“The King’s Government call for lumber men and all skilled workmen not eligible for the Regiment or the Royal Naval Reserve for service in the forests of the United Kingdom.”
In World Wars I and II, Britain needed foresters. Lots of timber available, especially in Scotland, and both military and civilian need for lumber. But not enough people left in the UK with the necessary skills and strength to cut and mill it. That’s where Newfoundland, Canada and other British dominions came in: to provide the skilled labour.
The Newfoundland Forestry Corps sent about 500 men overseas in 1917 to cut and mill wood. From 1939 to the end of WWII, the Newfoundland Overseas Forestry Unit sent about 3,680 men. They worked in Scotland, England and France.
According to Neary and Baker (2010:9), “the largest single group of Newfoundlanders to go overseas during the Second World War did not go in uniform, but as members of the Newfoundland Forestry Unit.” In both wars, the forestry units were civilian.
The same rules for recruitment applied in the Canadian Forestry Corps (CFC) but it was part of the Canadian Armed Forces. The CFC was created in 1916 and disbanded in 1920. It resumed service in 1939 to 1945.
Forestry Soldiers and Civilians
The difference in civilian or military categorization didn’t matter at the time, but it did afterwards. In Newfoundland, men of the forestry units were not eligible for veterans’ benefits. The same was true for veterans of the Merchant Marine, a civilian unit responsible for keeping shipping channels safe for military and commercial vessels. Finally in 1962, the forestry units and Merchant Marine were recognized under the Civilian War Allowance Act. In 2000, their veterans received the same benefits as those of military branches.
In both wars, many men left the forestry corps to sign up for combat units. Either they reached legal enlistment age or got the required education level. As war dragged on, and more and more fighting men were needed, the physical requirements changed. Those men rejected earlier due to maybe not meeting the height or eyesight standards became eligible.
Lumbering was still needed, however, so men continued to be recruited to replace those who had left. And there were injuries and deaths. It may not have been combat, but woodswork is dangerous. While working, 335 NOFU men were injured severely enough to be sent back home and 34 were killed. That’s one tenth. In WWI, 14 names are on the honour roll for the NFC.
Below is a list of the Newfoundland Regiment soldiers killed at Beaumont Hamel on July 1, 1916. There are many more; those killed in the lead-up to the battle, those who died of their wounds, casualties in other regiments that also went over the top. A list that included all those would be massive. Far shorter would be the list of those who survived.
801 men of the Newfoundland Regiment went into the battle. Figures vary, but about 255 were killed in action, 386 were wounded and 91 were missing. Only 68 were able to answer roll call the next day. About an 80% casualty rate.
The Allied assault on Beaumont Hamel was supposed to start June 29th. Weather and other factors delayed it to July 1st. An artillery barrage at 6:25 AM, and infantry assaults starting an hour later. The Newfoundland Regiment was the third wave, starting at 9:15. It was all over in half an hour.
It was the start of the Battle of the Somme: The Big Push, The July Drive, “the heaviest single-day combat losses in the history of the British Army” (Legion Magazine Sept 2011). The Battle of the Somme lasted four and a half months, advanced the Allies’ front line 10 kms. There were over 620,000 Allied casualties and 465,000 German.
When I looked for the names of those killed that day, I couldn’t find a list. So I began piecing one together from online sources listing all World War I casualties. The Newfoundland Book of Remembrance, RNR WWI Nominal Roll and WWI graves listings.
I did find specific Beaumont Hamel lists eventually – of the dead, wounded and survivors. Once I started googling individual names, I found more lists and profiles of soldiers. So I didn’t need to make my own. But I had noticed things that gave me pause, made these young men, their families and neighbours real to me. Addresses on the same street, next of kin names turning up more than once. I checked my genealogy database and online ones. And I added the scraps of information to my list.
Here’s what I have. And forget-me-nots that a Facebook friend happened to post just after I’d been reminded that it is the flower of remembrance for the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. It is the lapel flower worn to remember Beaumont Hamel since the first anniversary 99 years ago.
Killed In Action at Beaumont Hamel
Pte. ABBOTT, George 1242 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 22
Next of kin: Henry and Emily Abbott. Address: Battery Road, St. John’s
Pte. ABBOTT, Stanley 283 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 21
Next of kin: Henry and Emily Abbott Address: Battery Road, St. John’s
George and Stanley were brothers. A neighbour or maybe cousin, Pte. Fred Abbott #3483, was killed in action Aug. 16, 1917 near Steenbeek. He too lived on Battery Road, son of Walter and Jane Abbott.
Pte. ANDERSON, Israel 1069 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 20
Son of Joseph and Jessie [MacNeil] Anderson, Mouse Island. Buried Y Ravine Cemetery, Somme
Pte. ANDREWS, Joseph 1119 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 27
Next of kin: Mrs. Catherine Andrews. Address: St. John’s
Pte. ANTLE, Gilbert 1899 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 21
Next of kin: Thomas and Mary Antle. Address: Botwood, Twillingate
Pte. ATWILL, James 1914 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 26
Son of Samuel and Charlotte Atwill. Resting place: Ancre (Sp. Mem. 37)
Cpt. AYRE, Bernard Pitts, Norfolk Regiment, British Expeditionary Force, d July 1st 1916
When the war began, Bernard was attending Cambridge University in England. He decided to join up there. Son of Robert Chesley Ayre and Lydia Gertrude Pitts of St. John’s. They had only one other child, Eric. See below for his name. (Brothers in Arms)
L/Cpl. AYRE, Edward Alphonsus 1009 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 19
Son of Edward and Selina Ayre of Isle Aux Morte. Buried Y Ravine
Known as Ted. Family name also spelled Hare. Edward Sr. was son of Samuel Hare and Juia Gillam. His mother was born Selina Wells. The family moved to Sydney, Cape Breton soon after the war.
RMS Megantic postcard to Maud McNiven, girlfriend and sister of fellow soldier Will McNiven: “Dearest, Just a few cards of the ship we are leaving by. We left Aldershot nine o’clock last night. I am going to try and get someone from the shore to post these for me, we are not allowed ashore. I did not get a letter from you before leaving. Believe me to be yours. xxxxxx Faithfully, Ted”
Cpt. AYRE, Eric S. RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 27
Brother of Capt. Bernard P. Ayre, above. They were grandsons of Charles Robert Ayre, founder of Ayre & Sons Ltd.
2nd Lt. AYRE, Gerald W. RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 25
Next of kin: Frederick William and Mary Julia [Pitts] Ayre. Address: St. John’s. Resting place: Memorial Park
1st cousin of Wilfred and brothers Bernard and Eric. His brother Charles was also in the war and survived.
2nd Lt. AYRE, Wilfrid D. 164 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 21
Son of Charles P. and Diana [Stevenson] Ayre, St. John’s. Resting place: Knightsbridge
1st cousin of Gerald, Eric and Bernard. HIs brother Ronald was also in the war and survived.
L/Cpl. BARBOUR, Horatio 1419 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 26
Son of William and Amy H. Barbour of Port Rexton. Resting place: Beaumont Hamel 1
Pte. BARNES, Maxwell 1576 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 22
Next of kin: Mrs. Sarah Ann Barnes. Resting place: Memorial Park
Pte. BARRETT, Leonard Josiah 372 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 21
Next of kin: Mrs. Maud Barrett. Resting place: Memorial Park
Pte. BARTLETT, Joseph Patrick 629 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 22
Next of kin: John Bartlett. Address: Maryvale, Brigus
Pte. BARTON, John 1485 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 29
Next of kin: William and Annie Barton. Address: The Goulds, Bay Bulls Road, St. John’s West
Pte. BENNETT, William 1229 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 31
Next of kin: William and Agnes Bennett. Address: St. John’s
Pte. BISHOP, Wilson 1597 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 22
Son of John and Annie [Feaver] Bishop of 10 Second Avenue, Grand Falls. Resting place: Ancre
Full name Henry Wilson Bishop. His father’s parents were Edward Bishop and Elizabeth Piercey. His mother’s parents were Enos Feaver and Catherine Foote.
Pte. BOONE, Stewart Malcolm 1219 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 20
Son of William Thomas and Sarah Jane Boone of South River, Clark’s Beach. Resting place: Ancre.
Pte. BOWMAN, Charles 938 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 26
Next of kin: Frigaz Bowman, St. John’s. Resting place: Memorial Park
Pte. BREEN, John Joseph 67 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 22
Son of Mrs. Catherine Breen, Alexander St., St. John’s and the late Jacob Breen. Resting place: Memorial Park
Pte. BRENT, David 1794 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 23
Next of kin: Mr. and Mrs. John Brent. Address Botwood, Twillingate. Resting place: Memorial Park
Sgt. BROWN, Bertram 1382 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 21
Next of kin: Amos and Selina Brown. Address: Grand Falls
Pte. BROWN, Edward John 545 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 28
Next of kin: Eli and Annie Brown. Address: Harbour Grace
Pte. BURGE, Allen 624 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 20
Next of kin: George and Mary Jane Burge. Address: Bonavista
Pte. BURKE, Garrett 1023 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 25
Son of Silvester and Mary Ellen Burke of Tor’s Cove, Ferryland. Resting place: Knightsbridge
Pte. BURKE, Leo Michael 1170 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 18
Son of Martin and Annie Burke of St. John’s West. Resting place: Ancre
Sgt. BURRY, Sidney George 1044 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 31
Next of kin: Job and Matilda Burry. Address: Greenspond, Bonavista. Resting place: Memorial Park
Pte. BUTLER, Edward William 1567 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 25
Son of John and Phoebe Butler of Fogo. Buried: Y Ravine.
Pte. BUTLER, Harry 1897 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 20
Son of Henry Stephen and Laura May Butler of “Hillcrest” LeMarchant Road, St. John’s. Buried: Y Ravine
Pte. BUTLER, Ignatius Joseph 1442 RNR, d July 1st 1916
Next of kin: Mary C. Butler. Address: St. George’s. Buried: Memorial Park “In June 1918 Iganatius’ mother filled in a form to request continuation of an allotment made her to following Iganatius’ death in 1916. Her husband had drowned at sea in 1900 leaving her to raise her family alone. For some time she was able to run a successful boarding house but by 1918 her health was failing. Two daughters still lived with her and one Bridie was an invalid. By the time the pension was awarded Mrs Butler had died and the pension went to Bridie.” (Lives of the First World War)
Today, Dr. George Park died at the age of 90. He was a retired professor of Anthropology at Memorial University of Newfoundland. He was my thesis advisor and he and his late wife Alice were my “St. John’s parents”. Below is an excerpt from the introductory chapter of a manuscript that he was working on. It tells us something about his life and his way of thinking.
Kinga and the Knowledge Wars
My US schooling between the two World Wars was an excellent preparation for university, but left one pretty much in the nineteenth century. I was twenty and a Marine Corps fighter pilot waiting in the South Pacific for the planned invasion of Japan—when the war over there quite suddenly ended…
I didn’t discover the beauties of the social sciences until I was in graduate school. I’d gone back to university after trying journalism because it finally came to me that my colleagues in the profession had picked up almost nothing useful in ‘journalism’ classes about what a writer might do for the world – what the great journalists had done – only learned the ropes. After graduating in literature and philosophy I was finding out how little I understood of what my eyes were observing of the ‘real world’. Three years of graduate work covering all the social sciences led to one intensive year in anthropology. By then we (man & wife & two boys then) had to decide which way to go for earning our bread: ‘high journalism’ and ‘social scientist’ were my options. We decided I should teach for a year, and with one thing and another it turned into something more like a decade.
Sociologists today know the university where I did my graduate work as home of ‘the Chicago school’, an early teaching which linked the social sciences to direct observation and thereby to a ‘high journalistic‘ style of qualitative sociology–something contrasting to ‘quantitative‘ studies which ‘measure’ social systems without necessarily becoming directly acquainted with them… Most sociology falls between the two contrasting poles. I started my teaching career as a sociologist but moved toward the ‘qualitative‘ pole as best I could. The first step was a two year field study in northern Norway (for the doctorate degree in anthropology. Later I was able to get a post-doctorate year at Cambridge (UK) in ‘British social anthropology’ and consequently the fieldwork in Tanzania.
In the meantime, pretty much behind my back, the social sciences were flourishing in the US. That break from tradition came rather later on the British side. Social anthropology had developed without much sociological foundation there, though London in its classes brought European ‘sociological philosophy’ (not much observational basis) to bear and to good effect. The more doctrinaire notions at ‘Ox-bridge’ about social structure had helped their fieldworkers start with the politically important features of social organization but had prevented their going much beyond. They sniffed at the ‘American’ notion of an anthropology centered in ‘culture’ and the descriptive analysis of prevailing ‘sentiments’ or ‘psychological’ premises implicit in the style of a people’s communal life. British social anthropologists kept to the end their notion of a ‘system in equilibrium’ as the subject one should study in the field. UK’s only really popular star in the profession was copiously descriptive in style and drifted in the end to New England. This was Bronislaw Malinowski, Polish-born author of an always engaging shelf of books on the South Pacific’s Trobriand Islanders…
So it is to my British tutors I owe my own special interest in social structure, but to fellow North American academics I owe my interest in direct observation (out in the public arena, in the study of a profession or a functioning institution, a community) using facework as a scientific tool. I also owe to North Americans the long years of stress which have led me to an understanding of the useless ‘knowledge wars’ I want to address in this book. The problem, you will see, is the very purposefulness of the narrow mindedness social scientists are expected to show in the pursuit of wisdom in Academia americanensis.
The history of knowledge is older and more lush than the Garden of Academe, but the tales intimately intertwine from the start of the 20th century, when universities undertook the management of public moneys for the advancement of science. Until that point, a university was a center for educating a lumpen elite, the live storage of books, and the meeting of scholarly minds. The introduction of Science, with its increasing needs for equipment, new buildings, salaries for research, and en masse professional training left the poor classical scholar up a tree dreaming of a Saintly re-established Equilibrium. Still, those were stirring times. By the time I had done my apprenticeship, the signs of a shrinking world were burgeoning everywhere.
The great knowledge revolution had taken hold, and knowledge of any sort, ‘practical’ or not, had begun to seem worth pursuing. The first phase in the democratization of knowledge began slowly with commodification of books in the english language: paperbacks, pocket size. The French had them earlier but in fuller size: ergo no sudden revolution. The US version got publishers putting scarce ‘library books’ in cheap versions, ‘mass produced’ with catchy covers. Reading a monograph on an African pedestrian culture community had meant, throughout my time teaching sociology before Cambridge and Africa, at least a week getting hold of the book and writing long notes and citations without marring the library’s copy. A short generation later, by the sixties, you could assign such a monograph for a class and expect the students to buy it. Today, I suppose, that first phase of democratizing ‘college-level’ books was segueing into a further phase of ‘instant availability’ by courtesy of digital devices.
Technology had been democratizing knowledge, but for magnifying the knowledge base of social anthropology the time was short. Research grants were painfully hard to get, and our ‘science’ hardly matured before the ‘field’ for ethnographic observation had virtually disappeared. Yet it is a premise of these pages that the immersion studies actually accomplished—in the too-short window of time a world in turmoil allowed—are a priceless inheritance, unique in its implications for basic research on what we almost casually used to call the ‘human condition’. I won’t try making a monument of pebbles, but bits of insight will begin to yield knowledge when you have got them properly laid out. The result can’t be seamless, and it could never be final. The very final chapter in the story of mankind will still be full of new stuff lying unsorted. That is one philosophical point I want to make, and I want to make it by showing off and sorting the pebbles I brought back, as a much younger social anthropologist, from Africa.
I was lucky enough to have, with my feisty, long treasured Alice and our four children, two years in East Africa just as colonial governments were secretly coming to an end. My research dealt with the Kinga people still thriving then in the Livingstone mountains of southwestern Tanganyika, (now Tanzania)… Fieldwork in the early 1960s came to be focused on reconstructing the precolonial experience of ‘pure Kinga’ communities. What I knew about them when I arrived in their District was only that Kinga were ‘conservative’ in the meaning of their British governors—they hadn’t sold out or lost their way, they had kept continuity with their past as an independent people. This good news and a climate suitable for children had attracted me, and over the next six months as I reconnoitred and my family got settled in a luxurious mud hut (three rooms, tin roof) there was more good news. Guesswork had found me precisely the kind of people I stood to learn most from.
His Kinga trilogy is available at Scribd to read online or download:
“Ptes Stanley and George Abbott of the Newfoundland Regiment were my grandmother’s brothers. I remember that picture of them at her house. My Dad’s sister has it now. They made it through Gallipoli only to be struck down at Beaumont-Hamel.” (Mike Barrett, comment)
George and Stanley were sons of Henry and Emily Abbott of Battery Road in St. John’s. When they were killed July 1st, 1916, George was 22 and Stanley 21.
At Gallipoli, about 40 Newfoundland men died. The 1st Newfoundland Regiment landed September 20, 1915. The battle had been going on since April 25th. It lasted until January 9, 1916.
The other Allied forces there were from the UK, France, Australia and New Zealand. The ANZAC troops, from Australia and New Zealand, proportionately lost the most men. Gallipoli was their Beaumont-Hamel, the battle that will always stay in their memory, that defined them as nations.
..Johnny Turk he was waiting, he primed himself well… And in five minutes flat he’d blown us all to hell…
(Eric Bogle, And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda – here it is, beautifully presented)
April 25th is Anzac Day, a day of remembrance each year in New Zealand and Australia. And in Newfoundland. “The Newfoundland Regiment commemorates Anzac Day, a unique tradition in the modern-day Canadian Forces. Every 25 April the regiment marches through St John’s to the National War Memorial…” (NZ History).
Beaumont-Hamel has such a strong presence in Newfoundland and Labrador’s memory that it’s easy to overlook battles like Gallipoli. A commemorative newspaper tells the story of Newfoundland’s Gallipoli. The text is below (the whole paper is online – worth reading).
“When Britain declared war in August 1914, Newfoundland, which was a colony of Britain at the time and not yet a part of Canada, responded quickly and began recruiting men for overseas service.
The fighting in the First World War occurred in more places than just Western Europe. On September 20, 1915, the 1st Newfoundland Regiment landed on Turkey’s Gallipoli peninsula, joining British, French, Australian and New Zealand troops already there. Gallipoli would be the Newfoundlanders’ first experience of the horrors of trench warfare—artillery fire, snipers, punishing heat and cold, and disease caused by living in such harsh conditions.
In November they earned their first battle honour when they captured “Caribou Hill”—named after the animal that represented their regiment. These soldiers later successfully covered the withdrawal of Allied troops from the region, being among the last to leave in January 1916. Approximately 40 Newfoundlanders had died there, a grim taste of the great casualties the regiment would soon suffer on the Western Front.”
Christopher Morry tells his grandfather’s story in When the Great Red Dawn Is Shining. Howard Morry of Ferryland fought at Gallipoli, fought at Beaumont-Hamel, and came home to Newfoundland. Lucky man!
Those buried at Gallipoli
I could not find the names of all the men of the 1st Newfoundland Regiment who died at or due to Gallipoli. Below are the names of 22 who are buried there.
Blyde, M. J.
Brown, J. M.
Carew, D. M.
Ebsary, H. E.
Hardy, W. F.
Hynes, J. J. Knight, G. S.
McWhirter, H. W.
Murphy, W. J.
Roper, F. C.
Tibbo, J. J.
Wighton, C. Capt.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, July 1st is Memorial Day. It’s been that longer than it’s been Canada Day. Newfoundland joined Canada in 1949. But July 1st has had special significance for 99 years, since 1916.
On July 1st 1916, 801 men of the 1st Newfoundland Regiment went over the top at Beaumont Hamel in France, part of the Battle of the Somme. Only 68 answered roll call July 2nd. Of the rest, about half were killed or missing and the other half wounded.
After Beaumont Hamel
The Regiment quickly regrouped and continued fighting, six weeks later at Flanders then back in the Somme. After the Battle of Cambrai in November 1917, they were honoured by King George V and renamed the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.
The casualties of the First World War for Newfoundland soldiers and sailors were about 1,500 killed and 2,500 wounded. A huge chunk out of a whole generation. And a huge public debt for financing that war effort: about 10 million dollars plus pensions for veterans.
The price of fish dropped in the 1920s, followed by the depression of the 1930s. Debt, deprivation and instability led in 1933 to Newfoundland giving up self-government in favour of direct rule by Great Britain, in a Commission of Government. Another 15 years of debating how Newfoundland would be governed and by whom. Another world war to which Newfoundland again sent troops. And in 1948 a referendum, narrowly won by those who wanted to join Canada.
So July 1st is now a day of national celebration in Newfoundland and Labrador, just as it is on the mainland. But it’s a sombre day as well. It’s the day to mourn, remember and honour the men known as The Blue Puttees and their proud country.
If you haven’t already, read Kevin Major’s 1995 novel No Man’s Land.
A 1988 interview with Ronald Dunn, a veteran of Beaumont Hamel pictured above, is here.
At the annual Sussex Flea Market in Princess Louise Park you can find almost anything. But a Grenfell hooked mat was probably the last thing I expected to find.
It hung on a canvas wall, shining among the antiques and bric-a-brac around it. Fortunately the seller knew what it was, a unique piece of early 20th century Newfoundland art and a beautiful example of a particular type of craft production.
Dr. Wilfred Grenfell, later Sir, was an English physician who established nursing stations and cottage hospitals in coastal Labrador and northern Newfoundland. In order to raise funds for the Grenfell Mission and to provide a source of cash income for local women, he started a handicraft production industry.
One of the main items produced by what was known as “The Industrial” were hooked mats. At first they were the geometric and floral design rag mats the women already made for use in their own homes. Then they began making “picture mats” of silk, like the one in Sussex.
Mats made of stockings
“When your stockings run, let them run to Labrador!” the Mission’s newsletter asked of its readers. So donations of “silk stockings and underwear in unlimited quantities” were sent to the Grenfell Mission. There they were cut in strips and dyed. Grenfell, his wife and some of the mat-makers themselves drew designs for the mats. Then using the sketch as a guide, the artisans hooked the scene into burlap with the silk strips.
The lightness of the silk and fineness of the hooking makes the mat almost like a tapestry. The surface sheen is visible these 80 or 90 years after this mat was made.
The height of the Grenfell mat-making industry was in the 1920s and 1930s. Mats were sold throughout the world, marketed through the Mission newsletter and Grenfell’s own contacts. They are still collected as the pieces of art they are. If I’d had the money, the one at the Sussex flea market would have found a home with me.
For detailed photographs and discussion of mats and other Grenfell craftwork, from a 2010 talk given by Silk Stocking Mats author Paula Laverty, see this blog.
The Newfoundland Museum, when still on Duckworth Street, had a small collection of films to screen for visitors. The first one I ever showed was The Viking. I had never heard of the film or the story behind it. After I got the reel running, I stood in the doorway to make sure it was working okay. And I began watching. Finally I pulled a chair over so I could watch the movie more comfortably while also keeping an eye on the lobby. It was spellbinding – the 1930 seal hunt with ice and cold and deprivation, and a romance and survival story.
Later I learned that the sealing ship, SS Viking, had exploded during the filming and 27 men had died. One of them was the film’s producer Varick Frissell, along with his dog Cabot. The real life story was as filled with ice and cold and deprivation as the fictional one, and it had a much worse ending.
I read Earl B. Pilgrim’s book The Day of Varick Frissell. It is wonderful. Pilgrim tells how Frissell came to Newfoundland and how he came up with the idea for a movie he called White Thunder and got practical and financial backing for it. The Viking sailed to the sealing grounds with a film crew aboard. She had two captains for that 1930 voyage: Captain Sid Jones commanded her and real-life captain and explorer Bob Bartlett portrayed her captain in the movie.
Frissell didn’t get the dramatic shots of the huge ice fields, the “white thunder,” that he wanted. The following year, in March of 1931, the film crew sailed with the Viking again with Captain Abram Kean Jr. in command. The objective was less to seal and more to film, and dynamite, the northerly ice fields. The journey soon became disastrous, due to human error as much as nature.
Loss of the SS Viking
Pilgrim includes a full list of all aboard the Viking on her final voyage and of the men who lost their lives on her. Despite the loss of the ship and men and presumably the footage shot on that second journey, the film was released in 1931 as The Viking.
It is a tribute to the men who sailed on the Viking and other sealing vessels. It is also a tribute to Varick Frissell who saw the beauty in the sea-ice and the men who battled it every spring. He also believed it was important to share that dangerous beauty with a world that enjoyed seal fur without thinking of the rigour of its production. Pilgrim’s book pays further tribute by giving us a glimpse of the real and tragic events, through reconstruction of known facts and surmise of what may have happened. He tells also of romance in Frissell’s life, with a Grenfell Mission nurse named Sarah who came from north of St. Anthony. If her existence is fact, I wonder who she was.
The Day of Varick Frissel is available on Amazon. If you are connected to the Northern Peninsula Kean family of ship captains, you’ll be especially interested in this story. If you would like to see the movie, you no longer have to wait for a museum attendant to show it. You can buy it here on Amazon. Brooklyn newspaper accounts are here.
A while back, I was looking online for a family in response to a query. I found them. A note on their kinship chart said the wife was sister of Otto Kelland, maker of the model fishing boats displayed at the Fisheries College in St. John’s and composer of the song Let Me Fish Off Cape St. Mary’s. I sat back, stared at the screen and said “Wow!”
Instantly I was back in the Newfoundland Museum, the old one on Duckworth Street, about 1982. I worked as a weekend attendant and we tried to have a staff person on each floor, to keep an eye on things and be available to visitors who had questions. One Saturday, I was on the 3rd floor, the Newfoundland history display.
Two men stopped for a long time at the display case of model fishing boats. The older man would point a finger to something on one of them while talking. Their conversation looked interesting, so I wandered over close enough that I could eavesdrop. I had spent a lot of time studying those models. I loved the workmanship and I would compare all the little parts, seeing what made one type of vessel different from another.
Father and son, as it turned out they were, noticed me nearby and included me in their discussion. After knowledgeably talking about the models, the elder man explained to me: “I built these, y’see.” I thought, sure you did, just after you finished the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. We had a lot of rather odd people who spent time in the museum. But the more he talked, the more likely it seemed that he really had built these model ships.
Let Me Fish Off Cape St. Mary’s
The son decided introductions were in order so he told me his name and “this is my father, Otto Kelland.” I sneaked a peak at the cards propped beside the model ships just to verify what I already knew: made by Otto Kelland. Then another realization hit me: Otto Kelland also was the name of the man who wrote the most beautiful Newfoundland song I’d ever heard. I said “Let Me Fish Off Cape St. Mary’s?” “Oh yes my dear, that was me,” he laughed.
My eyes filled up as I stared at him, open-mouthed. I felt like a fool, but I was totally awestruck. The beautiful models that I had spent so many hours looking at, the song that moved me to tears every time I heard it – and the maker of both smiling at me.
Then we reversed roles up there on the 3rd floor. The museum attendant was given a tour by the museum patron. Mr. Kelland explained the design and equipment of the fishing vessels using his models as illustration. Then he took me and his son around the other displays of fishing stages and stores, industrial equipment and household items. I learned more that day about my museum and about Newfoundland than I ever had before.
I’ve never forgotten the thrill of meeting him that day. And seeing that note about him on a genealogy page brought it all back fresh as the day it happened. So I’m proud to say that Mr. Otto P. Kelland is now entered in my database.
*If you’ve never heard the song, here’s a beautiful version by The Irish Descendants. Also here’s a book written by Otto Kelland on Amazon:Dories and Dorymen
If you’re near London Ont. you’ve got a couple days left to see a grand play at the Grand Theatre. Tempting Providence, by Theatre Newfoundland and Labrador, runs until Friday March 31st.
It’s the story of Myra Bennett, a British nurse who came in 1921 to Newfoundland for a planned two years. She married Angus Bennett from Daniel’s Harbour and stayed on the Northern Peninsula until she died in 1990 at the age of 100. We saw the play several years ago in Cow Head, near where Mrs. Bennett lived. My dentist, who knows nothing about Newfoundland or outpost nursing, saw it in London last week. Like us, she loved it.
Tempting Providence tells her story, but it’s really the story of all the nurses who looked after the health of those living in far-flung and isolated communities on Newfoundland’s west coast. They did everything from birthing babies to surgery if need be. Many, like Nurse Bennett, came from England. Others were from Newfoundland and took nursing training in St. John’s.
In remote areas of the island, nurses were pretty much the entire medical system. There were Grenfell Mission doctors based in St. Anthony and a few cottage hospitals, but the nurses scattered in small communities were those first called upon and sometimes the only source of medical help. Today, we would call them nurse-practitioners in that they did much more than nurse training alone teaches. Many stayed for their allotted time only but others, like Mrs. Bennett, stayed and nursed those who had become their neighbours and family throughout their lives.
Midwives and Healers
There were also local midwives and healers without formal education who learned by assisting someone more experienced. Many local healers were Mi’kmaq, using barks, berries and animal parts in medicines. Some were believed to be able to “charm” illness away. Mary Francis Webb of Flat Bay was one of them. Well-known and respected, she served a huge area extending way south of her Bay St. George community right up to Corner Brook.
Nurses, midwives and healers traveled anywhere any time they were needed. They also raised children, grew gardens, tended animals and did all the work that other Newfoundland outport women did. Some of the informally trained midwives supplemented their education with formal training if they could. All worked with doctors, calling on them when they needed specialized skills. But if the doctor couldn’t get there, they had to rely on their own skills. Cecilia Benoit wrote Midwives in Passageabout Newfoundland’s traditional and professional midwifery.
Theatre Newfoundland and Labrador’s Tempting Providence conveys the hardship and the beauty of an outport nurse’s life – the place and the work. It’s a lovely play, transporting you to the Great Northern Peninsula of a century ago with the use of a simple white sheet and talented actors.
The telling of a place often is told through the people who make up the place. Conversely, the telling of a family can be told through the place they lived. Here are books about places or families in Newfoundland that may be of interest to those researching their origins.
Many prolific writers and storytellers have told Newfoundland’s past and present. There are also historical sources and contemporary analyses of Newfoundland Mi’kmaq. I have not included those here.
These books are about specific family or community history. They have real names and details of family history as well as the history of areas in which Mi’kmaq people lived. The exceptions are those by Kevin Major, Horwood and Butts, Erin Sharpe, Percy Janes, and Barbara Rieti. You may not think of Major’s book when you think “history”, and it’s worth reading. Horwood and Butts’ book tells about the pirate Peter Easton in Newfoundland. Sharpe’s article, through the eyes of one young woman, gives the reasons why people track their Mi’kmaq ancestry. Percy Janes’ novel beautifully presents place; Corner Brook in the first half of the 20th century. Rieti studies witchcraft beliefs in all of Newfoundland, but includes Mi’kmaq people and areas.
Please let me know if you know of a book that should be here. The titles below are links to find them. If you buy from Amazon, doing so through my links (or ‘Search Amazon’ box in right sidebar) means a fraction of every sale goes to me. For that, I am most appreciative. Afterwords bookstore in St. John’s (245 Duckworth 709-753-4690, on Facebook) has a lot of Newfoundlandia.
Relevant, but included elsewhere in this site, are Earl Pilgrim’s Drifting Into Doom, my own Nogwa’mkisk: (Where the sand blows): Vignettes of Bay St. George Micmacs (out of print) and Lark Szick’s Young/LeJeune Family.
New books added Jan. 12, 2017!
Click book titles (in green) for info and purchase
Rogers, John Davidson Newfoundland Vol. V, Pt. IV of A Historical Geography of the British Colonies Clarendon, Oxford 1911 Forgotten Books Classic Reprint Series 2012 Esp. ch. 8 for Mi'kmaq history (Amazon sometimes, or libraries)
Speck, Frank Beothuk and Micmac New York: Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation 1922 (online - see top left for formats, also on Amazon hard copy and Kindle)
Styles, Cindy 3 or 4 Years an Indian Friesen Press 2015 ("A little story about one girl's attempt to claim her heritage, and the maneuvering by the Canadian government to discredit that heritage." - Amazon blurb. Kindle, paper, hardback eds.