The Newfoundland Regiment
An overview of the Newfoundland Regiment at Gallipoli ...
Beaumont Hamel during the Somme Offensive ...
and related activities back home in Newfoundland.
I first learned about the significance of 'Beaumont Hamel' ... while watching
military historian Gwynne Dyer's National Film Board
The St. John's Newfoundland native walked across today's soft
green fields of the Beaumont Hamel memorial park, and the reason for
Newfoundland's memorial observance each July 1 became apparent.
This British commanded advance was part of
the opening of the Battle of the Somme on July 1, 1916.
It was to be a 'breakthrough' ... elusive in trench warfare ... so its
opening hours emphasized determined, courageous attack along a wide
front. As Dyer walked across a broad open field, he quoted reports of
the Newfoundlanders instinctively walking with their chins tucked into their chests as if
into the teeth of an Atlantic blizzard.
Gwynne Dyer, during the 'War' years
In his 1985 companion book to the series, Dyer includes a
from the beginning of the Battle of the Somme by author Henry
Williamson. At 19 years of age in 1916, Williamson was a second
lieutenant with the Bedfordshires. With just a few details altered, it could
describe exactly what happened to the Newfoundland Regiment at Beaumont
... the ruddy clouds of brick-dust
hang over the shelled villages by day and at night the eastern horizon
roars and bubbles with light. And everywhere in these desolate places I
see the faces and figures of enslaved men, the marching columns
pearl-hued with chalky dust on the sweat of their heavy drab clothes;
the files of carrying parties laden and staggering in the flickering
moonlight of gunfire; the "waves" of assaulting troops lying silent and
pale on the tapelines of the jumping-off places.
I crouch with them while the steel glacier rushing by just
overhead scrapes away every syllable, every fragment of a message
bawled in my ear ... I go forward with them ... up and down across
ground like a huge ruined honeycomb, and my wave melts away, and the
second wave comes up, and also melts away, and then the third wave
merges into the ruins of the first and second, and after a while the
fourth blunders into the remnants of the others, and we begin to run
forward to catch up with the barrage, gasping and sweating, in bunches,
anyhow, every bit of the months of drill and rehearsal forgotten.
We come to wire that is uncut, and beyond we see grey coal-scuttle
helmets bobbing about, ... and the loud crackling of machine-guns
changes as to a screeching of steam being blown off by a hundred
engines, and soon no one is left standing. An hour later our guns are
"back on the first objective," and the brigade, with all its hopes and
beliefs, has found its grave on those northern slopes of the Somme
Gander, Newfoundland 1988
On the evening of July
28 1988, we were taking in the sights at Gander Airport. We watched
assorted exotic birds come and go - remember the Cold War was still on
but Cuba-bound communist nation aircraft needed refueling, too.
older gentleman approached us, struck up a conversation, and explained he was waiting for one of
his family members to fly in a Long Ranger helicopter. He was a
little surprised by my instant, intense reaction to one element of his life
story ... and my immediate request to shake his hand. For me, it was a
priceless encounter with living history.
A couple of years ago, I was glad to notice his name as a contributor to an oral history project
of Memorial University. Back in 1988, I was 'too polite' to request his photograph,
but given the interest of the strange tourist 'from away', he surely would
That evening at Gander Airport in 1988.
He was Hubert Miles ... and he had been at Beaumont Hamel ... as a replacement
as he later explained. At 88 years old, he said he was one of the last two
surviving Newfoundland World War One veterans and he had also revisited
Beaumont Hamel in recent years with the Canadian Legion. He originally
went over in July 1917. Specialized as a Lewis gunner, he had fought at Ypres,
Cambrai and Montreuil ... if my later Holiday Inn notes are accurate. Wounded, he then
worked as a stretcher bearer for a while.
Unrecorded in my notes is a story he told us of a gas shell landing
nearby. (Whereas wind could quickly shift the poison gas plume venting from
pressurized cylinders, gas shells delivered a smaller dose exactly where you
wanted it - behind the enemy's
lines) The concussion from the shell knocked him out briefly, and threw
him into a water-filled shell hole. He had not been wearing his gas
mask. However, he had been chewing a plug of tobacco. He credited the
tobacco with saving him from the gas. He said when he came to and
expectorated the plug, it had completely turned green. His amazement at this still came through 70 years later.
Eventually the helicopter arrived, we spoke briefly with the pilot, and we went our separate ways.
A few quick details about the British Army and the Newfoundland Regiment ...
British Army Organization
- During war, these British formations would seldom have been at full strength during battle due to casualties.
- The larger a formation became, the more support personnel it would need for physical support, planning and administration.
- A battalion was the modern fundamental unit of battle ... with regiments being more of a 'traditional formation'.
- In Canada, an infantry 'regiment' was a parent organization which raised one or more battalions for service.
- Generally, during the Great War, soldiers seldom knew whose
brigade, division, corps or army they were in ... as these often
shifted around above their heads.
you already know ... in war, the strongest human bonds and loyalties
are usually between soldiers in the same section or platoon.
However ... the 29th Division developed a reputation for determined fighting. As part of the 29th, and being the only
representatives of Newfoundland ... there must have been an unusually
strong cohesion among members of the Newfoundland Regiment. I have read that much of the first contingent came from the
prominent families of St. John's - those who most clearly saw their
interests being aligned with the British Empire.
And then there were all those great 'vacation' trips they took together ...
According to Martin Gilbert's book The Battle of the Somme (2006),
between its being raised in Newfoundland ... and fighting at
Beaumont Hamel ... the Newfoundland Regiment travelled as shown below.
The Newfoundland Regiment's location ...
|1914 Oct 04
|St. John's, Newfoundland
|1914 Oct 14
|1914 Oct 21
|1915 Feb 19
|1915 May 11
|1915 Aug 02
|1915 Aug 20
for Mediterranean Sea
|1915 Aug 25
|Valetta, on Malta
|1915 Sep 20
|Arrive Gallipoli Peninsula
|1916 Jan 09
|Leave Gallipoli Peninsula
|1916 Mar 14
|1916 Mar 22
north thru France by rail
|1916 Mar 25
|1916 Apr 04
|1916 Apr 22
|near Beaumont Hamel
|1916 Jul 01
|Beaumont Hamel advance
The dates above may differ slightly from the accounts below.
The purpose of the chart above is to give you a quick overview and framework on which to hang the interesting detail below.
The order of the published accounts is rearranged to provide a chronological account of the Regiment's experiences ...
up to and including Beaumont Hamel.
The Regiment rebuilt and fought after Beaumont Hamel, being disbanded in 1919.
An account of the early experiences of the Newfoundland Regiment, published in December 1916 ...
"Notes on the Newfoundland Regiment ...
As we approach the end of another year, we give a short account of the
work our Regiment has gone through since the war started.
No attempt has been made to chronicle the doings of the Regiment, but
we hope this will be undertaken in a thorough way so that authentic
records, in a readable manner, will be handed down of what
Newfoundlanders have done in the Great War.
Our first contingent A and B Companies left St. John's October 4th, 1914, on s.s. Florizel,
and met the Canadian contingent off Cape Race, and all proceeded
together protected by British Men of War till they arrived at Plymouth.
St. John's Harbour
You can almost smell the cod drying in the foreground.
Our boys were in tents on Salisbury Plains for several weeks, then they
went to the permanent quarters of the Seaforth Highlanders at Fort
George, Inverness, from there they were transferred to Edinburgh Castle.
Our second contingent, Company C, left St. John's February 5th by s.s. Neptune, and boarded the s.s. Dominion
off Bay Bulls for Liverpool They met the first two companies in
Edinburgh Castle at which place they had just arrived. After about
three months in Edinburgh they went to Stob's Camp near Hawick, and
continued their drill for another three months.
The first Battalion was then made up for Active Service, they reached
Aldershot August 2nd, 1915, and were in the Badajos and Wellington
Barracks for two weeks. During this time the King, Queen and Princess
Mary visited Aldershot for inspection of the troops - the overseas
Regiments forming the Guard of Honour. Lord Kitchener was here for this
Review and when passing the Newfoundland Regiment, the boys heard him
tell the Colonel: "You will have to get their bayonets sharpened as we
have decided to send them to the Dardanelles." This was the first
authentic information that the Regiment had of where they would be
fighting. August 18th they left for Devonport where they boarded the
s.s. Megantic. She went to Mudros, but was ordered back to Alexandria, as the Regiment required a new outfit suitable for this climate.
Cairo souvenir postcard from 'the past'.
They remained at Cairo for eleven days. September 14th they left by s.s. Totona
for Lemnos and thence by river boat to Suvla Bay, landing there on
Sunday the 19th September getting their baptism of fire. Several were
wounded in the landing. The Regiment went into the trenches at once,
forming part of the famous 29th Division.
Suvla Bay at sunset
Very hard fighting had occurred when the Anzac and other Regiments were
landing, and heavy casualties occurred in the endeavour to gain
positions on the Peninsula overlooking the Forts on the Dardanelles, so
that the Newfoundlanders went right into active service of the most
The whole Gallipoli peninsula campaign took place along the coast between the words Gallipoli and Dardanelles, above.
Here at Gallipoli was the Australians' nationalist awakening ...
it was similar to the Canadians' new self-image after 'Vimy Ridge'.
In the 1980s, Australians made a movie to convey some of the futility of this part of the World War.
The place of landing was a beach about half a mile wide, and in the
rear high hills rising five hundred feet or more with very little
vegetation except prickly shrubs.
The trenches were three to four miles from the beach and the routine
work at first was four days in the trenches and then eight days rest in
dug-outs near the Beach, but very soon from casualties and sickness the
routine was eight days in the trenches and four days in the dug-outs.
The path from the dug-outs to the trenches was through ravines and then
a continuous connection of trenches to the front. In many places these
trenches were exposed to an enfilading fire from prominent Turkish
positions. The worst spot was a ridge afterwards known as Caribou Hill,
where many engagements had taken place. This Hill was eventually
captured by a small Company of Newfoundlanders in charge of Capt.
Donnelly who held it, in spite of counter attacks, for forty-eight
hours, until they secured reinforcements. The place was such a
dangerous one that the Commander in charge believed the Newfoundland
boys had been wiped out, until Donnelly himself brought the news, after
dark, that they were hiding behind rocks and still held the Post. For
this exploit he won the Military Cross and two of his men, Hynes and
Greene, gained the Distinguished Conduct Medal.
Caribou Hill had been a hornets nest for Turkish snipers and it was the
greatest relief to the whole Division when this spot was captured. It
went by the name of Donnelly's Post, and being on the crest of a solid
rock the only protection was sand bags.
Gallipoli Campaign : Suvla Bay, ANZAC Cove and Caribou Hill
ANZAC = Australian and New Zealand Army Corps
Gallipoli Campaign - north end
The trying climate of severe heat during the day, followed by
chilly nights, had a serious effect on the health of all, more
especially as the only rest obtainable was in damp, cold, mud dug-outs.
The need of good water and suitable food told heavily. Out of eleven
hundred hardy, healthy Newfoundlanders, who landed on 19th September,
only one hundred and seventy-two men were there to answer the Roll
Call when the evacuation of the Peninsula occurred on 19th December. The
whole expedition had been a list of troubles from the beginning, but
the evacuation without any loss of life was one of the master strokes
of the war.
[One Turkish account suggested they didn't fire because they were simply relieved and happy to see the back of the invaders]
To the remnant of the Newfoundland Regiment was given the honor of
guarding the rear, and they were last to leave Suvla Bay. From there
they went to Imbros Island, but after a few days were landed at Cape
Helles to assist in the evacuation of that quarter. They proved just as
successful here as in Suvla Bay, and on January 18, 1916, they arrived
at Alexandria. They remained in Egypt guarding the Suez Canal till
March 14th, when they were ordered to France and took up their quarters
in the Arras District."
end of quoted article
"Better than the Best: Newfoundlanders in Picardy ...
This account of Beaumont Hamel was published circa October 1916 ...
New and inspiring honours have been won by our troops in the fighting in
France. It is generally known that the Newfoundland Regiment received
its baptism of fire in Gallipoli, where it greatly distinguished itself
in the battle for Caribou Hill.
When the British decided to withdraw from the Dardanelles the
Newfoundland Regiment, and the troops of the 29th Division with which
our Regiment has been brigaded since it took the field, were
transferred to the front in France, and were almost immediately
afterwards sent into the trenches in Picardy. At the end of June some
companies of our men made successful sorties at night into the German
trenches, seeking information or destroying the enemy's wire
entanglements. But on July 1st at the commencement of the British
offensive between the Ancre and Somme they were assigned much more
important work, which they did so bravely that all the world applauded
them, and the General commanding the 29th Division, Sir A.
Hunter-Weston when thanking our men, said: "Newfoundlanders, I salute
you individually. You have done better than the best." That was
extraordinary praise for comparatively new troops to receive after
their most important battle.
The engagement of July 1st took place near the French village of
Beaumont Hamel, south-east from the city of Amiens and due north of
Albert. The way was paved for our men, firstly by an extensive
artillery fire, and then by the advance of English regiments.
The attack by our men on the German trenches, took place on Saturday,
July 1st about 9 a.m. They were stationed in St. John's Road, at the
right of Beaumont Hamel. They had been in their own trenches up to that
time, in the third line defence, about 400 yards from the German
trenches. Ten per cent. of the four companies were stationed down at
Louvencourt. The night before the attack, at 9 p.m., they marched up to
St. John's Road from Louvencourt, about 7 miles and arrived at St.
John's Road about 1 a.m.
They were brigaded with the 88th Brigade and our men were supposed to
attack the third German trenches about 5,000 yards distant. The other
two lines of defence, i.e. Nos. 1 and 2, were supposed to be attacked
by the 86th and 87th Brigades. At 7.30 in the morning, the 86th and the
87th attacked, but failed in their objective, that is, they were
supposed to clean out Nos. 1 and 2 of the German lines and occupy them
themselves and consolidate their position, and then the Newfoundland
Battalion would pass over them on to the third line of the German
defence. The 86th and 87th however failed because of the concentration
of the machine guns, and then the Newfoundland Battalion was ordered to
reinforce the 86th and 87th. This they did. The order came from the
Commander to the O.C. [officer commanding] Companies. It was explained
to them fully what they had to do. They formed up and started in
extended formation; A and B Companies leading, C and D Companies
supporting platoons, forty paces between, and twenty-five paces between
sections. All then marched with the hope of taking the No. 3 line of
This country, where the No. 1 line of defence was located, had been
shelled for over a week by British artillery of all calibres. This is a
distinctive work from the infantry, and had nothing to do with our
soldiers. Between six and seven that morning, Saturday, July 1st, the
most intense bombardment had been made by the British on this No. 1
line of defence.
Our men then started as if on parade, marching smartly towards their
objective point. After passing through their own barbed wire defences
they passed on over a grassy mound into a valley over a sunken road, up
to a gentle slope towards the German trenches, or No. 1 line of the
German defence. They reached there in about ten minutes. They had
hardly got clear of their own trenches and their own barbed wire when
they encountered the shot from the machine guns, the shrapnel and high
explosives from the Germans. The guns seemed to be brought up on
platforms out of the bowels of the earth. The week's shelling and
especially the intensive shelling of that morning, did not seem in any
way to have interfered with the preparedness of the Germans.
Notwithstanding, however, this rain of shot from the machine guns, the
shrapnel, and the high explosives, our troops moved on as if at
manoeuvres, never faltering for a moment, although men and officers
were falling all around. This went on until those who were left reached
the first line of the enemy's trenches. It was then seen that the
German position could not be taken until further preparations were made
by the artillery. The men were then withdrawn. The Regiment went into
action with 26 officers and 783 men, and the casualties after the
battle were found to be:
|Killed - Officers
|Killed - Other ranks
|Wounded - Officers
|Wounded - Other ranks
|Unaccounted for - Officers
|Unaccounted for - Other ranks
Fortunately, most of the wounds were caused by machine gun bullets
and were not of a serious character. Many of the injured men have
already rejoined the Regiment.
End of first section of published account.
Army Commander's View
Left top: Beaumont Hamel town (behind German lines)
British/French armies to the left ; Germans to the right.
Somme River flows east to west across the territory - at middle of map.
British forces were north of the Somme; French south of the Somme.
Left red line: Starting position, Battle of the Somme July 1, 1916.
Far right broken red line: Final position at end of offensive November 1916.
Maximum distance between the two lines is about 6 miles.
Allied casualties (i.e. killed and wounded) about 620,000.
German casualties about 660,000.
The Somme Offensive 1916
Walking across No Man's Land
Against established enemy positions
In the Great War
Zooming in on the Beaumont Hamel area ...
Many Great War documentary film sequences were filmed by the photographer who detailed this map.
His silent films of 'The Great Advance' were rushed into theatres across the Empire.
He included no sequences of British staff officers scratching their heads and shrugging their shoulders ...
as this might have forced the Empire's politicians to question the negligent waste of its volunteer soldiers.
Only some of the complexity and irregularity of the trench systems can be seen.
The Essex Regiment was to join the Newfoundlanders, but it could not get forward in time.
The Newfoundland Regiment was the only formation in No Man's Land as it advanced.
All German artillery, trench mortar, machine gun and rifle fire would have been focused on them.
Beaumont Hamel, concise version:
The Germans were well dug in, on high ground, with reinforced concrete bunkers dug deep in the underlying chalk.
The German Army had provided for the defensive safety of their soldiers.
When the British artillery barrage ended, the Germans had plenty of time to emerge from their shelters
and prepare ... to successfully defend their lines from the infantry advance which began at 0730hr.
The Germans subsequently stopped this large surprise advance ...
Then, after 90 minutes of successful German defence of their positions ...
at approximately 0900hr,
the Newfoundland Regiment was sent on a ten minute walk into the guns ...
A trench mortar shell bursts near a barbed wire entanglement.
Newfoundlanders first had to thread their way through the 'web' of their own wire.
The few who survived No Man's Land found the German barbed wire entanglement uncut by artillery.
The entire advance and efforts to cut the German wire were done in full view of German artillery and machine guns.
Brigadier General D.E. Cayley, commanding the 88th Infantry bears
testimony to the gallant conduct of the First Newfoundland Regiment in
the memorable battle as follows:
"88th In. Brig., British Army in France, July 18, 1916.
Your excellency, - You will have already heard of the very great losses
suffered by the Newfoundland Regiment in the attack on 1st July.
Colonel Hadow tells me that he has already written to you describing
The 29th Division was put in against what was proved to be the
strongest part of the German line, and, as it proved, impregnable to
direct assault. Battalion after battalion was sent forward without any
success. Finally, two battalions of my Brigade, the Newfoundland and
another were ordered forward.
I was in a position to observe the advance of the Newfoundland
Regiment. Nothing could have been finer. In face of a devastating shell
and machine gun fire, they advanced over our parapets, not a man
faltering or hanging back. They literally went on till scarcely an
officer or man was left unhit. Their casualty lists are a sufficient
proof of this.
It was a cruel fate, which in this first real attack, allowed them to
be nearly destroyed, without the compensating satisfaction of having
got at the enemy. Also, that the one unit in the field of a Colony
which has made such sacrifices, should suffer such a fate, is indeed
tragic. I cannot sufficiently express my admiration for their heroism
nor my sorrow for their overwhelming losses, which admiration and
sorrow will be shared by all in Newfoundland.
I have the honour to be, Sir, Your obedient servant
(Sgd) D.E. Cayley Brig General.
End of published account section
Less than two weeks after Beaumont Hamel
more Newfoundlander volunteers were ready to 'do their part' ...
Inspection of Third Battalion, A and B Companies,
First Newfoundland Regiment
before leaving for England on July 19, 1916.
In 1911 Newfoundland had a population of 242,000.
Published account continues
The grandest testimonial to our troops, however, came from the Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Forces.
It was as follows: -
(No. 330. Telegram, received 9th July, 7.30 p.m.)
To Governor, Newfoundland :
Newfoundland may well feel proud of her sons. The heroism and devotion
to duty they displayed on 1st July has never been surpassed. Please
convey my deep sympathy and that of the whole of our armies in France
in the loss of the brave officers and men who have fallen for the
Empire, and our admiration for their heroic conduct. Their efforts
contributed to our success, and their example will live.
Douglas Haig, Field Marshal.
Private James McGrath briefly relates the story of Captain Windeler's
bravery, and incidentally exhibits his own pluck and valour, as follows :
I will never forget the beginning of the Somme offensive on July 1st,
1916. We advanced to the German trenches at 10 in the morning and the
machine gun fire was something terrible. The Germans actually mowed us
down like sheep. I managed to get to their barbed wire, where I got the
first shot; then went to jump into their trench when I got the second
in the leg. I lay in No Man's Land for fifteen hours, and then crawled
a distance of a mile and a quarter. They fired on me again, this time
fetching me in the left leg, and so I waited for another hour and moved
again, only having the use of my left arm now. As I was doing
splendidly, nearing our own trench they again fetched me, this time
around the hip as I crawled on. I managed to get to our own line which
I saw was evacuated as our artillery was playing heavily on their
trenches. They retaliated and kept me in a hole for another hour. I was
then rescued by Capt. Windeler who took me on his back to the dressing
station a distance of two miles. Well, thank God my wounds are all
flesh wounds and won't take long to heal up."
End of published account
tin triangles had been sewn on the soldiers' backs before the
attack so that progress could be observed from behind the lines and
from the air.
However, at night, as they tried to return to safety from uncaptured objectives,
the same tin triangles assisted the work of the German snipers.
The Newfoundland Regiment was given the rare title 'Royal' by King
George V, as the result of an unrelieved two-week engagement in November-December
1917 in France, known as "Marcoing - Mesnieres". This location is a few miles southwest of
As losses increased, everywhere in the Empire there was increasing social
pressure on 'slackers' ... those who had not volunteered ... to 'do
The notice above states: "It must not be said of us that the blood shed and treasure expended has been in vain"
Eventually, the Newfoundland government passed the Military Service Act on May 11, 1918 to provide for conscription.
Reflecting the perspective of those deeply committed to a cause, a post-war history of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment states:
It was long realized that sufficient volunteers were not forthcoming
to maintain the Regiment as a separate fighting unit, but it remained
for our legislators to cast the one dark blot on the enviable military
record of our Battalion, that of having to be taken out of the line
because sufficient trained troops were not available to bring the
Battalion up to fighting strength.
Why should Beaumont Hamel be remembered ?
The Newfoundland Regiment was a relatively small force compared to Britain's volunteer "New Army" of 500,000.
The Newfoundland Regiment's casualties at the Battle of the Somme were 720,
compared to the 6 month losses at The Somme on both sides of 1,280,000.
Was Newfoundland's tragedy a terrible waste ... a noble sacrifice ... of simply typical of the Great War ?
Can such a great and permanent loss from such a small community not be 'in vain' ?
Beaumont Hamel should be remembered because it is a simple story in a hopelessly complex human conflict.
The successes and failures of the humans in the story still evoke awe.