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“The British Empire is at War!” – Mobilizing Newfoundland, 1914

NHS Symposium October 2,3 & 4, 2014

October 2, Thursday night 8pm. Location: The Legion at Pleasantville, St. John’s.

Symposium Program

Mike O’Brien

“The Newfoundland Regiment, the British Army and Preparations for Battle in 1914.”

In the early months of the First World War, the process of recruiting, outfitting and training the newly-created Newfoundland Regiment was based on the practices of Britain’s pre-war Regular Army. Those practices were informed by British experiences in colonial warfare, especially in the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902. While those British practices were useful in creating creating a strong and cohesive infantry unit, they were in some ways ill-suited to the type of conflict that would be faced in the trenches of Europe. The Newfoundland Regiment also faced challenges due to the fact that, in the absence of existing military institutions in the colony, their preparations for battle had to be improvised after the war had already started.

Edward Roberts

“The Blue Puttees, September 1914 to August 1915:
Stories You May Have Never Heard”

On the evening of 21 August 1914, a young man originally from Nova Scotia entered the Church Lad’s Brigade on Military Road and enlisted with the Newfoundland Regiment. Charles Sydney Frost, Reg. No. 58, had only been living in St. John’s for three months when he answered the call to serve; yet he became a devoted member of the Regiment, rising to the rank of Captain, and earning a Military Cross. He also became a staunch advocate for preserving the Regiment’s history during the War and was a principal source for Gerald Nicholson’s official history, The Fighting Newfoundlander. This presentation focuses on Frost’s detailed (and as yet unpublished) memoir of the War, including his enlistment, training at Pleasantville, and voyage to the United Kingdom. It is an account of both the Regiment’s life and Frost’s own personal experiences.

October 3, 2-4pm. Workshop: Researching First World War history. Bert Riggs, Joan Ritcey. Terry Bishop-Stirling, chair. St. John’s main campus, Science Building. Room SN4073.

October 3. Friday night at The Rooms: Keynote Lecture:

Dr. John Keiger, University of Cambridge

“Understanding the causes of the First World War.”

A hundred years on, the causes of the First World War have provoked more interest and study than any other subject in modern history. Though the Second World War was more devastating, its causes have not generated such a vast literature, nor provoked such controversy and polemic. Today whole books are written about how the causes of the First World War have been written about…. Why is this? This lecture will attempt to understand and analyse the reasons for this abiding interest and the long running debate it has generated, from the infamous Article 231 of the Versailles Treaty which sealed German responsibility for the conflict, to the July Crisis as a counter-model for decisionmakers in crisis management as demonstrated by President John F. Kennedy during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

October 4. Saturday daytime sessions, at Hampton Hall at the Marine Institute, Ridge Road will include:

Andy Robertshaw

“The Easterns: Breaking the stalemate on the Western Front?”

This talk is an examination of the Gallipoli campaign and the role of the 29th Division with particular reference to the Newfoundland Regiment.

Andrew Robertshaw is a freelance military historian, author and broadcaster best known for his work on the Great War. He is the grandson of John Andrew Robertshaw who served on the Western Front between 1916 and 1919 and grew up in Yorkshire surrounded by relatives who had served on the War and Home Fronts in the First World War. As a teenager his mother worked for a charity shop in Suffolk and the opportunity to buy books about the events of 1914 to 18 did much to foster his interest in military history, as did War Gaming!

He is now based in Surrey and is the owner of a replica trench which is used as the basis for experimental archaeology and learning events. Much of his year is spent on the Western Front where he both carries out field work and guides parties of civilian and soldiers. His big screen appearance was in Steven Spielberg’s War Horse and he was both military consultant and an actor in the film.

Dean Oliver

“Canada’s Guns of August: A Centennial Echo”

There is a standard, largely consensual, narrative regarding popular reactions to the outbreak of war. Broad enthusiasm and public celebration, born of patriotism and imperial fervour, presaged a rush to enlist and the over-subscription of recruiting campaigns. Quebec’s response, or that of French-speaking Canadians more broadly, was different, but nevertheless quiescent, if not actively sympathetic. Hasty moves – legislative, juridical, martial –would have lasting consequences, but collateral impacts came later, as the war intensified, losses grew, and doubts thickened. But in August 1914, the war was a unifying force, soon to be over and not to be missed. At 100, how well do such images conjure reality? What elements are mythic, or dissonant, now, in their persistence? Which ones have proven transient or malleable in light of evidence or changing attitudes? Birthdays can be inopportune moments to expect (or to encourage!) sobriety, and yet opportunities not to be missed for reflection, repose, and the identification of new challenges. Is the war we know the one we entered? Was it ever?

Terry Bishop-Stirling

“They also Serve who Knit and Wait: Mobilizing Newfoundland Women for Total War”

When World War One war started, Newfoundland women, like their counterparts throughout the empire, looked for ways to support the cause. They acted quickly to encourage recruitment and offered their services as nurses and Red Cross workers. Thousands united to use their traditional skills to raise funds and supplies for their ‘boys’ and the wider allied cause. This presentation will examine the many and varied ways that Newfoundland women mobilized to contribute to their country’s total war effort.

Bert Riggs and David Mercer

“Lasting Remembrance: Newfoundland, Labrador and War”

This digital humanities project from Memorial University integrates historical GIS data with archival resources, digital images, digitized newspapers and historical information about the Newfoundland Regiment during the First World War. It is designed to assist scholars, students and members of the general public in their discovery and understanding of primary and secondary sources related to Newfoundland and Labrador’s First World War experience.

Sean Cadigan

“Sealers, War and Post-war Crisis in Newfoundland, 1914-34”

While 2014 is the centenary of the beginning of the First World War for most people, in Newfoundlland this year marks the 100th anniversary of other tragedies: the sealing disasters of the SS Newfoundland and the SS Southern Cross. Those disasters prompted unprecedented class polarization that persisted well into the second year of the war, which in turn fuelled greater political popularity for William Coaker and the FPU’s Union Party.

However, over the long term, the political rhetoric of war on the home front and post-war economic crisis undermined Coaker’s progressivism, reoriented politics to the right, and reinforced a nationalist mythos concerning sealers as men who welcomed, rather than needed protection from, the dangers of the front.

Robin McGrath

Frontiersmen to the Front by Robin McGrath

The general perception, in Newfoundland and Labrador and elsewhere, is that in 1914, Labrador was so remote from Europe that it wasn’t much affected by the war. Official records suggested that recruitment in Labrador was 2.58% of the male population, considerably less than the average. In actual fact, the enlistment figure was almost twice that, equal to the average for Newfoundland recruitment, primarily because of the three units of the Legion of Frontiersmen which had been preparing Labradorians for war for several years prior to the outbreak of hostilities. The only non-sectarian paramilitary organization in Newfoundland and Labrador, the Legion of Frontiersmen contributed approximately 150 men to the Newfoundland Regiment, as well as to other fighting units. This paper will look at the contribution Labradorians made to the war effort and the effect it had on them and their families at home.

Shannon Lewis-Simpson

“Call Out Royal Naval Reserve.”

Mobilization is not only the physical deployment of armed forces to the battlespace. Mobilization presupposes the deployment of attitudes, leading to successful force generation, including attractions, recruitment and training of personnel. This paper will track naval reserve force generation from 1902 to World War One. The process was not an easy one, and change was a constant.

No fees or registration required.
The Symposium Dinner will be held Saturday Oct. 4th from 7-9 pm at the Interpretation Centre at Signal Hill.

Cost is $40 per person. Tickets must be booked beforehand. Please call the NHS office 722-3191 or email the office to reserve and pay for tickets.

A buffet dinner by Skipper Ben’s Catering will be followed by:

  • Glenn Keough on the Parks Canada WWI Commemorative Programs
  • Readings from WWI letters
  • Music by our very own, very talented Vice-President Allan Byrne