A Brief History of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment
and the Battle of Beaumont Hamel
During the Great War, Newfoundland was not a part of Canada and was a separate Dominion within the British Empire. This rather ambivalent relationship was well described in a popular ditty of the time:
Our face towards England,
Our backs to the Gulf;
Come near at your peril,
When the British Government declared war on Germany on August 4th, 1914, the Dominion of Newfoundland was automatically at war too.
Within a few weeks, the Dominion was able to recruit enough soldiers to send a single Battalion to fight in the Great War. These 500 soldiers, known as the Blue Puttees, sailed on the SS Florizel on October 4th, 1914 to England, joining the convoy that carried the First Contingent of the Canadian Expeditionary Force en route. This armada arrived in Plymouth, Devon on October 14th, 1914, rather than at the intended destination of Southampton, because of the fear of a German U-boat attack. The Florizel lay at anchor in Davenport harbour for almost a week before the order to disembark was given on October 20th. The Newfoundlanders travelled by train to Patney, near Devizes and then had a 7 mile march to their camp on Salisbury Plain.
Here they trained along side members of The First Contingent of the Canadian Expeditionary Force until December 1914, when they transferred to Scotland. They were first at Fort George near Inverness and then stationed in Edinburgh, where they had the honour of guarding Edinburgh Castle for 3 months. In August 1915, the Regiment embarked for Gallipoli in the Dardanelles. Deployment at Gallipoli resulted in the formation of a special bond with Australian and New Zealand soldiers. The Newfoundlanders were finally evacuated from Sulva Bay in January 1916.
The Regiment arrived in France in March 1916 and on July 1st, 1916 was ready to take part in the Battle of the Somme. The British had pounded the German positions for a week prior to July 1st with heavy artillery barrages. The expectation was that the Germans had sustained many casualties and that they would be thoroughly demoralized. At 9.15 am on July 1st, the Royal Newfoundland Regiment was given orders to go over the top and attack the German position at Beaumont Hamel. Less than half an hour later it was all over. Those men that were able to reach the German lines found that the artillery barrage had done nothing to destroy the barbed wire protecting the trench system. It was a black day for Britain and a black day for Newfoundland. The British lost 20,000 soldiers with 37,000 wounded.
On July 2nd, 68 Newfoundlanders answered the roll call. 324 men had been killed, or were missing or presumed dead and 386 were wounded. It was a day that Newfoundland would never forget, and until 1949, when Newfoundland joined the Dominion of Canada and became her 10th province, July 1st was known only as Memorial Day.
For its part in the Third Battle of Ypres and at Cambrai in 1917, King George V granted the Regiment its “Royal” designation in November of the same year, the only regiment in the British Empire to be so honoured during the Great War. It was only the third time in the history of a British and Imperial regiment that such an honour was bestowed in the time of conflict. The Regiment’s current crest was adopted in 1953 and the current Colonel-in-Chief is H.R.H., The Princess Royal.
Battle Honours from the Great War are as follows:
- Gallipoli 1915 -1916
- Albert (Beaumont Hamel) 1916
- Le Transloy 1917
- Arras 1917
- Langemarck 1917
- Poelcappelle 1917
- Cambrai 1917
- Ypres 1917 & 1918
- Bailleul 1918
- Courtrai 1918