Priest of the Anglican Church of Canada in 1969. Now retired from active ministry, he has served parishes in Newfoundland and Labrador, Québec, Ontario and the Arctic. He has also served as a Chaplain to the Canadian Armed Forces. His final appointment, in the rank of Brigadier General, was as the Chaplain General at National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa. Subsequently, for the next six years he provided specialist ministry to both National Defence and Veterans Affairs Canada. In total, he has served more than 51 years in active ministry.


Gerry currently serves as the Chairman of the Board for Beechwood, Canada's National Military Cemetery in Ottawa. He has also served as an International Guide, specializing in Battlefield Tours for several years.


In June 2022, we look forward to having Gerry back on the battlefields with us, escorting us on this special pilgrimage, alongside our regular battlefield team.