Royal Newfoundland Regiment: Wikis


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Royal Newfoundland Regiment
Royal newfoundland regiment crest.jpg
Cap badge of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment
Active 1795-Present
Country Canada
Branch Reserve
Type Line Infantry
Role Light Infantry
Size Three battalions
Part of Royal Canadian Infantry Corps
Garrison/HQ RHQ - St. John's
1st Battalion - St. John's
2nd Battalion - HQ and B COY Grand Falls-Windsor
A COY - Corner Brook
C COY - Stephenville
Nickname The Blue Puttees
Motto Better than the Best
March Quick - The Banks of Newfoundland
Anniversaries ANZAC Day - 25 Apr
Memorial Day - 1 Jul
Lieutenant Colonel Brennan
Colonel in Chief HRH The Princess Royal

The Royal Newfoundland Regiment - (R NFLD R) traces its origins to 1795, and since 1949 it has been a militia or reserve unit of the Canadian Forces. During the First World War the battalion-sized regiment was the only North American unit to fight in the Gallipoli campaign of 1915. Later in the war the regiment was virtually wiped out at Beaumont Hamel on July 1, 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Since then July 1 has been marked as Memorial Day in Newfoundland and Labrador.


Early history

A Newfoundland regiment was first founded, to serve in the British Army, in 1795. It was disbanded and refounded several times under different names, including His Majesty's Royal Newfoundland Regiment of Foot, The Royal Newfoundland Veterans Companies and, The Royal Newfoundland Companies. The regiment dates its origin to 1795, when Major Thomas Skinner of the Royal Engineers stationed in St. John's at Fort Townshend, was ordered to raise a regiment.[1]

The regiment was significantly involved in the War of 1812. Soldiers of the regiment fought aboard ships as marines in battles of the Great Lakes, as infantry in Michigan, and in the battle to defend York (Toronto). It was largely distributed throughout the zone as attached sub-units and not as a formed battalion. It was disbanded in 1816. A monument depicting a toy soldier of the 1813 Royal Newfoundland Regiment standing over a fallen American toy soldier was unveiled in Toronto in November 2008.[2]

World War I


Outbreak of war

Newfoundland Regiment, No. 3 Platoon, A Company, Fort George, Scotland, ca. 1915

During the First World War Newfoundland was a largely rural Dominion of the British Empire with a population of 240,000, and not yet part of Canada.[3] The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 led the Government of Newfoundland to recruit a force for service with the British Army.[4] Even though the island had not possessed any formal military organization since 1870, enough men soon volunteered that a whole battalion was formed, and later maintained throughout the war.[5] The regiment was nicknamed the "Blue Puttees" due to a fabric shortage which saw the regiment wearing blue puttees rather than the standard olive drab puttees.[6] The regiment trained at various locations in the United Kingdom and increased from an initial contingent of 500 men to full battalion strength of 1,000 men, before being deployed.[7] After a period of acclimatization in Egypt, the regiment was deployed at Suvla Bay on the Gallipoli peninsula with the 29th British Division in support of the Gallipoli Campaign.[8]


On 20 September, 1915 the regiment landed at Suvla Bay on the Gallipoli peninsula, where the British VIII Corps, IX Corps and the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) had been attempting to seize control of the Dardanelles Strait from Turkey since the first landings on 25 April. At Gallipoli the 1st Newfoundland Regiment faced snipers, artillery fire and severe cold, as well as the trench warfare hazards of cholera, dysentery, typhus, gangrene and trench foot. Over the next three months thirty soldiers of the regiment were killed or mortally wounded in action and ten died of disease; 150 were treated for frostbite and exposure. Despite the terrible conditions, the Newfoundlanders stood up well. When the decision was made to evacuate all British Empire forces from the area, the regiment was chosen to be a part of the rearguard, finally withdrawing from Gallipoli with the last of the British Dardanelles Army troops on 9 January, 1916. With the close of the Gallipoli Campaign the regiment spent a short period recuperating before being transferred to the Western Front in March 1916.[9]

Battle of the Somme

In France, the regiment regained battalion strength in preparation for the Battle of the Somme. The regiment, still with the 29th British Division, went into the line in April 1916 at Beaumont-Hamel.[10] Beaumont-Hamel was situated near the northern end of the 45 kilometre front being assaulted by the joint French and British force. The attack, originally scheduled for 29 June, 1916 was postponed by two days to July 1, 1916, partly on account of inclement weather, partly to allow more time for the artillery preparation.[11] The 29th British Division, with its three infantry brigades faced defences manned by experienced troops of the 119th (Reserve) Infantry Regiment of the 26th (Wurttemberg) Reserve Division.[12] The 119th (Reserve) Infantry Regiment had been involved in the invasion of France in August 1914 and had been manning the Beaumont-Hamel section of the line for nearly 20 months prior to the battle.[12] The German troops spending a great deal of their time not only training but fortifying their position, including the construction of numerous deep dugouts and at least two tunnels.[12][13]

Newfoundland soldiers waiting in St. John's Road support trench

The infantry assault by the 29th British Division on 1 July, 1916 was to be preceded ten minutes earlier by a mine explosion under the heavily fortified Hawthorn Ridge Redoubt.[14] The explosion of the 18,000 kilogram (40,000 lb) Hawthorn Mine underneath the German lines successfully destroyed a major enemy strong point but also served to alert the German forces to the imminent attack.[15] Following the explosion, troops of the 119th (Reserve) Infantry Regiment immediately deployed from their dugouts into the firing line, even preventing the British from taking control of the resulting crater as they had planned.[16] When the assault finally began, the troops from the 86th and 87th Brigade of the 29th British Division were quickly stopped. With the exception of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers on the right flank, the initial assault foundered in No Man's Land at, or short of, the German barbed wire.[17] At divisional headquarters, Major-General Beauvoir De Lisle and his staff were trying to unravel the numerous and confusing messages coming back from observation posts, contact aircraft and the two leading brigades. There were indications that some troops had broken into and gone beyond the German first line.[18] In an effort to exploit the perceived break in the German line he ordered the 88th Brigade, which was in reserve, to send forward two battalions to support attack.[19]

It was a magnificent display of trained and disciplined valour, and its assault only failed of success because dead men can advance no further.[20]
—Major-General Sir Beauvoir De Lisle referring to the Newfoundland Regiment at Beaumont-Hamel

At 8:45 a.m. the Newfoundland Regiment and 1st Battalion of the Essex Regiment received orders to move forward.[19] The Newfoundland Regiment was situated at St. John's Road, a support trench 250 yards (230 m) behind the British forward line and out of sight of the enemy.[21] Movement forward through the communication trenches was not possible because they were congested with dead and wounded men and under shell fire.[22] Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Lovell Hadow, the battalion commander, decided to move immediately into attack formation and advance across the surface, which involved first navigating through the British barbed wire defences.[21] As they breasted the skyline behind the British first line, they were effectively the only troops moving on the battlefield and clearly visible to the German defenders.[22] Subjected to the full force of the 119th (Reserve) Infantry Regiment, most of the Newfoundland Regiment who had started forward were dead, dying or wounded within 15 to 20 minutes of leaving St. John's Road trench.[23] Most reached no further than the Danger Tree, a skeleton of a tree that lay in No Man's Land that was being utilized as a landmark.[24] So far as can be ascertained, 22 officers and 758 other ranks were directly involved in the advance.[24] Of these, all the officers and slightly under 658 other ranks became casualties.[24] Of the 780 men who went forward only about 110 survived unscathed, of whom only 68 were available for roll call the following day.[24] For all intents and purposes the Newfoundland Regiment had been wiped out, the unit as a whole having suffered a casualty rate of approximately 90%. The only unit to suffer greater casualties during the attack was the 10th Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment, attacking west of Fricourt village.[25]

After Beaumont-Hamel

Royal Newfoundland Regiment crossing the Rhine into Germany, 1918

Although significantly understrength, the Newfoundland Regiment continued to see service and after taking on reinforcements was back in the front line on 14 July near Auchonvillers.[26] On 17 July the 88th Brigade was transferred to a quieter portion of the Western Front.[26] In the weeks and months following the attack, as the surviving officers wrote letters of condolence to families and relatives in Newfoundland. A period of recovery coupled with additional reinforcements would eventually help the regiment return to full strength. Six weeks later they were beating off a German gas attack in Flanders. Subsequently they distinguished themselves in a number of battles; back on the Somme at Gueudecourt in October 1916; on 23 April 1917, at Monchy-le-Preux during the Battle of Arras, where they lost 485 men in a day but checked a German attack. In November 1917 at Masnières-Marcoing during the Battle of Cambrai the regiment stood its ground although outflanked and in April 1918 stemmed a German advance at Bailleul. Following a period out of the line providing the guard force for General Headquarters at Montreuil, they joined the 28th Brigade of the 9th (Scottish) Division and were in action again at Ledegem and beyond in the advances of the Hundred Days Offensive during which Thomas Ricketts became the youngest soldier of the war to win the Victoria Cross.

First World War honours

In recognition of the unit's valour during the later battles at Ypres and Cambrai of 1917, King George V bestowed the regiment with the prefix "Royal" on 28 September, 1917, renaming them as the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.[27] This was the only time during the First World War that this honour was given and only the third time in the history of the British Army that it has been given during a time of war, the last occasion having been 101 years earlier.[27]

Later history

When World War II began, as Dominion governed directly from the UK, Newfoundland declared war a day after the United Kingdom, on September 4, 1939. However no Newfoundland infantry units were sent overseas. Instead, it raised two artillery regiments; the 59 Heavy (Newfoundland) Regiment and the 57 (later 166)[28](Newfoundland) Field Artillery Regiment. These units saw service in Africa, Italy, and Europe.

In 1949, after a pair of referenda, Newfoundland joined Canada as the latter's 10th province. The Royal Newfoundland Regiment became the primary militia unit for the province. The regiment is ranked last in the order of precedence of Canadian infantry regiments due to Newfoundland's entry into Canada in 1949, long after other Canadian regiments were recognized in the order of precedence.

Since 1992, soldiers and sub-units of the regiment have served to augment Regular Force units in Cyprus, Bosnia, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan on peacekeeping and combat missions.

Popular culture

The Song "Recruiting Sergeant" by Great Big Sea is about the regiment and its actions in Suvla and in France.

The novels of Kenneth Tam, in the "His Majesty's New World" series (The Grasslands and The Frontier) concern an alternate reality, where the Royal Newfoundland Regiment and its personnel are most of the main protagonists of the story.


See also

Order of precedence

Preceded by:
The Toronto Scottish Regiment
The Royal Newfoundland Regiment Succeeded by:
Last in order of precedence of Infantry regiments


  1. ^ Jack L. Summers and Rene Chartrand. "History and Uniform of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment of Fencible Infantry". Canadian War Museum. Retrieved 2008-11-04. 
  2. ^ Alcoba, Natalie (November 3, 2008). "Coupland's War of 1812 monument tweaks U.S. noses". National Post. Retrieved 2008-11-04. 
  3. ^ Castell pp. 153–156 [Newfoundland's Position and War Policy — 1915]
  4. ^ Nicholson p. 98
  5. ^ Nicholson p. 88
  6. ^ Facey-Crowther, Jaipal Singh (2003). Lieutenant Owen William Steele of the Newfoundland Regiment: Diary and Letters. McGill-Queen's Press. p. 253. ISBN 0773524282. 
  7. ^ Nicholson pp. 121–154
  8. ^ Nicholson pp. 155–192
  9. ^ Nicholson p. 480
  10. ^ Nicholson pp. 239–242
  11. ^ Nicholson pp. 253, 261
  12. ^ a b c Nicholson p. 243
  13. ^ Sheldon p. 66 [Contemporary map of the dugouts and tunnels associated directly with Y Ravine in June 1916]
  14. ^ Rose & Nathanail p. 404
  15. ^ Rose & Nathanail pp. 404–405
  16. ^ Nicholson p. 264–265 [Quoting the diaries of the 119th (Reserve) Infantry Regiment]
  17. ^ Nicholson p. 266
  18. ^ Nicholson p. 268 [A German flare to indicate shells were falling short of target was mistakenly identified as a British flare used to indicate the first objective had been taken]
  19. ^ a b Nicholson p. 268
  20. ^ Gilbert p. 64
  21. ^ a b Nicholson p. 270
  22. ^ a b Nicholson p. 271
  23. ^ Nicholson pp. 270, 273
  24. ^ a b c d Nicholson p. 274
  25. ^ Farr p. 88
  26. ^ a b Nicholson p. 284
  27. ^ a b Nicholson p. 423–424
  28. ^ 166th Newfoundland Regiment

External links


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