During the First World War, Newfoundland was not yet part of Canada. It was still a separate British Dominion. (Newfoundland would enter confederation in 1949) It contributed 12000 military personnel to the Allied forces and, by 1918, 35% of men aged 19 -35 had served.
July 1st in Newfoundland and Labrador is Memorial Day when they mark the devastating day when nearly 700 of their troops died in one offensive.
As part of the Battle of the Somme with Allied forces, the Newfoundland Regiment took the advance at Beaumont Hamel on the morning of July 1st, 1916. The mission was a disaster, with bombs from the Allied forces alerting the Germans of the impending ground attack and no friendly fire to cover the units’ advance. Most of the regiment was killed or wounded before even reaching No Man’s Land. The few men who did reach the German lines found that the barbed wire that was supposed to have been cut, was still there. Many died on the the tangled, uncut wire.
Private Anthony Stacey described the advance in his Memoirs of a Blue Puttee: “the wire had been cut in our front line and bridges laid across the trench the night before. This was a death trap for our boys as the enemy just set the sights of their machine guns on the gaps in the barbed wire and fired.”
Read more about Beaumont Hammel HERE.
In the Somme, almost 20, 000 British troops died. The Newfoundland Regiment was almost wiped out. When roll call was taken, of almost 800 troops, only 68 men answered. The rest were killed or missing and presumed dead, or wounded.
Today in France, the largest Newfoundland memorial site is at Beaumont Hamel. The Beaumont Hamel site was officially opened by Field Marshal Earl Haig on 7 June 1925, dedicated to the 1st Battalion, Royal Newfoundland Regiment.
Beaumont Hamel became a Canadian National Historic Site in 1997.