THE NEWFOUNDLAND REGIMENT
In the summer of 1914 in Newfoundland, most of the men were at sea fishing for Cod, but by August 10th a decision had been made to raise a Battalion to fight for the ‘mother country’. They would be paid the same as the Canadian’s and given free transport to St Johns from any part of the territory.
Many of the original volunteers of the 500 called for by the Government, had been members of the Legion of Frontiersmen. This was an Empire wide militia that had been set up during the Boer War. The men in Newfoundland had been equipped as a result of the generosity of Arthur Wakefield, who was working in the territory as a doctor, and was one of the members of the 1921 expedition to Everest. (Wade Davis. Into the Silence and Brumration, July 2015)
The 500 were cheered by large crowds as they marched through the streets of St Johns on October 3rd 1914 to board HMS Florizel. The following day it joined a flotilla of thirty one ship flotilla escorted by the battle cruiser HMS Princess Royal for the eleven day journey across the Atlantic to Plymouth. They were to spend a very wet Autumn and Winter on Salisbury Plain.
These were the first of over 7,000 volunteers from Newfoundland, and over 50% of their number were either killed or wounded. The story of one of these men has been written below by Mark Taylor, one of the members of the Birmingham WFA.
My wife’s great aunt, from Wolverhampton, was briefly married to Leo Jesso, a soldier of the Newfoundland Regiment who died in 1920 as a result of his war service and is buried in the WW1 CWGC plot at Mount Carmel Cemetery, St. Johns, Newfoundland. We decided to try to find out more about him and an e-mail to Dr David Parsons, Chairman of the Newfoundland branch of the WFA resulted in copies of Jesso’s service records being posted to us. Dr Parson is the author of a number of books and articles about the Newfoundland Regiment and we are indebted to him for his assistance. I have also consulted the War Diary, which is available to view on-line.
At the start of the war, Newfoundland, then a British Dominion, rather than a province of Canada, did not have any army unit of its own that its menfolk could join. This was soon remedied and the first contingent of some 500 men of what would become the Newfoundland Regiment arrived in England in Oct 1914. The Regiment first went into action at Sulva Bay on 20 Sep 1915. Meanwhile, back in Newfoundland, Jesso had volunteered and been attested on 4 Sep 1915. He came from Woods Island, a small island community in Bay St. George on the remote west side of Newfoundland, his trade being recorded as ‘fisherman’ and his age as age 19 years 7 months.
The Newfoundland Regiment only furnished a single fighting battalion. Following the withdrawal from Gallipoli they arrived in France via Egypt at the end of March 1916. Private 1812 Jesso was part of two drafts of some 400 officers and men who had been training in Scotland and which reached the battalion at Louvencourt in the Somme area in early April 1916.
His first period of service with the BEF did not last long. On 11 May he was at a Casualty Clearing Station diagnosed with acute nephritis (inflammation of the kidneys) and within a few days was back in the UK in hospital at Wandsworth. He was therefore not with the battalion when they attacked at Beaumont Hamel on 1 July. In mid-July he returned to the UK base depot near Ayr and remained there for over a year. His conduct sheet lists various minor misdemeanours while in the UK, including two days C.B. for ‘being in bed at 9:30 am’ and 96 hrs Field Punishment No.2 for refusing to obey an order from an NCO (a Lance Corporal).
Jesso returned to the battalion in August 1917 which by then was in action near Langemark in the Third Battle of Ypres. He remained with them almost until the end of the war. In November 1917 they took part in the Battle of Cambrai, which reduced the battalion to 250 men. Jesso’s front line service ended at the beginning of October 1918 when they were in action at Ledeghem in Flanders. His parents received a telegram a few days later stating that he was at 55th General Hospital, Boulogne as ‘gassed – slight’. He then contracted influenza and suffered other serious ill health resulting in hospitalisation and convalescence in the UK.
It is believed that his wife, Edith, was a member of a theatrical company, no doubt doing her bit to entertain the troops and that Jesso was at Compton Hall. They married in Wolverhampton on 1 Jun 1919 and they sailed home from Glasgow with other members of the Newfoundland Contingent later that same month. There is a letter in the records from Edith to his C.O. requesting an advance of her allowance to pay her arrears of rent and to purchase ‘clothes decent enough to travel that distance with’ – there is no response to this request in the file. While in Newfoundland Edith gave birth to a son.
Private Jesso was discharged on 16 Aug 1919 and died on 10 Apr 1920 at Waterford Hall, St. John’s, which in 1919-1920 was in use as a temporary hospital for veterans. The WW1 CWGC plot at Mount Carmel Cemetery contains 11 burials, their graves marked with the usual design of headstone. They are mostly members of the Newfoundland Regiment who died between 1918 and 1920.
Edith returned to Wolverhampton soon afterwards with her son and subsequently re-married.
POPPY LAPEL PIN
To commemorate the Battle of the Somme a Poppy Lapel Pin has been designed and manufactured in the jewellery quarters of London and Birmingham. It is made from British Shell Fuses fired during the Battle and collected from the Battlefield. The red enamel centre is made from a small amount of finely ground earth from the battlefield and red enamel mixed together. Each commemorates the life of an individual soldier killed on the Somme, and a pin sent to a friend is dedicated to Rifleman Harold Waddington 1st/7th West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales Own). Also known as the Leeds Rifle Battalion.
Formed in 1914 at Carlton Barracks, Leeds they became part of the 146 West Riding Division, 49th Brigade. From August 10th they were at Selby, followed by periods at Strenshall and York. On April 15th 1915 they arrived in Boulogne.
One of the successes of the first day of the Battle of the Somme was the attack of the Ulster Division on the German front line, at the Schwaben Redoubt. Having reached their objective they advanced towards the German Second line known in this area as Stuff Redoubt. It was at this point things began to go wrong, a major issue being a total failure of communications, which at one point led to the Ulstermen being shelled by their own side. They also had the expected German counter offensive to cope with and were soon falling back to the Schwaben Redoubt. The expected reinforcements were not to arrive until late in the day, and comprised eight companies of the West Riding Division. By that time there was only 800 yards of the old German front line left to defend, and the situation was to deteriorate. Corporal George Sanders, 1st/7th West Yorkshire Regiment, led a group of men who defended one small part of Schwaben Redoubt for the next 36 hours. Of the 30 men with him 11 became casualties, but they were also able to rescue some wounded Ulstermen, and repelled several German attacks. For his leadership and bravery he was awarded the Victoria Cross.
The 36th (Ulster Division) lost 2,000 men in this action at Thiepval, a further 2,700 were wounded and 165 were taken prisoner. They were the only division to reach the second German main trench system on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. It was three months before British troops captured the Schwaben Redoubt. (Martin Middlebrook, The First Day on the Somme 1st July 1916)
In his recently published book on the battle of the Somme, Hugh Sebag-Montefiore describes in some detail the confusion over the role of the West Riding Division, where Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Morland, Commander of 10th Corps, was having some difficulty in establishing from his observation post what was happening on the battlefield.
The 146 Brigade war diary indicates that the 1st/7th had received three orders in the space of a few hours. They had at 4pm received orders to attack Thiepval, they had later been ordered to advance to the front line opposite Schwaben Redoubt and finally they received yet another counter order to support the defence of the Redoubt itself. When this order was confirmed it was around 7.30pm, the Battalion moved forward and it is probable that it was in this action that Rifleman Waddington was killed.
The name of Private Waddington and other soldiers of the West Yorkshire Regiment can be found on Face 2a/2c and 2d of the Thiepval Memorial