The Royal Newfoundland Regiment - (R NFLD R) traces its origins to 1795, and since 1949 it has been a militia or reserve unit of the Canadian Forces. During the First World War the battalion-sized regiment was the only North American unit to fight in the Gallipoli campaign of 1915. Later in the war the regiment was virtually wiped out at Beaumont Hamel on July 1, 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Since then July 1 has been marked as Memorial Day in Newfoundland and Labrador.
The regiment was significantly involved in the War of 1812. Soldiers of the regiment fought aboard ships as marines in battles of the Great Lakes, as infantry in Michigan, and in the battle to defend York (Toronto). It was largely distributed throughout the zone as attached sub-units and not as a formed battalion. It was disbanded in 1816.
During the First World War, the Newfoundland Regiment was nicknamed the "Blue Puttees" due to a fabric shortage which saw the regiment wearing blue puttees rather than the standard olive drab puttees.
Despite the terrible conditions, the Newfoundlanders stood up well. When the decision was made to evacuate all British Empire forces from the area, the regiment was chosen to be a part of the rearguard, finally withdrawing from Gallipoli with the last of the British Dardanelles Army troops on January 9, 1916.
The regiment was in one of the follow up waves of what was referred to as "The July Drive" and were scheduled to reinforce what was expected to be sweeping victories across the front. When the time came to move to the jumping-off point, the Newfoundlanders found that the lead trenches were so tightly packed with dead and dying soldiers of the lead waves, who had been stopped by formidable barbed wire obstacles and automatic weapons fire, that they had to attack from secondary trenches. The increased amount of ground they had to cover, in the open, contributed to the disaster that befell them. The Newfoundland Regiment never made it past their own concentrations of barbed wire. Lieutenant-Colonel Arthur Lovell Hadow who witnessed the attack reported that the attack had failed despite training, discipline, and valor, because dead men can advance no further.
On the bloodiest day in the history of the British Army (57,470 casualties, 19,240 dead) at the opening of the largest battle (over one million casualties) of the war, Newfoundland had also suffered its gravest military loss. To this day, Beaumont-Hamel remains the most significant single military action fought by Newfoundlanders, and it marked a turning point in the history and culture of the island. Some historians have suggested that tiny Newfoundland never fully recovered from the loss of so many of its male population; similar hardships were faced by the regiment at Gallipoli as well.
In the weeks and months following the attack, as the surviving officers wrote letters of condolence to families and relatives in Newfoundland, the Battalion was steadily brought back to full strength. Six weeks later they were beating off a German gas attack in Flanders. Subsequently they distinguished themselves in a number of battles; back on the Somme at Gueudecourt in October 1916; on 23 April 1917, at Monchy-le-Preux during the Battle of Arras, where they lost 485 men in a day but checked a German attack despite overwhelming odds; then in November 1917 at Masnières-Marcoing during the Battle of Cambrai where they heroically stood their ground although outflanked; then at Bailleul stemming the German advance in April 1918. Following a period out of the line providing the guard force for General Headquarters at Montreuil, they joined the 28th Brigade of the 9th (Scottish) Division and were in action again at Ledegem and beyond in the advances of the Last Hundred Days. It was in these last days of the war that Pte. Thomas Ricketts of the Regiment became the youngest soldier of the war to win the Victoria Cross. In recognition of their achievements the Newfoundlanders were regarded as being an elite battalion.
In late 1917, following the Battle of Cambrai, the regiment was granted the "Royal" prefix by King George V, making it the only regiment of the British Empire to receive that honour during the war itself and only the third time in the history of the British Army that it has been given during a state of war.
When World War II began, as Dominion governed directly from the UK, Newfoundland declared war a day after the United Kingdom, on September 4, 1939. However no Newfoundland infantry units were sent overseas. Instead, it raised two artillery regiments; the 59 Heavy (Newfoundland) Regiment and the 57 (later 166)(Newfoundland) Field Artillery Regiment. These units saw service in Africa, Italy, and Europe.
In 1949, after a pair of referenda, Newfoundland joined Canada as the latter's 10th province. The Royal Newfoundland Regiment became the primary militia unit for the province. The regiment is ranked last in the order of precedence of Canadian infantry regiments due to Newfoundland's entry into Canada in 1949, long after other Canadian regiments were recognized in the order of precedence.
"It was a magnificent display of trained and disciplined valour, and its assault only failed of success because dead men can advance no further." Major-General Sir Beauvoir de Lisle (commander, British 29th Division) regarding the Newfoundland Regiment at Beaumont-Hamel.
"Thank God, my left flank is safe! Now for my right." Brigadier General Bernard Freyberg, VC (commander British 88th Brigade), at the Battle of Ledeghem, September, 1918, upon learning that the Newfoundland Regiment held his left flank.
VAC/90th Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme at Beaumont-Hamel Commemorated: Tribute paid to members of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment
Jul 01, 2006; BEAUMONT-HAMEL, FRANCECCNMatthews - July 1, 2006) - A Ceremony of Remembrance was held today at the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland...