“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)
“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.
An uncle and two great-uncles are my touchstones for the First World War. The one I knew best was Charles Scanlon, husband of my mother’s older sister Ada. He was 20 years older than she. Uncle Charlie told wonderful stories, but I don’t remember any being about the war. I knew only that he was a veteran of the war before the one in which my father had been.
Looking through my aunt’s photos and papers recently, I found out Uncle Charlie had been wounded at the Second Battle of Ypres, in April 1915. That was the battle in which the German Army first used the weaponry of poison gas. At Ypres, it was chlorine gas. I remember the tone of voice adults used, whispers almost: “he was gassed, you know.” I didn’t know what it meant, but I knew it was awful and that it explained a lot. I don’t know if Uncle Charlie had been gassed. I don’t remember him having the chronic lung or eye damage that I’ve read are major effects of it, if you survived the initial blast.
My mother’s mother had two brothers and both were in World War I. I knew one of them, Uncle Otto Lymburner, from visits to my grandparents’ house. I never knew his brother Edmund. I mistakenly thought that he had died in the war. But Uncle Eddie came home, married and had a family. He had been wounded, and he died in 1948 at the age of 49. They both joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force early in 1916. I don’t know what they did in the war. Maybe my grandmother told me, or would have had I asked. I just remember her with eyes filled with tears, saying “poor Eddie.” It was a sorrow that came from the war, I knew, and it scared me seeing her sad.
We learned about the world wars in school. To me, they were ancient history. If we did any projects that connected us to veterans among our families or friends, I don’t remember them.
If we’d had such projects, or if I had paid attention if we did, maybe I’d know the cause of my grandmother’s tears. I might know if Canadian Army physician John McCrae had treated Uncle Charlie’s injuries. I remember memorizing the poem In Flanders Fields in school. Lt. Col. McCrae wrote it during the Second Battle of Ypres, where Uncle Charlie was wounded. I loved the poem’s sad beauty, but I never in my wildest dreams connected it to my uncle’s life.
Canada entered the war 100 years ago Monday, August 4th. CBC Radio is airing a 10 part series about Canada’s war. The Bugle and the Passing Bell, produced by Steve Wadhams, is here.