Canada and Newfoundland immediately lent their support to Britain and the Allies as soon as war broke out in August 1914.
As a self governing colony up until 1949, Newfoundland politely declined an invitation to join the Canadian forces and raised its own regiment, initially of 500 men. The first contingents of the Newfoundland Regiment set off for Britain in October 1914.
Just some of the battles to have been firmly etched into Canadian collective memory include
Ypres (22 April – 25 May 1915), the Somme (1 July – 18 November 1916), Vimy Ridge (9-12 April 1917), Passchendaele (26 October – 10 November 1917) and the battles of the final counter-offensive (from 8 August 1918).
Newfoundland in the Great War
The Newfoundland Regiment, attached to the 29th Division, fought its first battle on the Western Front at Beaumont-Hamel, on the first day of the Battle of the Somme - the 1st July 1916. The Newfoundlanders’ attack began at 0915hrs, but they were immediately trapped under German machine gun fire and most of the men were cut down before even reaching the German positions. The Newfoundland Regiment suffered one of the highest casualty rates of the 1st July, over 88% of their force was made casualty within just 30 minutes.
The regiment returned to the Somme in October, where they helped secure important positions at Gueudecourt on the 12 October 1916.
Canadian Troops in the First World War
The Canadians’ first major involvement on the Somme was during the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, on 15 September 1916. That morning, they launched an attack on German positions in the ruined village of Courcelette. Their initial objective of the Sugar Factory, a strong German defense, was quickly secured, and by the end of the day all of their objectives had been taken. This battle is also well know as being the first ever battle aided by tanks.
The three divisions of the Canadian Corps were relieved in the middle of October by the 4th Canadian Division, which carried out successive attacks in the area, and captured significant German positions. A total of 24,000 Canadian casualties were suffered in these 11 weeks of fighting, but the Canadians had proved themselves as strong and skilled soldiers.
In 1918, alongside the Australians, the Canadian troops spear-headed the British part of the Allied counter-attack of the 8th August. This day, known as “the black day of the German Army” was the beginning of a series of Allied successes that eventually led to the signature of the Armistice.
Newfoundland and Canadian Sites of Remembrance on the Somme
Thirteen memorials have been erected on the Western Front in remembrance of the Newfoundland and Canada troops. Four of these can be found in the Somme, where they pay eternal homage to the sacrifice and heroic deeds of these men.
The Newfoundland Memorial Park at Beaumont-Hamel.
After the war, the Newfoundland Government purchased the land on which its regiment had fought - and lost so many men – during the opening battle of the Somme. A bronze caribou stands atop a mound, overlooking the preserved battlefield, which also makes this site particularly instructive.
The memorial park is the largest site of Newfoundland WW1 remembrance and the second most visited site on the Somme Battlefields, receiving more than 192,000 visitors in 2014.
In 1997, the site was listed as a Canadian National Historic Site.
Two main services of remembrance are held in the memorial park each year, one on the 1st July, to commemorate the beginning of the Battle of the Somme, and another in November in commemoration of Armistice Day.
Please click here, for more information about the 100th Anniversary Service of Remembrance organized by the Canadian government on the 1st July 2016.
The Gueudecourt Newfoundland Memorial
Another Newfoundland Caribou Memorial can be found at Gueudecourt, located on the ground the regiment fought over in October 1916.
The Courcelette and Le Quesnel Canadian Memorials
Along with Canada’s national memorial, located at Vimy, in the Pas-de-Calais Department, the Canadian government also wished to erect smaller memorials on other theatres of battle. Two of these memorials can be found in the Somme.
The Courcelette Canadian Memorial remembers the men who fought during the Battle of the Somme in 1916, while the Le Quesnel Canadian Memorial remembers those who fought during the Battle of Amiens in 1918. These memorials are made from blocks of Quebec granite, which stand in peaceful memorial parks lined with maple trees.
With the help of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Canada has been restoring all of its First World War memorials since the 1990s to ensure their everlasting memory.
- Veterans Affairs Canada website, with a page dedicated to the commemorations of the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme
- Canadian War Museum