The Rooms has been gathering stories that showcase how the people of Newfoundland and Labrador served and how it affected their lives and our ongoing history and culture.
In 2014, almost 400 residents from across Newfoundland and Labrador shared stories, artifacts, documents and photographs with us. Personal, moving and diverse, the stories reflect all types of service and impacts.
Many of these stories will be told in the Royal Newfoundland Regiment Gallery, opening July 1st, 2016. Others can be found in exhibitions and in the archives at The Rooms. A select few are right here.
Elsie Holloway opened a modern photography studio in St. John’s in 1908. During the war she was responsible for photographing thousands of men from Newfoundland and Labrador who had signed up to fight for King and Country. She was known to use the roll film format between 1910 and 1920, when that format became obsolete. Holloway Studios was responsible for taking many of the wartime photographs of soldiers and their activities in Newfoundland. Hundreds of photographs bearing the copyright “Holloway Studios” survive in the collection of The Rooms.
Robert Palfrey (Bert) Holloway worked with his sister in the family photography business in St. John’s. In 1915, Bert enlisted with the Newfoundland Regiment. He shipped out as a lieutenant in 1916, and his keen photographer’s eye was put to work sniping. Also an intelligence officer, in the field, Bert captured positions and gathered information at great personal risk.
Back in Newfoundland, some saw a new role for Bert. Newfoundland was without a war artist, and in 1917 a decision was made to ask him to shoot pictures on the battlefield. Unfortunately, before this was able to happen, Bert was lost at Monchy-le-Preux, France in April 1917. Newfoundland remained one of the few countries without a war artist.
Charles Forsey: Shrapnel and A Soldier’s Prayer
Charles Forsey, a lumberjack in Gambo, enlisted with the Newfoundland Regiment in 1917. As with all soldiers, he was issued a paybook. He carried it in his breast pocket, along with a copy of the Bible. Private Forsey suffered a gunshot wound in his left arm at Cambrai and while convalescing wrote a poem in the cover of his Bible called “A Soldier’s Prayer”. Back at the Front the following year, his regiment came under attack while any were sleeping in a barn en route to the front lines of Ypres, Forsey was shot in his right leg and it had to be amputated below the thigh. He wrote in his memoirs that after the operation, he received his belongings in hospital. It was only then he saw he had been hit in his chest by shrapnel. Pieces were embedded in his paybook and Bible. The books had saved his life. After his experience in the war, he became very devout.
When the Royal Newfoundland Regiment Gallery opens on July 1, 2016, you can see the holes made in those books and read a copy of “A Soldier’s Prayer”.
Allan Tetford: Wounded for Life
Allan Tetford of Laurencetown fought with the Newfoundland Regiment. He took three bullets—one in the arm, one in the leg and one in the chest—at Nieppe in April 1918. After six months convalescence, he was discharged.
Later in life, the battle at Nieppe came back to haunt him. When Tetford was in his fifties, living back in Laurencetown, he began to experience chest pains. He was rushed to Botwood for an x-ray. There, still buried in his chest, was a German bullet. The bullet had shifted, causing the chest pains. Doctors opted not to operate. Allan Tetford survived until 1973, and died still carrying that bullet.
An x-ray of his chest will be on display at the Royal Newfoundland Regiment Gallery, opening July 1, 2016 at The Rooms.
Armine Gosling: A Woman at the Wheel
Armine Gosling grew up the daughter of a prominent, political St. John’s family and inherited her sense of duty. Her father was the city mayor from 1916-20; her mother was a well-known suffragette.
Armine volunteered with the Red Cross to serve as an ambulance driver. In a St. John’s garage, she learned mechanics so that she’d be able to repair any issues “as quickly as [a man].”
A short time later, Armine was stationed in France and an ambulance was provided there by donors from Newfoundland. In addition to insisting that “Newfoundland” be painted on the side of the vehicle, the donors requested that “driver Gosling” be assigned to sit behind the wheel—“she being the only St. John’s girl at present on duty there.” She stayed behind the wheel until the end of the war.
Newfoundland Ships in Russian Waters
Steel hulled ships were introduced to the Newfoundland seal fishery in 1906. By 1914, Newfoundland had "the finest fleet of sealers and ice-breakers in the world.” With the outbreak of war, Russia was desperate for ships that could keep Russian ports free of ice and allow British munition ships in. Representatives from Russia came to Newfoundland to negotiate with merchant families for the purchase of their sealing vessels; they purchased the Bruce, Beothic, Adventure and Bellaventure. These worthy vessels went on to play a significant role in Russian naval history, sailing on important explorations in arctic waters.
“It’s a long way to Tipperary.”
In the opening days of the First World War, “It’s a long way to Tipperary” became the marching song of the British Army. Determined that the soldiers of Newfoundland and Labrador should also know the song, The Evening Telegram published the lyrics for all to learn on in September of 1914. As they marched towards the unknown, the Newfoundland Regiment soldier’s sang it with great enthusiasm.
Margaret “Madge” Taylor: A Volunteer’s Story
Originally born in Harbour Grace, Madge Taylor was living in Montreal when war broke out. Her mother originally refused to allow her to join up, but when Madge’s brother Richard Hayward Taylor (of the Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry) went missing in battle, she relented.
Madge volunteered to serve with the British Red Cross, hoping she might find Richard in a hospital overseas. Madge was posted to a convalescent hospital in England. Among many jobs that filled her long days, she carried vats of hot water up from the basement to bathe soldiers as they were admitted.
Madge never found her brother, but she did meet her husband to be, Capt. William H. Parsons, who she married in 1918.
In the Royal Newfoundland Regiment Gallery, opening July 1, 2016 at The Rooms, you’ll meet many women like Madge who served overseas.
A Death Plaque was issued to the families of all men who died in service to the British Empire during the Great War. Cast in bronze, the plaque was made to resemble a penny. It depicts the figure of Britannia holding a wreath in her extended left hand and a trident in her right. Two dolphins on the penny symbolize the power of the British Navy. A lion on the bottom of the medallion is tearing apart the German eagle. Each lost soldier’s name was engraved on the plaque, but rank was not included. This symbolized that all people who fought and fell were considered equal.
When the Newfoundland Regiment’s “First Five Hundred” departed our shores in 1914, they wore thin blue wool wrapped from below the knee to the ankle. The fabric wraps, called “puttees,” differed so distinctly from the khaki cloth that British soldiers wore that the Newfoundland Regiment members soon came to be known—and are still revered today—as the Blue Puttees.
On October 3, 1914, the Newfoundland Regiment’s “First Five Hundred” (actually 537 soldiers) marched from the training camp to board the SS Florizel, a steamer and sealing vessel that had been converted into a troopship. They were cheered on by a large gathering. The next day, the troops began their journey overseas. Most were anticipating a grand adventure in Europe, and most expected a quick victory. Although they had enlisted for a year, many believed they would be home by Christmas. About 20 percent would never return; those who came home soonest did so because they had been injured. The soldiers who remained overseas for the war’s full four-year duration came home to find economic, political and social changes had affected Newfoundland and Labrador. You can read more about the effects of the war in the virtual exhibit The Newfoundland Regiment and the Great War.
Some of the battle fields where the Newfoundland Regiment fought form what is known as the “Trail of the Caribou.” The Regiment’s caribou emblem was copied from the Newfoundland Highlanders, a cadet corps formed in 1907 that used it. On October 2, 1915 members of the St. John Ambulance stood at the street corners in St. John’s selling the caribou emblem. Their goal was to have every person “wearing the emblem of the 1st Newfoundland Regiment in Honour of our boys who have had their first baptism of fire in the Dardanelles.”
The caribou symbol of the regiment and the province (then a dominion), stands facing the enemy line with its head thrown back in defiance. In the 1920s, five monuments were erected along the Trail of Caribou in Europe: Beaumont-Hamel, Gueudecourt, Monchy-le-Preux, and Masnières in France, as well as Courtrai in Belgium. A replica of the monument also stands in Bowring Park in St. John’s.
As part of their kit, every soldier was given a “housewife.” This small white cotton pouch contained all that a soldier would require to carry out any repairs to his clothing. Included in the housewife was a thimble, two balls of grey darning wool (for socks), 50 yards of linen thread, and buttons. The housewife was stowed within the soldier’s duffel bag. Meanwhile, back home, women worked diligently through organizations like the Women’s Patriotic Association—created by Lady Davidson, the wife of the Governor of Newfoundland—to provide comforts for the men overseas. In particular, they knitted socks and caps.
More comfortable on the sea than on land, many men from Newfoundland and Labrador joined the Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve when war broke out. Others had served with the reserve for years—long before the war. But like the soldiers on land, they faced hardship and many dangers, whether from enemy vessels or the elements. For example, in 1915, the HMS Clan MacNaughton sank in heavy seas, killing 22 seamen. It was one of the largest losses of Newfoundland’s Reservists.
An Aboriginal trapper and hunter from Labrador, John Shiwak was a good scout and an excellent shot. He likened his work as a sniper to “swatching seals.” In contests set up against British soldiers, Shiwak won every time. His death in France in 1917 had a profound effect on the Regiment.
As the Newfoundland Regiment advanced toward the enemy on July 1, 1916 at Beaumont-Hamel, there was a tree halfway down the slope that marked the spot where German fire seemed to become particularly intense. This gnarled tree was nicknamed the "danger tree" by the Newfoundland troops and it marked the spot where many of them would fall that morning. The Danger Tree stands as a monument to the fallen of the Newfoundland Regiment at Beaumont-Hamel and is considered just as important a memorial as the caribou monument erected there and the park itself.
Soldiers were each given a small book that contained information to advise them on how best to be a soldier. It contained a listing of officer’s ranks, as well as a wide range of information, including how to keep clean, rules for going on leave—even advice on getting married.
Margaret “Maggie” Osmond of Moreton’s Harbour, like many women on the home front, knitted comforts for the soldiers overseas. Socks and other items were gathered and shipped overseas. Often, women put a note in the toe of a sock that included the knitter’s name. Maggie’s eldest son Douglas had enlisted with the Newfoundland Regiment in 1914. According to an article published in the Twillingate Sun, a Canadian soldier approached a group of Newfoundlanders and asked if one of them was an Osmond. When Douglas said he was, the Canadian asked if he knew a Maggie Osmond whose small note he had discovered in the toe of a sock. The two soldiers swapped socks, and Douglas found comfort at the Front in socks his own mother had knit. Unfortunately, Douglas died of gunshot wounds sustained at Beaumont-Hamel.
One of the more popular pastimes at the front, was the creation by soldiers of “trench art” fashioned from discarded bullets and shell casings. The soldiers regarded trench art as souvenirs of service, and brought many pieces back to Newfoundland and Labrador after the war. The Rooms has a number of First World War trench art artifacts.
Leonard Roberts is said to have walked several days from Seal Island, Labrador to Battle Harbour, where the Rangers were located. But when the Aboriginal man tried to sign up, he was rejected because of his flat feet, considered no good for marching. He then walked home to Seal Islands.
Sometimes called the “Mother of the Regiment,” Miss May Furlong was a St. John’s shopkeeper whose shop reflected her intense dedication to the soldiers fighting overseas. As a member of the Women’s Patriotic Association, she organized Forget-Me-Not and Poppy Days. After the war, she led the Great War Veteran’s Association’s Ladies Auxiliary, earning recognition for her service to ex-servicemen and their families.
A.J. Stacey, one of the Newfoundland Regiment’s First Five Hundred, was made a “batman” (battalion messenger) at the Front. He was responsible for delivering messages to commanding officers, medical officers, and sometimes transport and brigade headquarters, and for guiding newly-arrived reinforcements to their place on the lines. At one point, he was even in charge of a flock of carrier pigeons, but the birds had to be destroyed when the Germans advanced. Later in the war, Stacey became a postman for the Regiment responsible for keeping track of the registered mail. He kept letters in a German knapsack he’d collected. It was the perfect size to fit under his head as he slept, so he could keep letters safe until the recipients signed his register book and received their mail.
Dr. Cluny MacPherson casts an impressive figure in the history of our province. Physician, solider and magistrate, he volunteered as a member of Sir Wilfred Grenfell’s Labrador Mission. He worked with his wife Eleanora to open chapters of St. John Ambulance in Newfoundland, and served as a Major in the Newfoundland Regiment. However, he is best known around the world for his life-saving invention, the gas mask, which helped save countless lives in the First World War and in many conflicts since. You can see an early gas mask in our collection.
Mascot Sable Chief
The mascot of the Newfoundland Regiment was a Newfoundland dog named Sable Chief. The gift of Canadian Captain C. W. Firebrace, Sable grew to weigh more than 160 pounds. His handler, St. John’s native Private Hazen Frazer, was just 17 when he enlisted, so his responsibility for the canine mascot kept Frazer off the battlefield. Sable marched with the regimental band and visited wounded troops; his dignified bearing made him a great favourite and morale booster. Sadly, Sable was killed in a truck accident in 1919. He was subsequently sent to a taxidermist for preservation before being sent back to Newfoundland. He is now in the collection of The Rooms—and visitors will soon be able to meet him.
Tommy Rickets was a fisherman in Middle Arm, White Bay, Newfoundland. In 1916, he was just 15 when he enlisted—though his papers claimed that he was 18. His bravery in battle in Belgium made him the youngest person ever to receive the Victoria Cross. In that battle, he was part of a small contingent advancing under heavy fire toward enemy machine guns. When the ammunition gave out, Private Ricketts at once doubled back 100 yards, procured some ammunition and dashed back to the Lewis gun. His very accurate fire drove the enemy and their gun teams into a farm. His platoon then advanced without casualties, and captured four field guns, four machine guns and eight prisoners. His quick thinking and disregard for his own safety were credited when he was awarded the Victoria Cross. He was promoted to Sergeant. After the war, Tommy studied pharmacy and opened his own on shop on Water Street in St. John’s.
A fisherman from Twillingate who worked with his father before the war, Ned White enlisted in 1915, and very soon after shipping out sustained a gunshot wound at the Dardanelles that resulted in an amputation just above the knee. After recovering in England and being outfitted with a prosthetic leg, he returned to Newfoundland and was discharged August 28, 1917 as medically unfit. A few months later, he joined back up so he could help with recruiting in Newfoundland. When his father took ill, Ned returned to Twillingate where he lived the rest of his life.
With cotton wool becoming more expensive due to its use in munitions, the more absorbent moss dressings surged in popularity. Newfoundland, with all its bogs and marshes, was a plentiful source for sphagnum moss, which had long been used extensively by indigenous people due to its antiseptic and absorbent properties. Volunteers squelched into boggy areas to collect the moss, then dried it. It was packed in barrels and sent to hospitals throughout Europe to dress war wounds.
Embroidered postcards from the First World War are referred to as “Silks". They were produced between 1914 -1918 by French and Belgian women refugees who worked in their homes and refugee camps, the “Silks” were popular with Newfoundland soldiers who purchased them to send home to their loved ones. The cards were generally hand embroidered on strips of silk mesh. The themes for most of the silks produced are patriotic and feature Allied flags and symbols.
In his letter home on June 29, 1916—his last—Mayo Lind noted that before the “Big Push” on July 1st at Beaumont-Hamel, the Germans had held up a sign asking “When are the White Indians from Newfoundland coming over?” The identifier seems to have stuck. In 1916, a series of Colonial and Indian Army Badges were issued by Player and Sons. The First Newfoundland Regiment is identified on this trading card as “The White Indians.”
The children in Newfoundland played a significant role in the First World War. Governor Davidson reported that they were funding 30 Cots (beds) in the Newfoundland Ward at the Red Cross and St. John Hospital at Le Treport, France. They maintained these beds by encouraging individuals to subscribe, which meant signing their sponsorships forms with a financial commitment. The cost of each bed was $500. The name of the donor, organization or community, was placed on the tablet at the head of the bed.
Not all Newfoundland men who served overseas enlisted with combative forces. Almost 500 men, many of them from central Newfoundland, joined the non-combative Newfoundland Forestry Corps. These men lumbered trees in Scotland to aid the war effort. The lumber was used on the front lines to shore up trenches and build walkways.
A fungal infection of the feet brought on by exposure to damp, cold conditions proved to be a huge problem in the war. Some 20,000 casualties were reputed to have been suffered by the British Army from “trench foot” at the close of 1914. In Newfoundland, businessman Mr. Edgar Bowring and Governor Walter Davidson encouraged experimenting with seal skin boots as the official Army boot. Many Newfoundland soldiers in the wet trenches of Europe were quick to write home asking loved ones to send them seal skinned boots, which they knew would be more effective against trench foot. Local newspaper advertisements boasted “Nearly every day we sell at least one pair of Skin Boots to be sent to the trenches they are so much superior to all other kinds of footwear that the wearer of a pair is envied by all those who are not so fortunate. You may be wise to send your boy a pair and be sure to get the best kind – sewn with sinew.”
Recruiting efforts continued throughout the war, but over time the number of recruits dwindled. Officers of the Newfoundland Regiment visited the outports encouraging the young men to sign up to fight for King and Country. Mr. W.B. Grieve, Secretary of the Recruiting Committee in 1917, promised to the Regiment that “… we have sent drummers and buglers to some of the outports to assist the recruiting” and in St. John’s the ‘Band’ marched Water Street with the hope that it would give “an impetus to Recruiting.” It was said that “No skillful general would send forth a recruiting officer without a military band. Such a band playing national airs, will do more in filling up the soldierly ranks, among a loyal people than can be achieved by the most glowing eloquence, or the most lavish expenditure of a national treasure.”
At the end of the First World War towns throughout Newfoundland were vying for enemy field guns, transport mortars on carriages, German Howitzers and field guns for display in their communities. These had been captured from the Germans. These were the ‘war trophies’. They were proof of military success by the soldiers of Newfoundland and Labrador.