Great War 100 Reads

Commemorating the centenary of the First World War in books


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Canada’s Dream Shall Be of Them

Is your creativity enriched or curtailed by Twitter’s 140-character limit? Imagine the challenge to families of those killed in WW1, asked to keep an epitaph for their loved one to 66 characters.

The Imperial (now Commonwealth) War Graves Commission decided not to repatriate hundreds of thousands bodies. Rather, the dead were buried with their comrades close to where they fell. A standard stone marks each grave, regardless of rank. But next of kin were invited to add a personal inscription. About half took up the offer. Together, these epitaphs form a striking record of grief and memory. Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial Park, France

This past Saturday, July 1, marked the 150th anniversary of Canada’s confederation, a day for the country to rejoice, reflect and reconcile. In Newfoundland and Labrador, it was also Memorial Day, a solemn day of remembrance of the single greatest disaster in Newfoundland history. At Beaumont-Hamel, the Newfoundland Regiment was virtually wiped out in half an hour on the first morning of the Somme Offensive, July 1, 1916. Of the 780 men who went forward, 233 were dead, 386 wounded and 91 reported missing (later assumed dead). While the casualty rate for many battalions was over 50%, for the Newfoundland Regiment it was 90%. All the officers were killed or wounded. On one of the bloodiest days of the war, only one other battalion had a higher casualty rate. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Law Society of Newfoundland, Supreme Court, St John’s, NL

A plaque in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador at 309 Duckworth St in St. John’s is dedicated in grateful memory of three members of the Law Society of Newfoundland.

Lawyer M. Frank Summers and student-at-law Cecil Bayly Clift were amongst the First Five Hundred in the Newfoundland Regiment, sailing across the Atlantic in October 1914 on the SS Florizel. Both served in Gallipoli, then moved to the Western Front. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – National War Memorial, St John’s NL

Memorial Day, July 1, is a solemn day of remembrance of the single greatest disaster in Newfoundland history. At Beaumont-Hamel, the Newfoundland Regiment was virtually wiped out in half an hour on the first morning of the Somme Offensive, July 1, 1916. Of the 780 men who went forward, 233 were dead, 386 wounded and 91 reported missing (later assumed dead). While the casualty rate for many battalions was over 50%, for the Newfoundland Regiment it was 90%. (Some reports say more went over the top, with a result of 85% casualties. But still …) All the officers were killed or wounded. On one of the bloodiest days of the war, only one other battalion had a higher casualty rate. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Thomas Ricketts, Victoria Cross, Croix de Guerre

Each soldier tells a story.

Tommy Ricketts left his birthplace, an isolated fishing hamlet, to answer the clarion call of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment in September 1916. He claimed to be 18 years old. He was 15.

Two years later, a seasoned soldier and still underage, Ricketts’ action in battle earned him the Victoria Cross. As described in the citation: Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Sergeants’ Memorial, St. John’s NL

This Celtic cross was erected at Queen’s Rd and Cathedral St (now in a traffic island) by the sergeants and warrant officers of the second battalion of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. The original monument marks WW1. Brass plaques were added to mark later wars. You can see a newer peacekeeping monument is in the background.

From The Fighting Newfoundlander, Gerald WL Nicholson (1964) ch XV: 

The earliest monument to be erected in St. John’s, other than tablets in the churches and schools, was the Sergeants’ Memorial, a fine Celtic cross of Scottish granite on the base of Newfoundland granite, standing on Queens Road at the foot of Garrison Hill. … The Memorial was unveiled by Sir Alexander Harris on July 1, 1921, and for the next two years it was the centre of the Commemoration Day ceremonies.


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Canadians awarded the Victoria Cross, Ottawa

This plaque honours Canadians (including Newfoundlanders) awarded the Victoria Cross during the First World War. It was unveiled by Princess Anne on 10 Nov 2014, on the wall of the British High Commission on Elgin Street in Ottawa.

According to a UK government press release:

Bronze plaques were commissioned to recognise 175 Victoria Cross winners in total from 11 countries. Canada has the highest number of overseas recipients with 70. Other countries for whom plaques have been commissioned are Australia (66 Victoria Cross winners), New Zealand (16), South Africa (14), India (6), USA (5), Pakistan (3), Nepal (2), Denmark (2), Belgium (1) and Ukraine (1).

In the UK, a commemorative paving stone will be laid to honour each person in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland awarded the Victoria Cross during the First World War – 469 in all. Ceremonies will take place in the birthplace or hometown of each recipient on the anniversary of their winning the VC. Paving stones for overseas-born recipients will be unveiled at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire on 5 March 2015.

The Victoria Cross is the UK’s highest award for gallantry. It is given for most conspicuous bravery or a daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy. Medals are made from cannons captured from the Russians during the Crimean War.


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Samuel Harding, St. John’s

Each soldier has a story.

Samuel J Harding was born in Greenspond, Bonavista Bay, Newfoundland in 1897. He enlisted in the Newfoundland Regiment in February 1916 at age 19. His trade was listed as a school pupil. He was wounded in action and discharged as medically unfit in May 1917. A March 1917 medical report from the third London General Hospital states:  

He was on a fatigue party when a shell exploded near to him and damaged his right eye. He did not go sick. Later on he was hit in the left foot by a pick, accidentally. He went sick in August 1916, and was admitted here in August and discharged in October 1916. He rejoined Depot in Ayr(?) and did light duty until December 1916. He went back to General Services in France, but had to report sick on 2nd Mar at Combles, after he had been blown up by a shell. Then taken to 5th General Hospital, Boulogne and thence here.

Harding died in October 1943 and is buried in Forest Road Anglican Cemetery, St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Rooms (Newfoundland and Labrador’s Provincial Archives, Art Gallery and Museum) has an online database of the military files of over 2200 soldiers* from the Royal Newfoundland Regiment who served in WW1. The files are searchable by name or by community.


*  August 2016 note: The Rooms is currently updating its database. Files previously found online may be temporarily unavailable. Names previously not included will become accessible. They advise researchers to revisit the site over the coming year to determine if the file they seek has been uploaded.


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – The Fighting Newfoundlander, St. John’s

The Fighting Newfoundlander stands in Bowring Park, St. John’s, NL, as “A Tribute to the Undying Memory of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment 1914-1918.” British sculptor Captain Basil Gotto also sculpted the Caribou Monuments. Corporal Thomas Pitman posed for the statue. A survivor of the 1916 Battle of Beaumont-Hamel, Pitman received the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) and the Military Medal (MM). The statue was unveiled in 1922.

Click on any photo to view the gallery.

Scroll down in the history of Bowring Park for the story of how Pitman came to pose for the statue and the lifelike details that Gotto captured. 


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Caribou Monument, St. John’s

Caribou Monument, Bowring Park, St. John's

Caribou Monument, Bowring Park, St. John’s

The caribou is the Royal Newfoundland Regiment's emblem.

The caribou is the Royal Newfoundland Regiment’s emblem.

Brass cross lists the regiment's major battles.

Brass cross lists the regiment’s major battles.

The Caribou Memorial in Bowring Park, St. John’s NL is one of six. The other five caribou mark sites in France and Belgium where the (now) Royal Newfoundland Regiment fought: Beaumont-Hamel; Gueudecourt; Masnières; Monchy-le-Preux and Courtrai (Kortrijk). The caribou is the emblem of the Regiment. A brass cross below the St. John’s caribou lists the major arenas of the Regiment’s battles.