Military Service Files
Over 6000 men enlisted in the Newfoundland Regiment during the First World War. Each soldier had his own story. Some soldiers' stories were very short; other soldiers who were lucky enough to survive the war had a longer story to tell. Each story is compelling.
Below are some of the documents that can be viewed in a soldier's file. Each is described and will help the viewer to understand the file.
Summary of Key Documents in the Files of Newfoundland Regiment Soldiers
Page one of this document can be viewed as a sign-up sheet or contract. It contains information such as:
- Name, age, address, occupation, wage level, and marital status
- Height, weight, eye colour, hair colour, distinguishing marks such as tattoos, and scars
- Name and address of the next of kin
- Previous military service
- Entries on this page are handwritten
- This page is often missing in the files of officers
- Part way through the war, this page was modified to ask, among other things, "Are you a British Subject?" and "Are you willing to be vaccinated or re-vaccinated?"
- Earlier papers have the enlistee's regimental number in the upper right, while in later papers it is found in the upper left
- Sometimes scrawled across page one is proof that the soldier decided to stay on after his first tour was up (e.g. "Re-engaged for duration of war. Aldershot 14 Aug. 1915")
The top of page two repeats parts of page one:
- It is often typewritten
- There is more detail about any spouse or children
- The bottom of the page is completed later and contains a Statement of the Services — usually handwritten — which records major events in the soldier's career (travel, wounds, promotions, date of demobilization)
- Finally, there is a tally of the soldier's total length of service in years and days
For the First Five Hundred, the Statement of the Services typically reads, in part:
- Embarked S.S. Florizel for U.K. 3/10/14
- Embarked M.E.F. (Mediterranean Expeditionary Force) 20/8/15
- Disembarked Alexandria and entrained for Cairo 31/8/15
- Embarked for Gallipoli 13/9/15
- Landed Suvla Bay night of 19-20 Sept./15
- Evacuated and arrived Alexandria 15/1/16
- Proceeded to Suez 16/1/16
- Embarked Port Suez 14/3/16
- Disembarked Marseille 22/3/16
This document records:
- Times and places where misconduct occurred
- Names of witnesses and the punishment handed down
- Occasionally, this document is missing from a file (particularly in the case of officers)
- Because this document often lists the soldier's date of enlistment, age on enlistment, trade, religion (and, on some documents, the place of birth), this is an excellent source of information if the attestation paper is damaged or difficult to read
As this document indicates, it is a "record of promotions, reductions, transfers, casualties, etc.". Although similar to the Statement of the Services on page two of the attestation paper, it sometimes provides more detail and can be several pages in length. The first several entries are often rubber-stamped and largely illegible.
Many files contain the results of a physical exam taken upon enlistment. Thirty-nine entries cover points as varied as:
- quality of hearing and sight
- condition of teeth, bone structure
- soldier's height and weight
Sometimes there is even an interesting note or two from the medical examiner, such as that on the form of a very small man: "May do for drummer".
Soldiers could pre-arrange that a certain amount from each paycheck go to anyone of their choosing, "whether wife, child, other relative or friend". The usual amount was 60 cents per day.
Most files contain at least a couple of postal telegraphs. They are usually copies of telegraphs sent to the next of kin indicating a soldier's illness, wound, or death. When a telegram was sent informing of a death, it was supposed to be preceded by a telegram to the family's local clergyman (or in his absence the local schoolteacher). The telegram to the next of kin typically contained a note to the telegraph operator that it was not to be delivered before the one advising the clergyman.
There are sometimes telegrams on happier subjects, however, such as Christmas wishes or a wounded soldier's assurances that he is feeling well and recovering quickly.
The following are also common documents:
Extract - Recording promotions, demotions, transfers, casualties, awards, etc.
Will - Handwritten and/or typed
Inventory of Effects
Prisoner of War Fund pledge form - Some men gave over $10.00 per year to the fund (taken quarterly from pay).
Statement of Prisoner of War (taken upon escape or release)
This document is typically typed; however it is sometimes accompanied by the soldier's handwritten account. The soldier explains where and how he was taken prisoner, whether he was moved, mistreated, or made to work, and the general conditions experienced during his time as a POW. It usually ranges from two to four pages.
Receipts for the 1914-1915 Star, the Victory Medal and/or British War Medal, the King's Certificate, the Memorial Scroll and Memorial Plaque (for next of kin), payments from the Civil Re-Establishment Committee (helping veterans to finish school, learn a trade, buy equipment), Clothing Allowance (typically from $25 to $60 to buy clothes for civilian life), Last Pay Certificate, etc.
Application for Separation Allowance
This was paid to individuals whose only support was their relative who had enlisted. Most often this was a wife, child, mother, dependent grandmother, aunt, or sibling, but sometimes an ailing or aging father or adult relative with special needs.
Application for Pension. Application for War Service Gratuity. Application for Overseas Transport for wife and/or child(ren) of a soldier to come to Newfoundland.
Report (or Proceedings) of a Medical Board
This documents the condition of a veteran for pension purposes. It often describes in detail the nature of a disability, and sometimes relates how it occured.
"This form is to be completed in the case of every discharged soldier whose claim to pension on account of disability is to be submitted for the consideration of the Pensions and Disabilities Board".