Honouring ANZACs in N.L.: KentN.L. soldiers proud of shared heritage with Aussie, Kiwi infantry
BY SIMON KENT ,TORONTO SUN
FIRST POSTED: SATURDAY, APRIL 21, 2012 11:31 AM EDT | UPDATED: SATURDAY, APRIL 21, 2012 02:49 PM EDT
TORONTO - They’ve been marching again in St John's, Newfoundland.
As dawn rose Saturday in thin increments of grey, a company from the 1st Battalion, Royal Newfoundland Regiment stepped out brightly from its armoury and headed to the Pleasantville cenotaph.
Wreaths were laid, prayers offered, a few quiet words spoken and then a bugler from the regimental band took his cue.
The Last Post rang out and, after two minutes of silence the notes of reveille rose to split the chilled dawn air.
There was little pomp but plenty of circumstance as these troops, representatives of the Royal Canadian Legion and the St Johns general public paid their simple annual tribute to men who died in one of the bloodiest battles of World War I - and saluted their comrades-in-arms at the other end of the world.
Wednesday is ANZAC Day, April 25. It’s the one day of the year that Australia and New Zealand stops to publicly honour the dead of all wars.
In this most remote part of Canada, they traditionally pause to remember too, albeit a few days earlier than most.
Yesterday’s commemoration was just the first in a series across Canada this week to honour the sacrifice of ANZAC troops, including wreath laying ceremonies in London Ont., Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver.
ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps and it has a proud and direct link with the fighting men of Newfoundland.
It was born in 1915 when the first ANZACs joined their British and French counterparts in an expedition to capture the Gallipoli Peninsula, following Winston Churchill’s plan to force the way to the Black Sea for the Allied navies.
The ultimate objective was to seize Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire, a German war ally.
The ANZAC force waded ashore at Gallipoli at dawn on 25 April, 1915 meeting fierce resistance from the Ottoman Army. They immediately started to dig in - earning the tag ``diggers’’ which has been used to describe Australian and New Zealand infantry troops every since.
Aussies and Kiwis stayed together and fought the Turks with an almost reckless ferocity of purpose for eight months. They took part in battles that are forever etched in their military lore, as much a part of the collective antipodean consciousness as Vimy Ridge is to Canadians.
In one battle alone at a place called Lone Pine, the Australians lost close to 2,200 men fighting for a piece of land no bigger than a tennis court.
They won the ground and seven Victoria Crosses were earned in the process.
It’s a little known historical fact that the Newfoundland Regiment was also at Gallipoli (the Royal prefix came later).
It was the only military formation from North America to serve on those bloody Turkish shores, joining Allied troops trying to reach Constantinople.
The Newfoundlanders arrived a few months after the original landings and fought just as hard and copped just as much a battering.
Their fighting skill was so valued that they were chosen to stay and cover the eventual withdrawal of their battered Aussie and Kiwi mates, being the last regimental formation to depart.
That was then and this is now.
Major Andrew Heale of the Royal Newfoundlanders told the Toronto Sun his troops are proud to be the first every year to commemorate the ANZAC legend.
“When our regiment went to Gallipoli, Newfoundland wasn’t even part of Canada,” Major Heale said. “It was a Dominion of the British Empire but the men were keen to fight wherever they were called.
“We sent a full battalion of around 1,000 men who were attached to the British 29th Division at Gallipoli. We then lost around 40 soldiers in combat and to disease in three months of pitched fighting.
“After that they were taken out as the last to leave before heading to the Western Front, still with the British 29th.”
What happened next to the men from Newfoundland is a matter of historical fact. Their own suffering and pain, as well as that of the loved ones they left behind, is always chillingly recalled in the battle of Beaumont-Hamel.
Still, despite having its own fallen to mourn, the 1st Battalion of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment takes time every year to march for their Commonwealth cousins and their losses.
“We have very strong links with the Aussies and Kiwis still,” Major Heale said. “They always send men to join our parade and we have strong regimental associations with units like the Royal New South Wales Regiment in Australia.
“It’s part of our history. The name Gallipoli is on our battle honours. We are very proud of that, you know”
It’s fair to say Australians and New Zealanders are both flattered and esteemed in equal measure by virtue of that association too.
Lest we forget.
A ROYAL HONOUR
The Royal Newfoundland Regiment traces its origins to 1795, and since 1949 has been a militia or reserve unit of the Canadian Army.
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.
More than 6,000 men served overseas during World War I in the regiment, which came to be known as the Blue Puttees.
In recognition of the unit’s valour during the later battles at Ypres of 1917, King George V bestowed upon the regiment the prefix “Royal” on Sept. 28, 1917, renaming it the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.
This was the only time during WWI that this honour was given and only the third time in the history of the British Army that it has been given during a time of war, the last occasion having been 101 years earlier.
Today the regiment consists of an infantry battalion of two companies and a battalion headquarters. Its honorary colonel-in-chief is Anne, Princess Royal.