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Monday, June 30, 2008

July 1 - Memorial Day in Newfoundland and Labrador

With Memorial Day once again upon us, it seems appropriate today to reflect on the exploits of the so called “Fighting Newfoundlander” and remember those who fought or died in conflicts half way around the world.

When many think of the Newfoundland and Labrador's military history they immediately think of The Royal Newfoundland Regiment. Although Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans have fought with the forces of other nations and continue to distinguish themselves today in the Canadian Armed Forces, it is with a special kind of pride that we remember the exploits of that particular Regiment.

Originally formed in 1914, The Newfoundland Regiment, as it was known at the time, consisted of what many refer to as the “first 500” or “The Blue Puttees” in reference to the blue leggings worn by the men.

An entirely volunteer regiment, the men of the “first 500”, along with those who joined them later, distinguished themselves in battle after battle during World War I. So valiant were their efforts that they were later bestowed by the King of England with the title of “Royal”, becoming the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, the name we know them by to this day.

After only six weeks of training at home, The original Newfoundland Regiment containing the “first 500” set sail out of St. John’s harbour on October 4, 1914. This first group contained some of the best examples of the type of young men Newfoundland and Labrador had produced. Many were athletes, some had been involved in various boy’s brigades and all were determined to show their pride in the Dominion of Newfoundland.

According to some historical documents, the men of the Regiment had two primary goals in mind when they arrived in Europe. The first was that they were Newfoundlanders, and intended to be known as such; the other was that they had gone over to fight, not to do garrison duty in England.

At one point during their orientation on the Salisbury Plain the idea was floated that the Newfoundland contingent should join with a nearby Nova Scotia Regiment. Both groups were only the size of half a battalion and to the brass from England this seemed like a logical step. According to articles from the time the Newfoundlanders would have no part of it. They felt that if the two groups merged the contingent would lose its name, its identity and its individuality.

During the coming months the Regiment grew as new members arrived. In time, the proud men of the Newfoundland Regiment were given the opportunity they had wanted, a chance to fight for their homeland.

On the battle field these proud soldiers solidified their place in history. The Regiment earned no less than 280 separate decorations, 77 of which were awarded to original members of the “first 500” of which 170 were killed in action. In fact, one in every seven men among the original force received some sort of military honour.

Many people have heard the name of Tommy Ricketts who was given the highest honour possible, the Victoria Cross, however many may not remember some of the other brave men who fought for their homeland under the most dire conditions.

Newfoundland and Labrador has produced many great heroes, many who are not as well known, but no less deserving of recognition.Take for example the story of Cyril Gardner, originally from British Harbour.

Lieutenant Gardner has the distinction of being the only known allied serviceman to receive the German Iron Cross during WWI.The Iron Cross which was handed out only to the bravest German military personnel was given to Gardner on the battlefield.

As the story goes, Gardner’s unit was engaged in battle with a German patrol of 70 men. During the night, as hostilities wound down Gardner, who spoke German, took it upon himself to grab his gun and head out to the enemy encampment.

Sneaking into the enemy camp, the Lieutenant turned his gun on the officers, capturing them unharmed. With their leadership removed the remainder of the troop immediately surrendered. Lieutenant Cyril Gardner had single handedly captured an entire German Patrol.

Upon marching his prisoners back to his own encampment he was met by a British Officer who intended to shoot the unarmed prisoners rather than be saddled with caring for them.

As the German soldiers looked on in horror Lieutenant Gardner once again demonstrated his sense of bravery by stepping into the line of fire to protect his prisoners and telling his superior officer that if one German were shot the officer would be the next one to die.

After a moment of hesitation the officer walked away and it was then that the commander of the German patrol, who had many medals on his uniform, stepped up to Gardner and removing the iron cross from his chest, pinned it on Gardner’s, to the applause and cheers of the German soldiers.

For Centuries, even before the formation of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador have answered the call whenever it arrived. Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans have been involved in major conflicts around the world since the mid 1600's, including:

The Anglo-Dutch Wars – 1652
The War of the Austrian Succession – 1743
The Seven Year War - 1756
The American Revolution - 1775
The Napoleonic Wars – 1796
The War of 1812
World War I – 1914
World War II – 1939

Add to this the number of young men and women who have proven themselves in places like Korea, Afghanistan, Bosnia and countless other areas of conflict or peacekeeping around the world, and we can clearly see that Newfoundland and Labrador has a lot to be proud of and, on this Memorial Day, a lot to remember.

On this Memorial Day and throughout the remainder of the year perhaps we should all take a few minutes to visit a local legion hall or war memorial, to stop and chat with an aging veteran and to offer a little show of thanks for the sacrifice these fine men and women have made to protecting our homeland and others.

Statistics show that every day in Canada an average of 80 veterans die. That’s more than at the height of conflict in World War II.

It only takes a moment to shake a veteran’s hand or buy one a cold beer. It might seem like a small gesture and it is, but even taking a moment to express a little gratitude may just brighten the day of some of our bravest and most deserving citizens.


Anonymous said...

Wicked awesome post Patriot.


Great Big Sea

Recruiting Sargent


Anonymous said...


Great Post Myles. It shows us why we have so much to be proud of other then being a member of this federation.

We have so much that they are jealous of. A proud history, the accomplishments of a nation ,and the recognition of a king to prove it.

A "TRUE" Nation Are WE.

"Republic Of Forever"

Anonymous said...

This is a great post - and here's evidence of that continued tradition. The headline is a great one too, I am sure you'd agree:


Anonymous said...

Patriot - Given the detailed involvement of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians in all the conflicts of the past couple hundred years , and the strategic importance of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador during the Second World War to both the American and Canadian Military positions in protecting North America, why isn’t there a Military Base situated in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador?

The Canadian Military strength is more than 67,000 strong and given that 10 per cent of the Military Personnel have been recruited from the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, the province should not have to ask that it be given a Military Base, it should have been here all along, at least since we joined Canada in 1949.

Goose Bay was promised a contingency of 650 Military Personnel for more than 5 years now, why hasn't the Federal Government seen to it that its promise was fulfilled?

Patriot said...

To babe in boyland:

I didn't post your comment because it was not pertient but only served your need to make it appear that this article about brave NLers was not true.

Your logic was that Newfoundlanders did not fight in the anglo-dutch wars in 1652. You then tried to use that as a means to undermine the entire article, shame on you on such an important day in our homeland.

I do want to clarify this one point however.

Indeed, there is no reference to NLers fighting in the first Anglo-Duch war which began in 1652.

However the Anglo-Dutch wars (all three of them) began with the first in 1652 and after a time of relative peace began again with the 2nd and 3rd Anglo-Dutch wars which ran well into the 1670's.

In the 2nd of these wars ferryland and St. John's were attacked and raided. Supplies were taken and homes burned. Newfoundlanders at the time did indeed fight to protect their homes and land but were unable to do so.

If you'll notice, my article mentions the Anglo-Dutch wars, plural, not war, singular, and identifies them starting in 1652.

I wanted to clear up that point for you but I'll be damned if I publish your anti-NL rhetoric on this site and in relation to this article just because you found a small point that you don't agree with. Not on this day.

Anonymous said...

Calvin said ,..........

July 02, 2008 4:49 PM

Disgusting.No respect.No cuth.No shame.

If they love canada so much, come up here and exsist in it.

"Republic Of Forever"